Newly unveiled device looks solid but is very much tailored to Amazon faithful.
Newly unveiled device looks solid but is very much tailored to Amazon faithful.

Amazon Fire Phone: More practical than delightful

YESTERDAY in Seattle retailing behemoth Amazon released their first ever mobile, the unimaginatively named Amazon Fire Phone. Despite the long build-up, the Fire still managed to surprise people - but unfortunately for Amazon, not all in good ways.

though early hands-on previews with the Fire have praised its build quality and general feel in the hand, Amazon's inclusion of 3D-effects in the form of its Dynamic Perspective feature and its focus on using the device to automatically recognize and buy products (via Amazon of course) have been met with some scepticism.

Dynamic Perspective uses four infrared cameras located on the corners of the 4.7-inch, HD display to constantly track the user's head movements, moving the image on screen to give the illusion of depth. So if you're looking at, say, a map and want to see what's behind a marker on the screen, you simply crane your head to do so.

This isn't quite the revolutionary feature Amazon's teaser adverts had hinted at but this might be to the company's advantage with The Verge claiming the mechanism is "miles away from the accelerometer-based gimmicks we've seen on older 3D phones".

Others are less sure, with Engadget describing it as "a fun idea in theory" but one that takes "a lot of getting used to; each time I moved my head, my hand naturally moved the phone with me, which defeated the whole purpose," writes Brad Molen.

The Fire Phone's other main feature, Firefly, is also getting mixed reactions. Launched from a dedicated button on the side of the handset, Firefly uses cameras and microphones to identify consumer goods. Anything from books to food, from Game of Thrones to the latest Pitbull album - Firefly works recognizes what it is in seconds and then gives users the option to buy it.

It's an impressive feature and in line with Amazon's eternal quest to reduce 'friction' in shopping (compare it with their introduction of the one-click checkout) but surely won't be a universal plus-point - especially when balanced against the sort of inconveniences that users will have to put up with on the Fire Phone, such as getting to know Amazon's personalized take on the Android operating system.

Farhad Manjoo at the New York Times spells out the Fire Phone's difficulties by noting that "some of those features may be attractive to people who already love Amazon, but for people who aren't looking to be hooked so intimately into Amazon's brain, it's hard to see what this phone offers over the iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy or any other top-of-the-line smartphone on the market today."

Similarly, although many tech commentators (The Independent included) were expecting Amazon to stand out from the crowd by undercutting its rivals in terms of price, CEO Jeff Bezos instead shot for the moon: the 32GB Fire Phone costs $649 off contract and $199 in a two year deal with AT&T. And this doesn't include data - something that customers will be hovering up with all that free music and video content from Amazon Prime.

None of this means the Fire Phone is out for the count. Amazon can stick it in front of millions of customers through their website and some of its features will certainly be appealing for practically-minded users (remember, Amazon has less of those 'fun' apps that Android and iOS) but it's not the killer product it might have been.

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