This morning, ahead of its July 24 release date, the internet was flooded with Amazon Fire Phone reviews – and, rather unfortunately, they almost universally pan the smartphone for being gimmicky, ugly, sluggish, and low on battery life. A fair number of reviews go as far as calling the Fire Phone more of a prototype, and that you’d be better off waiting for the sequel. As expected, too, the fact that dozens of key apps are missing from the Amazon App Store makes the Fire Phone much less useful than an iPhone or Android smartphone.
Let’s dive into a quick review roundup, and find out whether Dynamic Perspective and Firefly are as awesome as Amazon hoped — or if they’re just showroom gimmicks intended to get people to buy the Fire Phone first, and ask questions about their actual usefulness later.
As you’d expect, almost every review of the Fire Phone focuses on the pseudo-3D head tracking and its ability to identify objects instantly from the rear camera. While the features generally work as advertised, there aren’t any reviews that laud Dynamic Perspective as some kind of life-changing shift in the current user experience paradigm — and likewise, while Firefly does work well, a few reviews point out that there are similar apps already available for Android.
So-so performance, in a phone that looks more like a prototype than a finished product
Another recurring feature in the reviews is that the phone’s appearance and underlying hardware specs are not in-line with its premium price point. CNET says the phone has “so-so performance… slightly sub-prime specs… [and] the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor struggles to respond.” Numerous reviews point out that the Fire Phone simply looks a bit crappy compared to an iPhone 5S or HTC One M8. Almost every review dings the Fire Phone for sub-par battery life that can’t make it through a day of normal usage.
The 13-megapixel rear camera, with optical image stabilization receives generally good reviews, though some say that it can be a little slow to capture photos. For complete hardware and software specs, check out our story that covered the Fire Phone unveil.
Weak app selection and platform growing pains
One of the most important things to remember when buying one of Amazon’s Fire devices is that they’re based on Android, but they’re not real Android devices — and so you’re locked out of the official Google apps, and you don’t have access to the main Play Store. Furthermore, as Ars Technica points out, you don’t actually need to use Fire OS to access all of Amazon’s various cloud-based services; there are official iOS and Android apps for most of them.
A giant Buy Now button for Amazon services
Unsurprisingly, a lot of reviews also point out that the Fire Phone tries a little too hard to force Amazon products down your throat. As my colleague Sascha Segan says in his PC Mag review: “fun, well-built, and filled with interesting gimmicks, but it’s ultimately designed as a giant Buy Now button for Amazon services.”
A phone for the rest of us?
On the flip side, though, if you do order a lot of stuff from Amazon, then the Fire Phone might just be for you. Both The Verge and Mashable talk about how the Fire Phone, for avid consumers and customers, is actually quite a good proposition. It might not be the fastest smartphone out there, or have the best apps or battery life, but maybe the average consumer just doesn’t care that much about such technicalities.
This has always been one of the bigger problems in tech journalism: Reviews are nearly always written from the perspective of someone who is highly proficient and experienced in the use of modern technology. Most of the consumers who will read the review, however, are not. Yes, the Fire Phone might be sluggish compared to an iPhone — but do you think your mom and pop really care more about sluggishness than buying stuff quickly and easily from Amazon?