Amazon Fire Phone

Amazon’s Fire Phone will be fantastic at separating you from your money but not much else

I don’t know about you, but I was actually looking forward to Amazon’s Fire Phone. In advance of its introduction to the world, I followed all the news and leaks.

And I hoped.

Even if I had no serious plans to buy the Fire Phone, I hoped. I hoped for something revolutionary, be it features, a service, or even a truly great flagship phone at a budget price. I hoped that I would be wowed, that I’d have that familiar feeling of phone envy that I get whenever something newer and shinier than the phone I’m carrying in my pocket is unveiled to the world. I hoped that what Jeff Bezos would hold up to the world would be some kind of game-changer.

I hoped.

And I held on to that hope right up until Amazon’s press event began in Seattle on Wednesday and the details began hitting the Internet, crushing my hope, delivering disappointment and leaving me with an overwhelming feeling that I’d been a naive sucker.

Because what Bezos and Co. introduced was nothing more than a device offering a faster, more streamlined way to buy more products from Amazon. A button on the side of the Fire Phone summons Firefly, an app that can recognize movies and TV shows, songs, phone numbers, websites, and email addresses just by looking at or hearing them. But its core function upon recognizing an item is to link to Amazon.com so that you can easily purchase that item.

Did Bezos and his online retail giant really spend years thinking that what consumers really wanted from their smartphones more than any other feature was a faster, easier way to buy more stuff? As if we all sit in our recliners in the evening and remark to our spouses, “You know, Ethel, these smartphones are nice doohickeys, but what we really need is a gadget that can help us clean out our bank account in no time flat.”

This isn’t to say that I didn’t see some form of this coming. Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet line has done an excellent job of pulling customers into its ecosystem. Kindle Fires are excellent devices because they offer a simple, intuitive experience at a great value, undercutting the prices of premium tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab, Google Nexus line, and even the king of tablets, Apple’s iPad models.

But that’s not the strategy Amazon is using with its Fire Phone. Amazon thinks we’re all suckers, offering the Fire Phone at the same starting price as an Apple iPhone 5s or Samsung Galaxy S5, $199. In no universe is the Fire Phone on par with the speed, functionality and user experience of an iPhone 5s or Galaxy S5.

This isn’t to say the Fire Phone has horrible specs. It doesn’t. But they don’t trump the iPhone 5s and Galaxy S5. And this is Amazon’s first go at a smartphone, using an operating system, Fire OS 3.5, that’s a forked, dumbed-down version of Android. And despite using Google’s OS as a base to build on, Amazon devices have no access to the Google Play Store and its multitude of apps.

If you’re keeping score at home, the Fire Phone is lacking in the hardware, software and app departments. But, hey, look at everything you can buy from Amazon! Charging $199 for a 21st century mobile shopping cart is an insult to the intelligence of nearly every smartphone customer out there.

And for that matter, Amazon can’t even reach nearly every smartphone customer because it has an exclusive deal with AT&T. So if you’re on a different carrier, you’re out of luck, though maybe you should consider yourself lucky as this will save you from wasting your money on this cellular shopping cart.


About Chris Cox

I love technology, but I could do without the tinkering. I'm a firm believer in technology that just works. If it's intuitive, that leads to greater adoption, which leads to more advances, and that benefits us all. That said, a little tinkering on the front end that helps you every day is worth the effort. I'm all for simple solutions that keep me -- and you -- from reinventing the wheel every day.