Amazon to Set Pants Ablaze with New Fire Smartphone for AT&T

Amazon's new Fire smartphone is exactly what you would expect an Amazon phone to be—a 4.7-inch pocket store that also makes calls. By Matt Whitlock

After jumping from e-readers to tablets, it was only a matter of time until Amazon came out with its very own smartphone. Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder, finally opened the curtain during Wednesday's press event and unveiled the Amazon Fire. Most newcomers to the hyper-competitive U.S. smartphone market largely dominated by the likes of Samsung and Apple rarely do well. Even Nokia, the former 1,000-pound, international phone Gorilla, could barely make a dent in the market despite having some amazing hardware. Amazon thinks it will do better.

The Fire (not to be confused with Kindle Fire) mostly specs out like a mid-tier Android device, only with a slightly better processor than most at that level. It's still very competitive though, sporting a 2.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor, 4.7-inch 720p display, 2GB RAM, 32GB/64GB storage, and a 13-megapixel rear cameara. On the software front, Amazon's Fire runs a new version of Fire OS (the company's own fork of Android). That means no Play Store, but it has been building a curated app ecosystem over the past several years for its Fire Tablets. Its entertainment offerings are through its Prime service, which as a great selection of streaming video and a brand-new (meaning small) music streaming catalog.

Nothing above is all that interesting, and most Prime services can be enjoyed on rival platforms. Amazon knows that and won't be able to compete on hardware alone, so natrually the Fire comes with some interesting tricks up its sleeve to try and woo users. Dynamic Perspective and Firefly are new features really intended to make buying stuff on Amazon easier than ever.

Dynamic Perspective is a custom sensor system that does eye/movement tracking to respond automatically based on your actions. Fire OS includes support for certain gestures right in the UI, like tilting the phone to bring up panels and a host of others inside the shopping app. It also tracks your eyes when reading to turn the page or scan a long webpage automatically. Developers can tap into an SDK to support the feature in any app or game, but how much use it will get outside of Amazon's experineces is yet to be seen.

Firefly is Amazon's ace in the hole, and pretty amazing technology. In short, it's a visual search engine that takes showrooming to new levels. It can identify movies, TV shows, music, and more than 70 million different products. This isn't like the shopping app today that can read a barcode on a 10-pack of Hanes underwear (although Firefly can read barcodes, too); it's designed to recognize underwear when it sees it, giving you pricing and options, and (of course) the ability to add it to your wish list or buy it right on the spot. Music recognition is old-hat on phones, but Firefly's ability to recognize a quarter-million shows and movies simply by looking at a clip is pretty impressive. It even has a few uses outside of shopping, like identifying phone numbers, posters, contacts, etc.

Combine those two features and Amazon's Fire offers a unique and interesting experience that Apple, Google, and Microsoft can't currently match. A phone for shoppers could definitely have mass appeal. I suspect Amazon is going to do pretty well with it, although being exclusive to AT&T is going to limit its success in the short term. Pricing starts at $199 for a 32GB model or $299 for the 64GB, which is a little expensive compared to other high-end phones on the market. Amazon offsets this cost by bundling it with a free year of Amazon Prime service, which is a $100 value.

Amazon will start burning a hole in people's pockets starting July 25th. Click the gallery below for more photos.