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Amazon Fire: Hands on with the UK model

Amazon’s Fire smartphone is finally hitting the UK at the end of September, so we visited the Amazon offices in London to cast our eye over this British model and its funky 3D interface. Here’s our full hands-on review.

This phone is on fire

Amazon Fire Phone: Design

Amazon should pat itself on the back for the Fire’s design and build. The gloss black case is stylish and comfortable to hold, although prone to smudges. The 4.7-inch display, meanwhile, is large, detailed and bright enough for watching content.

A dedicated home hardware button lets you jump out of a task easily, with on-screen buttons taking care of the rest. Nice and simple, which makes sense when Amazon customers are possibly less tech savvy.

Storage is 32GB so that should keep you busy for some time. Unless you’re a real app, music, video and game hoarder. 

A 13-megapixel f/2.0 camera with optical image stabilisation on the back should take above average images (how much so we will have to wait for our full review), while the 2.1-megapixel designed for video calls and ‘selfies’ looks to be up to the task.

Amazon Fire Phone: Operating system

The Amazon Fire operating system revolves around your typical Android app drawer and, unique to the smartphone, a carousel home screen that you can swipe left and right through. It uses a custom version of Android that has been modified.

The items in the carousel consist of whatever tasks you used most recently and/or whatever you have decided to pin for permanent access. It’s a simple approach that seems uncluttered compared with your usual multi-page Android offering.

Maintaining the simplicity are one-handed gestures that, for instance, let you see more options for a task or scroll down the page when reading a book. All you have to do is either tilt the Amazon Fire or use a left or right flick, depending on what you want to achieve. 

There’s also ‘Dynamic Perspective’, which lets you use your face as a control method. In one instance, we were able to steer a snowboarder down a hill by looking left and right. In another, we were able to look around a game world without touching the screen.

Exactly how useful Dynamic Perspective will be in practice remains to be seen, but it is quite interesting to see the lock screen image change angles when you look at it from different angles as if it was three-dimensional. 

UK and German Amazon Fire handsets ship with Fire OS 3.6, making them more up to date than their US counterparts.

The Amazon Fire will have access to 275,000 apps – a far cry from what you get on Google Play and even less than Windows Phone – but at least the major bases seem to be covered and more will be added over time. How many more will depend on the popularity of the platform.

Amazon Fire Phone: Unique features

The Amazon Fire has a few unique tricks to differentiate it from your typical Android device including Amazon Mayday, a video tech support service that lets you video chat (you can see them, not the other way around) with an Amazon staff member to troubleshoot a query. 

So if you get stuck adding an email account or whatever, someone can guide you through the process or even take over your phone, remote control style, to solve the problem. A less than 15-second wait is promised. The US call response average is nine seconds, according to Amazon. 

Then there’s a free year of Amazon Prime, which means you can stream certain content for free and enjoy speedy next-day delivery on your Amazon purchases. If you already have a year of the service, you will get another one so nobody misses out. 

A useful feature is text translation, so you can point the Amazon Fire at a menu and see it translated into the language of your choice. 

One particularly noteworthy aspect of the Amazon Fire is Firefly. Firelfy lets you scan real world objects like a book so you can buy them online or find out more information. It can also pick out a phone number from a poster and store it as a recent number so there’s no need to jot said number down.

Lastly, you get unlimited cloud storage for photos. Amazon said this was truly unlimited, not subject to fair usage, so you can take pictures until your fingers start bleeding and then take some more. The cloud aspect means you can view your stored photos from another Amazon device. 

Amazon Fire Phone: Specs

The Amazon Fire is powered by a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon and 2GB of RAM, while the display is protected by Gorilla Glass 3. Two stereo speakers provide a better sound for when headphones aren’t an option.

The processor and memory configuration seems up for the job of fast loading apps and a smooth experience. We certainly had no complaints during our brief hands-on time.

Amazon Fire Phone: UK release date and availability

O2 will exclusively stock the Amazon Fire as part of O2 Refresh contracts, with the cheapest at £33 for 2GB of data and a free 32GB handset. A 64GB handset is also available, as are pricier contracts with more generous data plans.

Amazon and O2 declined to comment on how long the exclusive partnership will last. What we do know is that you can order the Amazon Fire now from O2 and that shipping will begin on September 30th.

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