Although the Fire phone hasn’t been a runaway success in the US since its release, Amazon is pushing ahead with a UK launch at the end of September with an exclusive deal with O2.
Since the original release, Amazon announced today that it has worked on a number of tweaks to improve the user experience following feedback, so UK customers will be amongst the first to benefit from the update when the phone goes on sale September 30th.
Pre-ordering is available now from O2, with both 32 and 64GB models on sale. The 32GB model starts at £33 per month on O2’s Refresh tariff with 2GB of data, with tariffs going up to 20GB.
(Update: It seems that for now customers that pre-order can only select up to 8GB and O2 is yet to officially announce the new tariffs that go up to 20GB, so perhaps the O2 representative at the launch today jumped the gun a little).
The Fire phone also comes with one year of Amazon’s Prime service (worth £79), which includes free next-day delivery for goods sold and dispatched from one of Amazon’s many warehouses, and access to a range of Amazon services like Amazon Prime Instant video. Existing Prime users will get a year free added on to their existing subscription.
Pre-loaded O2 apps give easy access to services like O2 Priority, plus access to thousands of O2 Wi-Fi hotspots.
I had a chance to play with the Fire phone at Amazon’s London offices and get a chance to experience the unique features like Dynamic Perspective and Firefly for myself.
As with any device that has already been launched in another market, the Fire phone has been covered in great depth by the tech press based in the US, so although there won’t be any big surprises here (it’s the exact same hardware), it’s still nice to get a proper look at the final product as customised for the UK market, and most importantly, for O2.
The phone is slim and rather nondescript, but no different to most other smartphones on sale today, with the exception of being a bit taller to accommodate four sensors that monitor you to implement the Dynamic Perspective feature. It’s still nicely rounded to feel comfortable in the hand.
From lock screens that let you look around 3D environments as you move your head (or tilt the phone in your hand if you prefer to use more old-fashioned gestures), to a range of apps taking advantage of the extra functionality, it certainly brings a new dimension to operating a smartphone. So far the lock screens are all designed by Amazon, but there are plans to open this up to third parties.
A carousel allows for easy bookmarking of your most important and commonly used apps, with further enhancements to allow for each app to show extra information.
In many cases, the app icon has been given the full 3D treatment, allowing you to look above, below or inside certain objects. A gimmick to some, but it’s fun and something you’ll probably play around with to kill time, as well as show off to others.
One example where apps are enhanced for the Fire phone OS is the Just Eat app, which will show recently searched menus and previous orders underneath the app icon within the carousel.
On the gaming front, Real Boxing requires the player to block and dodge punches by moving your head back and forth (immediately bringing back memories of the sheer exhaustion brought on by the original Wii Sports boxing game).
Other games allow you to move your head to look around your environment, and hopefully more developers will think of non-gimmicky ways to enhance other titles.
All of the core Amazon apps are hooked in to use Dynamic Perspective, with many more third-parties updating their apps all the time. Some apps might not really benefit from the feature, but gaming is definitely the key area where there’s stacks of potential.
It’s Android, but not as you know it
As with Kindle Fire tablets, it’s important to note that this might be an Android powered smartphone, but you won’t get access to the usual suite of Google apps that you might be used to.
No Gmail app, no Google Play store, and a different app for maps and navigation. Instead you get an Amazon email client, Amazon mapping app (with its own navigation), and Amazon’s own app store. Although not furnished with the same number of apps as Google’s store, it still has the major apps and games. There is, after all, no reason for a developer not to submit their app to Amazon when it will work just fine even without any enhancements.
The handset has an impressive specification that isn’t quite as cutting edge as the latest devices recently launched at IFA, but can still stand its ground quite comfortably. A quad-core Snapdragon 800 CPU with 2G RAM, 4.7-inch HD (720×1280 pixel) display, dual speakers with Dolby sound, 13-megapixel camera (with 2.1-megapixel front facing camera), and cloud backup with infinite storage for photos and 5GB for other data, makes for a decent package. Miracast streaming support will also wirelessly transmit movies, photos and music to any compatible TV.
So far Amazon’s video streaming service isn’t available for other Android devices.
Help when you need it most
The Mayday service that puts you in touch with a real live person to give assistance on using your phone is also included. It can be used over Wi-Fi or a mobile data connection. Amazon has a target of a connection within 15 seconds, while the service itself operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
One of the more controversial features of the Fire phone is the Firefly feature. When originally announced, critics were quick to point out that the recognition system, which identifies products via the camera and takes you to the relevant Amazon page, was just about getting you to spend more money with the company.
The dedicated Firefly button also makes it quick and easy to scan business cards or barcodes, pick out phone numbers on leaflets or posters, or translate menus. You can also use the phone to recognise songs, or identify film and TV episodes in seconds, pulling down information from IMDb.
Other phones can do much of that too, but the dedicated button and the quick response time definitely gives the Fire phone a competitive edge.
Any network, as long as it’s O2
Seven years ago, O2 bagged an exclusive on the original iPhone. It worked out brilliantly for O2, but it did limit choice for the customer. Eventually Apple made the iPhone available to all.
I have to wonder if a network exclusive is a good move for Amazon, which did the same in the US and has resulted in many articles that have been far from complimentary. Such as “2014’s most epic flop” (BGR), “Amazon’s Fire phone already been extinguished?” (Daily Mail), “Sold no more than 35,000 Fire phones” (Guardian).
Yet there has been some more positive news elsewhere, with data suggesting the 32GB Fire phone has been topping Amazon’s own charts in the US.
O2’s network has improved a lot this year, having reached over 40% population coverage on its 4G service, and still ranking high in customer satisfaction surveys, so if you want to experience the Fire phone then get along to your nearest O2 store, or pop along to the website to get your order in early.
And hopefully before the end of the month I’ll have my own device to review and let you know if the phone is really as hot as its name suggests.
Official Press Release
LUXEMBOURG—Sept. 8, 2014—Amazon today announced that Fire, the first smartphone designed by Amazon, is now available for pre-order in the United Kingdom on O2 Refresh for £0 upfront on the £33 tariff, only on O2. Additionally, for a limited time (until 31 December 2014), Fire customers will receive a full year of Amazon Prime membership included. This is in addition to free unlimited cloud storage for photos taken on Fire and live video tech support with Mayday. Fire is the only smartphone with Dynamic Perspective and Firefly, two new breakthrough technologies that allow you to see and interact with the world through a whole new lens. Dynamic Perspective uses a new sensor system to respond to the way you hold, view, and move Fire, enabling experiences not possible on other smartphones. Firefly quickly recognises things in the real world—web and e-mail addresses, phone numbers, QR and barcodes, text and translation, artwork, movies, music and millions of items, and lets you take action in seconds—all with the simple press of the Firefly button. Fire will launch with new and enhanced features when it ships in the United Kingdom on Sept. 30, including the latest Firefly capabilities and auto-scroll in the Kindle Reader app. Customers can pre-order at http://www.o2.co.uk or in O2 stores. Learn more about Fire at http://www.amazon.co.uk/firephone.
“We’ve packed a lot of value into our first smartphone and we are delighted to bring Fire to customers in the United Kingdom,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder and CEO. “Fire is a premium phone with breakthrough technologies Dynamic Perspective and Firefly, access to exclusive features including live video tech support with the Mayday button and free unlimited cloud photo storage, plus a full year of Prime membership—for £0 on the £33 O2 Refresh tariff only from O2.”
“We’re proud to be partnering with Amazon to bring Fire to the UK,” said Nina Bibby, Marketing and Consumer Director at O2. “Both O2 and Amazon share a passion for putting customers at the heart of everything we do, whilst driving innovation to deliver outstanding experiences. That is why, through this partnership, we’re so excited that O2 customers will be the first in the UK to get their hands on Fire. It has always been our ambition to offer the very latest devices and to unlock the possibilities offered by innovative technology, and this is further proof of that commitment.”
Dynamic Perspective—Immersive Smartphone Experience
Dynamic Perspective uses four ultra-low power specialized cameras and four infrared LEDs built into the front face of Fire, a dedicated custom processor, sophisticated real-time computer vision algorithms, and a new high-performing and power-efficient graphics rendering engine. Dynamic Perspective features include:
• One-handed gestures: Auto-scroll, tilt, swivel and peek for quicker, easier navigation and a better media and entertainment experience. For example, with auto-scroll, customers can read a long web page or a book in Kindle Reader without ever having to touch the screen; tilt in messaging app to easily attach photos from the right panel; swivel instantly reveals quick actions; peek in Maps shows layered information like Yelp ratings and reviews of restaurants, bars and museums, and more.
• Immersive apps and games: Dynamic Perspective enables a new class of apps and games that are more immersive, and make it quicker and easier for the user to access information. For example, the Met Office app lets you peek to see the percentage chance of precipitation and the UV information associated with the forecast. Tilt left panel to easily view BBC Sport categories for easy story navigation. In games like Real Boxing, block and dodge punches by moving your head closer to or further away from the screen.
• Carousel: Stay productive with real-time updates and take action right from the home screen—triage e-mail, find recent photos, access most visited websites, return missed calls, view appointments, and more. Developers can customise the contents of their dynamic app and how it responds to user actions. For example, the JUST EAT app shows recent takeaways viewed and recent orders, and YPlan shows a curated list of local events with links to book tickets in just two taps, right from the Fire home screen.
Amazon launched the Dynamic Perspective SDK that enables developers to build new experiences with this groundbreaking technology. The Amazon Appstore has seen tremendous growth with the rate of app submissions to the Appstore more than doubling in the weeks following the Fire phone launch in the US In the UK, Fire customers will also enjoy eBay, Flixster, Groupon, TimeOut, Tube Map London Underground, thetrainline, Thomas & Friends, in addition to the tens of thousands of others already available for Fire—Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, Pinterest, Skype, Spotify Music, Twitter and WhatsApp Messenger. Learn more about the SDK at http://developer.amazon.com/firephone.
Firefly Technology–Illuminate Your World
Firefly combines Amazon’s deep catalogue of physical and digital content with multiple image, text and audio recognition technologies to quickly identify a variety of items from the world around you such as web and e-mail addresses, phone numbers, QR codes and barcodes text and translation. Firefly also recognises artwork plus over 90 million items, including movies, TV episodes, songs, products and product barcodes. Simply press and hold the dedicated Firefly button to discover helpful information and take action in seconds.
• Printed phone numbers, e-mail, web addresses, QR, and barcodes: Firefly identifies printed text on signs, posters, magazines and business cards—make a call, send an e-mail, save as a contact or go to the website without typing out long URLs or e-mail addresses.
• Over 2,000 pieces of artwork: Firefly recognises famous paintings with information available via Wikipedia in English.
• Over 30 million songs: Firefly recognises music and uses Amazon Music’s rich catalogue to show information about the artist – play music, add the song to your Wish List or download instantly to your Fire.
• Tens of thousands of movies and TV episodes, and 29 live TV channels: Firefly recognises movies and TV episodes and uses IMDb X-Ray to show actors and related content.
• 55 million products, including household items, books, DVDs, CDs, video games, and more: Access product details add items to your Wish List or order on Amazon.
The Firefly SDK is available so developers can invent new ways to use this advanced technology. Learn more about the SDK at http://developer.amazon.com/firephone.
Amazon Exclusive Features and Vast Digital Ecosystem—All Deeply Integrated
Fire seamlessly integrates Amazon’s vast digital ecosystem for instant access to over 33 million songs, apps, games, movies, TV shows, books and audiobooks, including thousands of exclusives. Plus, Prime members get unlimited streaming of more than 15,000 of popular films and TV episodes with Prime Instant Video, and over 500,000 books to borrow with the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.
Fire deeply integrates Amazon exclusive services:
• Mayday is now available over 3G and 4G, in addition to Wi-Fi—simply hit the Mayday button in quick actions and an Amazon expert will appear via live video to co-pilot you through any feature on the device. Amazon experts are able to draw on the screen, talk you through how to do a task, or do it for you—whatever works best. Mayday is available 24×7, 365 days a year, and it’s free. Amazon’s response time goal for Mayday is 15 seconds or less.
• ASAP (Advanced Streaming and Prediction) predicts which movies and TV episodes you’ll want to watch and prepares them for instant playback before you even hit play.
• X-Ray helps you get more from books, movies and TV shows. Explore the bones of a book, including characters, ideas and background with a single tap on the screen; bring the power of IMDb right to Fire for movies and TV shows.
• Second Screen lets you fling TV shows and movies from Fire phone to your Fire TV, PlayStation or any other Miracast-enabled device. Second Screen turns your TV into the primary screen and frees up Fire phone to provide playback controls and a customised display for X-Ray, all without leaving the TV show or movie you’re watching.
• Free unlimited cloud storage of photos taken with Fire, automatically backed-up wirelessly and available across Amazon devices and Cloud Drive apps so you have access anywhere.
Beautiful Industrial Design & Powerful Hardware
Built using premium materials, including Gorilla Glass 3 for the rear and front, aluminium buttons, stainless steel details and a rubberised polyurethane grip area, Fire is optimised for beauty, hand comfort and powerful performance:
• Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 2.2 GHz processor and 2GB RAM for excellent fluidity and image rendering.
• 4.7-inch HD display with an ambient light sensor and Dynamic Image Contrast that delivers better outdoor viewing.
• Global LTE and connectivity with nine bands of LTE, four bands of GSM and five bands of UMTS, customers get better voice coverage and faster data speeds; in addition to 802.11a/b/g/n/ac support, Wi-Fi channel bonding, NFC, and Bluetooth.
• Dual stereo speakers with Dolby Digital Plus for a virtual surround sound experience.
• Advanced imaging system with custom-tuned 13MP rear-facing camera with backside illumination, LED flash, 5-element f/2.0 lens, Optical Image Stabilization (OIS), and high dynamic range (HDR) capabilities for beautiful, crisp photos, even in low-light conditions. Fire also includes a 2.1MP front-facing camera. Both front and rear-facing cameras take advantage of Best Shot, a helpful feature that lets the user pick the optimal photo from three options captured per shot, and records smooth 1080p HD videos. . Firefly also offers panorama and a new feature, lenticular capture mode, which combines a series of shots into a single photo that transitions the shots to “move” when the user tilts Fire. Customers can share the image as an auto-playing animated GIF for MMS, e-mail and social networking sites.
• Reliable backup and restore leveraging the experience and operational excellence of Amazon Web Services and its cloud technology. Fire customers can automatically back up device settings, notes, bookmarks, messages and installed applications—no need to manually configure or connect to a computer.
Availability & Exclusive Network Partner
Fire ships on Sept. 30 and is available exclusively on O2. Starting today, customers can pre-order Fire at http://www.o2.co.uk and in O2 retail stores. Fire is available with 32GB or 64GB on O2 Refresh and starts at £0 upfront on the £33 tariff with 2GB data.
Fire will run exclusively on O2’s superfast, multi-layered network in the UK. O2 runs 2G, 3G and 4G networks across the country and invests the equivalent of over £1.5m every day ensuring the best possible experience for its customers.
Limited Time, Introductory Offer
For a limited time (until 31 December 2014), Fire includes a full year of Prime membership. Enjoy streaming and downloads of thousands of popular movies and TV episodes with Prime Instant Video, over 500,000 books to borrow with the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, and unlimited one-day shipping on millions of items. With this offer, existing Prime members will receive an additional 12 months of membership.