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Amazon enters smartphone market with 'Fire'

Philip Michaels | June 19, 2014
Amazon jumped into the smartphone fray Wednesday, unveiling the Fire Phone at a press event in Seattle.

Amazon jumped into the smartphone fray Wednesday, unveiling the Fire Phone at a press event in Seattle.

Amazon's phone will be available exclusively through AT&T, mirroring an arrangement that Apple had with the carrier with the iPhone's 2007 debut. The 32GB Fire Phone will cost $199 with a two-year contract. You can preorder it now, with the phone arriving on July 25. For a limited time, the phone comes with a full year of Amazon Prime service (which normally costs $99 a year).

In taking the wraps off the much-anticipated phone, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said it was built out of premium materials. The Fire Phone features Gorilla Glass 3 on both sides, along with a 4.7-inch LCD screen. The phone has a rubberized frame and aluminum buttons.

On the audio side, the Fire Phone boasts dual stereo speakers with Dolby Digital Plus virtual surround sound. The phone's magnetic earbuds come with a flat cable that doesn't tangle easily, according to Bezos.

Perhaps the phone's most headline-grabbing feature is the one rumored long before Wednesday's press event: a 3D interface. The Fire Phone isn't exactly 3D — Bezos called it Dynamic Perspective, and it works more like a hyped-up version of the parallax effect found in Apple's iOS 7 operating system. Images on the Fire Phone's screen move as you jiggle the phone around, and custom lock screens show off the Dynamic Perspective effect.

But the Fire Phone's calling card looks to be its software and services. Because this is an Amazon device, you can expect lots of access to content, such as the Kindle Store for buying books as well as the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, in which Amazon Prime members can share books. The phone will also have access to hundreds of magazines and newspapers as well as Amazon's recently purchased Comixology digital comics reader and storefront. Apps such as Netflix, HBO Go, and ESPN's sports content will also be available on the phone.

If the ability to download content directly from Amazon wasn't enough of an incentive to keep you buying things from the e-commerce giant, Amazon is also including a feature called Firefly, a scanning service that can recognize products, DVD and book covers, CDs, games, and barcodes. Firefly also boasts the ability to identify music, similar to the Shazam app. The ideal is you'll be able to point your Fire Phone at just about anything, scanning it, and quickly identify it — especially helpful for impulse buys. Firefly's features going beyond just commerce, though; for instance, it's able to recognize phone numbers for quicker dialing. The Fire Phone includes a dedicated Firefly button so you can use the feature even if your phone is locked.


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