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Amazon Fire Phone review: Give this Fire time to grow

Susie Ochs | July 30, 2014
The Fire Phone has several delightful touches, like contextual menus and gesture navigation, but it suffers from a still-maturing app store and signature features that offer more flash than utility.

Firefly worked well for some things. By long-pressing the button on the side of the phone, or launching the Firefly app from the Carousel or App Grid, you can scan product packaging, media like books and CDs, bar codes, QR codes, email addresses, phone numbers, and URLs into a running list, for buying on Amazon of course, but also for other purposes. Firefly works quickly, but its results are mixed--it got the name of one of my test books shockingly wrong, and on some household products it made some minor flubs, like subbing a different variety of sunscreen or identifying baby soap as the same company's baby lotion. (The misidentified household products were correct when I scanned the UPC code instead of just the front of the package.)

But Firefly especially shines when you ask it to identify a song or a movie or TV show, a la Shazam. Aside from offering to sell you the song or video in question, you get deep links into Firefly-compatible apps. Being able to start an iHeartRadio station from just hearing a song was cool, as was being offered StubHub tickets for the artists' upcoming concerts. I hope more developers add integration, because Firefly is addictive. I especially loved using it to ID scenes in my son's Pixar movies. It nabbed a scene in Cars even though other people in the room were talking, gave me the names of every voice actor in the scene, the name of the song playing, and trivia about the movie, including how Pixar had acquired the very same song for the soundtrack. It felt like magic, and I kept using it again and again, despite its occasional inaccuracies.

More fuel for the Fire
Voice control is sad and needs to be improved: it can call or text people, search the web, and shoot off a quick email, but you can't ask for directions or set timers or reminders--which is 95 percent of what I use Siri for. (The other 5 percent is asking what the fox says.) And obviously the Appstore needs to be bigger. Amazon is working hard here, but hopefully the company understands that the answer isn't merely quantity: Developers need to get excited about integrating the slide-out menus, good context for the Carousel menu, and yes, Firefly and Dynamic Perspective.

While I was watching a show on HBO Go in bed, for example, I thought, wouldn't it be cool if the app used the Dynamic Perspective cameras to see when I fall asleep and pause it for me? Amazon made Dynamic Perspective intriguing, but it looks like it's up to the third-party devs to make it truly useful, which is kind of a shame.

 

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