When the Fire Phone launches July 25, the world will get to decide if its flashier features like Dynamic Perspective and Firefly are enough to make up for a smaller selection of apps and no familiar Google apps like Gmail and Google Maps.
After some hands on time with the phone last month, I think the Fire Phone has the potential to alternatively frustrate or delight, just because it's so different than the iPhones and Android phones we've grown accustomed to in recent years. Fire OS is a much bigger departure from stock Android than the skins we're used to seeing from companies like Samsung and Sony. Amazon's phone is full of surprises for users to find, from its tilt-and-jerk gestures to highly contextual menus that can show more or less detail when you tilt the phone just so. Here are some examples of smaller touches that could help the Fire Phone glow a little brighter when it arrives later this month.
The right panel for the job
When you hold the Fire Phone in your hand, a quick flick to the right or left pops out a panel on either side of the screen. (You can also drag the panels in with your finger from the right or left edge of the screen.) From the home screen, the right-hand panel works like Notification Center in iOS: it shows the current weather, a snapshot of your calendar events for the day, and notifications from your apps. It also automatically shows shipment and delivery status for your recent Amazon orders, a no-brainer for sure, but handy nonetheless.
That right-hand panel changes up when you're in different apps — hopefully this won't make it hard to find your notifications when you're looking for them, but it's a great place to hide extra tricks the various apps can do, without cluttering up their main interfaces too much.
For example, in the calculator app, the right panel has a tip calculator feature that also helps you split a restaurant bill between friends...mor enemies who just enjoy eating together. When a call comes in to your Fire Phone, that right panel hides some prewritten text messages that you can reply with instead of picking up: "I'll call you later," for example, or "Can't talk right now. What's up?" Which could lead to a slew of text messages blowing up your phone while you're presumably indisposed, but you did kind of ask for it, didn't you?
You'll find similar quick-replies in the calendar app, so with just a tap you can let the organizer of a meeting know you're "Running a couple minutes late" or that she should "Go ahead and start without me." ("Because I'm held up in Target scanning everything in sight with Firefly and it could be a while" is just kind of implied.)
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