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What you need to know about Amazon's Fire Phone

TechHive staff | June 23, 2014
We spent some time with the new smartphone from Amazon and can answer any questions you might have.

Does the phone run on Android?

Kind of. The Fire Phone runs Fire OS, a forked version of Android that looks very little like the Android you've gotten to know. It has Amazon's own overlay, unique features you won't find in stock Android, and its core apps are all Amazon's own. Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet is also powered by Fire OS, but a slightly older version, Fire OS 3.0 "Mojito." The Fire Phone runs Fire OS 3.5.0, which adds in support for the Fire Phone's dynamic perspective, as well as other features.

What's the phone's interface look like?

If you've used a Kindle Fire tablet, it's familiar, but even if you're totally new to the platform, it's pretty simple to grok. The main home screen shows the Carousel, which is a side-scrolling display of recently used apps. You'll see a large icon (that moves as you reposition your head or tilt the phone, thanks to Dynamic Perspective) for each app, along with contextual information below it--previews of a couple recent email messages, for example, or the last few pictures you took with the camera app. This makes it easy to resume whatever you were just doing. You can pin items to the Carousel, too.

To get to the rest of your App Grid, you swipe up from the home screen, and you can organize that grid however you like. The App Grid can even include content like your favorite books or movies, and you're allowed to use folders to group related items together. With no physical or software Back button, you have to swipe up from the bottom of the screen to go back, or just press the Home button at anytime to go home, of course.

Extra menus can be pulled in from the left and right sides of the home screen, either by giving the Fire Phone a quick, snappy tilt, or just dragging them in with your finger. The left-side menu has shortcuts to different kinds of media, like Videos, Photos, Books, Apps, Games, and so on, and the menu on the right side shows your notifications and glanceable info like calendar appointments and today's weather.

So what kind of apps will run on the phone?

The Amazon Appstore isn't nearly as full as iOS's App Store and Android's Google Play Store, with around 240,000 apps compared to more than 1 million in the other markets. Even though it runs a modified version of Android, not every Android app is going to be compatible with the Fire Phone; you can't just download anything from Google Play and expect it to work.

Like any smartphone, the Fire Phone comes with a bevy of built-in apps that you can start using right away, including Email, Calendar, Messages, Clock, Calculator, and Maps. Content and shopping are Amazon's bread-and-butter, so of course Fire OS has some apps to support that. On the content front, there's Books, Amazon Instant Video, Amazon Music, and Audiobooks; for shopping, there's Shop and the Amazon Appstore.

 

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