Amazon Fire Phone: Hero or zero?

So, Amazon has finally decided that consumers in the UK can have the chance to buy its Fire Phone, the Android-based handset that is tied into the Amazon view of the world.

We've seen research that says the Fire Phone sold fewer than 35,000 in its first 20 days after the US launch. We'll need to wait and see if the handset does any better in the UK when it comes out at the end of the month. Meanwhile, here are a few things you will want to know if you are considering buying the Amazon Fire Phone.

Pricing and Prime

This being an exclusive handset from O2 you can't buy it SIM-free. It is only available on pay monthly and you've a number of tariff options. The cheapest with no up-front cost is £33 a month. For that you get the 32GB version of the handset, 2GB of data and unlimited minutes and texts. If you want the 64GB version then you pay £38 a month for the same allowances. There are less expensive monthly tariffs, but you have to pay an up-front charge on those.

Thrown into the package you get Amazon Prime for a year, which normally costs £79. You get all the benefits of Prime, and that includes next day delivery on lots of items and the Kindle Lending Library. If you already have Prime, your membership gets extended for a year.

Verdict: Amazon fans will like what is effectively a £79 cashback.

No Google Play

As has been reported widely, there's no Play store here. You get Amazon's app store instead. That will be the deal breaker for some people. For others, it won't matter at all. I know plenty of handset users that don't bother much with third-party apps, and there's a lot going on with the Amazon app store if you do want apps with more than 240,000 apps on offer (versus the Play store's 1.3 million). You can even get techie and install apps via their APKs.

There's another cashback incentive here too – 800 Amazon Coins to spend in the app store. They are the equivalent of £8 in real money.

Verdict: A deal breaker for some, but for many probably not a big issue.

No Google sign-in

Notably absent is the ability to sign in to the Fire Phone with your Google account. Google account sign in is, for many people, a key feature of their phone. Without it there's no Google+, no Hangouts, no synchronised bookmarks in Chrome.

Verdict: The lack of ability to sign in with your Google account cuts off access to a host of features that some people find essential.

Related: Roundup of Amazon Fire Phone reviews: We need to wait for the third-generation

Special features

Dynamic Perspective. Amazon is talking up a feature it calls Dynamic Perspective which takes face tracking to a level that Samsung, the current king of face tracking, might envy. Cameras in the four corners of the screen fascia are used to provide a faux 3D effect, as well as revealing information based on whether you are tilting or swivelling the screen.

Amazon has released the SDK, so developers can use it in their apps. For now, one of the most useful implementations is Amazon's own – the pages of eBooks and websites viewed through its Silk browser auto-scroll because the handset knows where on screen you are looking.

Verdict: Dynamic Perspective needs the support of third-party developers to prove its worth.

Firefly. Amazon defines Firefly as a way to get information about things. Simply by using the back camera or handset microphone you can use Firefly to translate text, visit websites on posters, identify household items, and identify tunes. But not too far beneath the surface is the fact that Firefly is really a shopping app. Inevitably it takes you to products in the Amazon store and lets you wish-list items.

Verdict: Firefly feels like a shopping app wrapped in some sparkly paper.

Fire OS. Sure, the Fire Phone is Android, but, just like Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet range, Android is skinned beyond all recognition. See, for example, our review of the Kindle Fire HDX 7in. If you are graduating to the Fire Phone from any other Android-based handset you may find the look and feel, and in particular the reliance on gestures, takes some getting used to. It is easy to criticise Amazon's approach as presenting a barrier to potential users rather than a smooth transition from other Android handsets.

Verdict: Fire OS could take some getting used to.

Read more: Does anybody really like Amazon's new gimmicky 3D Fire Phone?

Specifications

The Fire Phone boasts a 2.2GHz Snapdragon processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB or 64GB of internal storage, a 4.7in 1,280 x 720 resolution screen, 13 megapixel main camera, 4G LTE, and the full range of Wi-Fi with 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac support.

Verdict: The specs put the Fire in mid-range territory – though that expansive Wi-Fi support is nice to see.

Overall

Two things are extremely clear about the Fire Phone.

Amazon is giving people who buy it a clear, direct, fast, easy route into its store. Take this view to its extreme and the Fire Phone could be – and indeed has been – described as just a glorified product catalogue.

Amazon is playing the long game here. If the Fire Phone bombs Amazon will have to do some clever talking, but it is looking long-term, and can afford to take a financial hit and do things differently next time. Heck, it might even do a complete about turn and give the second-generation of the device away with Prime membership.

Read more: Amazon Fire Phone review