Jul 242015

Amazon.com’s much-maligned Fire Phone is typically priced just south of $200 today. That’s an unlocked device with a year of Amazon Prime, so if you’re already a Prime member with no plans to leave the program, then you can even call it $99 cheaper than that.

I bought one about three months ago. I thought I might offer it to Lea if she didn’t warm to her new phone. But even if I wound up “stuck” with it, surely I could get $100 worth of value from it somehow, yes? I also thought I’d make it a daily carry for a few days at some point and get a blog post out of it, but I never got around to it until this week.


L to R: Lumia, Fire.

I’ve been running a preview version of Windows 10 Mobile on my Lumia 830. I like it. Nearly all of the significant design changes are unambiguous improvements. But functionally, it’s just rough enough around the edges to annoy me. The Twitter app crashes when I attach a photo. Cortana reads my texts to me in the car, but she can’t hear me when I reply. Swiping down to get to the Action Center works only about three-quarters of the time. You know?

And, despite multiple assurances that I could go back to Windows Phone 8.1, I don’t seem to have the option to do so when I follow the directions. So while I’m waiting for another Windows 10 Mobile build, I’ve moved into the Fire Phone full-time. Here are my impressions.

  • The Fire Phone has good fit and finish. It might be a little heavy, I suspect owing largely to its glass back. The screen quality is excellent. Speakers neither wow nor offend. Camera image quality is fine. Call quality is outstanding.
  • You can’t get to the battery without heroic measures, and there is no storage expansion. My 32GB Fire Phone had 24.7GB available out of the box.
  • There is a persistent question in reviews and comments about whether the unlocked version of this phone will make an LTE connection on the AT&T network, and that it may vary by geography. In the Huntsville, Alabama area, mine does.
  • It took me just about 10 seconds to think, again, that 4.7″ is an ideal screen size for me in a smartphone. The whole screen is “thumbable” for me at 4.7″. It’s not on my Lumia, at 5″. I did have to readjust to the smaller onscreen keyboard.
  • A consistent knock on the Fire Phone is poor selection in the Amazon Appstore. It seems fine to me, which tells me the Windows Store is probably in worse shape than I realize. Moreover, there are several apps here that are much more robust than their Windows Phone counterparts. WordPress is a pleasure on this phone. It’s a chore on Windows Phone.
  • I’m mostly used to the user interface and I think it’s fine, though I’ll join the chorus complaining about lack of a Back button.
  • I think the Dynamic Perspective (3D) feature is cool, though its effect on battery life is significant. I have a charger literally anywhere I ever am over the course of a day, so I’ve left it enabled. It’d be the first thing I’d kill if I thought I was going to cut it close, though.
  • I haven’t played with Firefly much, though I think it’s an interesting idea. It recognizes QR codes and consumer product packaging well. Doesn’t take long to get it wandering in the wilderness with anything else.
  • Working with text—moving the insertion point, highlighting to copy, and so forth—is a joy on Fire Phone. It’s dismal on Windows Phone 8.1. On Windows 10 Mobile, it’s improved, but still inferior to this.

If the mobile phone business stays like it is, I’m probably done with carrier-subsidized hardware. Basically, they don’t subsidize in exchange for your commitment anymore. They instead finance in exchange for your commitment. It’s better to buy hardware outright and bring it to your plan.

At $100 or thereabouts (with the year of Amazon Prime) unlocked, it’s hard for me to call the Fire Phone anything but a slam-dunk. It has its quirks, and if you’re not a big Amazon.com customer you may find its ubiquity on the phone distracting. But it’s a full-featured, high-quality smartphone for a C-note. I’d definitely recommend it for a pick-up-and-go answer.

Not that I’ll switch. I’ve invested heavily in the Windows ecosystem. I miss my live tiles. I miss Cortana. But during this hiatus, I’m delighted the Fire Phone is pleasant to use.

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