The great and powerful Amazon sent me their Fire Phone. I have to admit, I was excited to give this new device a test run to see if my opinion ran parallel with the thoughts of most other tech journalists. The general gist around the globe is that the Fire Phone has the potential to be something good (even great)... but as it currently is, not so much.
Let's see how it stands up to my scrutiny.
I've previously written about the details of the phone — including the specs and various bells and whistles (like the 3D UI). In this article, I want to examine the device as something you would use in your daily life (be it business or personal). Does it work? Is it efficient? Can it stand as a drop-in replacement for an Android device? These are questions I want to answer to help draw a final conclusion on the first-ever phone release from Amazon.
Does it work?
This is a fairly generic question, but one that must be answered... and answered first and foremost. I've had plenty of devices come across my desk that simply didn't work. They made promises that were impossible to keep and, for whatever reason, couldn't deliver on anything. Fortunately, for Amazon, the Fire Phone delivers quite well.
Most reviews focus on whether or not the 3D display is worth having — whether the phone benefits from its existence. Instead of looking at the 3D element, I opted to simply see how well the phone and UI work together. I'll address the particulars of the UI in a moment, but once you understand just how the UI is put together (how the various elements interact), you start to see just how well it does, in fact, work. The biggest problem people will face with this device is overcoming the stumbling block of the how it works. 3D notwithstanding, the UI is clever. You have to consider the main window to be broken down into the following four sections (see the video below):
- The app section: The top portion of the main window where you can scroll through the main apps.
- The data section: As you select an app from the app section, data associated with that app will appear in the middle section of the window.
- The dock section: You can get quick access to your main apps from here.
- The sidebars: There is a left sidebar where you can gain access to multimedia and a right sidebar that gives you a quick peek at what's happening.
Once you understand how the UI is broken down, the device begins to really work for you. Considering that any time you jump ship from one platform to another, there's a learning curve involved, you can't fault Amazon for this. The UI does work out-of-the-box... if you give it some time and thought. Once you've got the lay of the land, it really works well.
Is it efficient?
Okay, this is a tricky one, because it depends on how you use your device. If you depend heavily on Google Apps, efficient may not be a word you'd associate with the Fire Phone. Sure, you can add Gmail and a Google Calendar account to the Fire Phone, but there's no real means of syncing Google Drive to your Fire Phone. There is, however, an Amazon Cloud service that you can take advantage of — but you'll be uploading files from your desktop via a web browser. Once the files are in sync with your phone, you'll then have to install OfficeSuite Professional 7 ($14.99) or WPS Office (free) apps to edit them.
This is a big "shame on you" moment for Amazon. To not include the means to edit standard documents says, "This device really isn't for work, but for play." Amazon should have included an office suite (WPS makes for a great choice) to seriously improve the efficiency of this device.
Other than that (and getting used to the UI), the Fire Phone is surprisingly efficient. With a home screen that's more in tune with getting you directly to your data and not your apps, you'll be surprised at just how quickly you can get around the device.
Can it stand as a drop-in replacement for an Android device?
This is the biggest question for me, and it's also where the Fire Phone comes nearest failure. The biggest issue? No Google integration. As I mentioned earlier, you can add a Gmail account and a Google calendar, but beyond that... you're out of luck.
That doesn't mean complete and utter failure. If you don't depend up Google Apps, the Fire Phone is a splendid choice. Otherwise, the Fire Phone will be a source of endless frustration as you attempt to figure out a way to get your Google Docs onto the phone. Since the Fire Phone has no means of editing the Google Doc native format, things can get tedious quickly. Of course, if you're willing to migrate from Google Docs to using the Android Cloud service, you should be good to go. Understand that by doing so, you forgo a cloud-based doc editing tool (unless you're willing to work within a web browser).
It's very clear that Amazon created the Fire Phone for consumers. With that in mind, they did an outstanding job. The UI, the apps, and the device itself (it is one seriously stout piece of hardware) are all incredibly well designed. But overlooking the fact that people actually do work from their mobile devices was a bit of an oversight. With that in mind, it's a hard sell for me to recommend the Fire Phone to anyone who spends as much time at work as they do at play on their smartphones.
What do you think? Did Amazon miss the mark with their target audience, or do you think this is precisely the type of device they intended to put on the market? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.