GeekWire’s Tricia Duryee and I just emerged from some hands-on time with Amazon’s new Fire Phone, and an interview with Ian Freed, the Amazon executive who led the project — a 4-year initiative inside the company.
Here are some of our impressions and key takeaways from both sessions …
Dynamic Perspective/Gestures: This is shaping up as the signature feature of the device: its ability to dynamically change the perspective shown on screen as you move your head or change the orientation of the phone in your hand. For example, you can tilt the device to one side to bring up menus, or swivel your wrist to bring up a settings dashboard.
To our surprise, using this feature to navigate the phone actually worked well, recognizing the gestures accurately, and didn’t mistake inadvertent twitches for attempts to navigate the device. Some of the navigational gestures were difficult at first with our non-dominant hands, but we got the hang of it fairly quickly.
Where it still feels like a gimmick is inside apps themselves. For example, moving the phone to navigate a three-dimensional map felt less efficient than just using a good old-fashioned finger. Maybe this would change over time as we grew more accustomed to the feature, and third-party developers work their magic.
I did like the little touches, like the way the directional arrows on the top and bottom of the screen get wider or more aerodynamic to show how fast or slow you’re moving.
Battery life: This is a big question given all of the sensors in the device, but Freed assured us that battery life will be “comparable to other premium smartphones,” lasting all day in many cases.
Firefly: This feature scans and recognizes objects, allowing you to save a web address or a product that you want to buy, for example. On most items that we scanned (pre-selected in Amazon’s demo area) it worked extremely well, and quickly — even recognizing multiple products in the photo frame at one time.
Tricia did manage to stump Firefly with a can of Diet Coke, however. The shine on the can kept the phone from recognizing the barcode on the back.
We were impressed by the ability to recognize specific music and video clips using an audio thumbprint, even identifying the specific scene of particular shows.
AT&T: Why launch this as an AT&T exclusive? Freed defended the decision based on Amazon’s longstanding relationship with the carrier, noting that Amazon was able to work out special arrangements such as smoothly handing off customers who use the Mayday feature to AT&T if they have a question that only an AT&T rep could answer. He declined to say how long the period of exclusivity will be.
Overall, in our limited time with the device, we were impressed with the underlying technology. However, it’s still not entirely clear if Amazon has enough to gain significant traction against Apple and Samsung out of the gate.
Previously: Live: Amazon unveils its new Fire Phone