Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Amazon's Smartphone is here. $199 to start, with 2 yr plan AND free year of Prime (extra year for Prime members). Updated and re-edited for clarity 7/2/14

LAUNCH EVENT time 10:30am PDT, 1:30pm EDT

FIRE PHONE is now available for pre-order.

Release date: July 25, 2014
  Limited time offer - "Includes a full year of Amazon Prime" (normally $99)
If you aren't a Prime member, you'll get a full year of Prime with Fire phone. If you already have Prime, we'll extend your membership for a full year."

It starts at $199 for 32 GB, $299 for 64 GB, with a 2-year monthly data plan with AT&T.
  Essentially then, the phone with 32G is $99 after saving on $99 Prime, with 2 yrs of a monthly data plan.

The 3D-simulation on Amazon's product-page image is pretty nifty.  Am not placing it here, as eInk Kindle subscribers to the Kindle Edition of the blog can't view video. :-)  Thanks again to the subscribers for continued support of the blog.

Content seen during launch is below - edited after-the-fact for clarity (and to fix typos galore)

REFRESH the web page to see any additional updates as they occur today, which will be shown at the top instead.

Will just be taking notes here and updating when I see something unusual.  My earlier article on the rather heavily "rumored" smartphone had a lot of details that will likely be were confirmed, for the most part, today.

While the 3D aspects should be novel and fun for awhile, I was looking forward to a good plan but especially since it's been said to be exclusive to AT&T (which seemed a hint they may have worked out a good deal for customers and Amazon with AT&T to get that exclusive).  The limited-time offer of 1 yr of free Prime is probably what makes it a better deal than most, as it makes the cost of a new, very high-tech smartphone with advanced features only $99 if you get a 2-year monthly data plan with AT&T.

The launch started out with the usual lists of previous goals and accomplishments, and Amazon will then take invited customer-applicants for this event (said to be chosen via a random drawing) and the usual media to a place where they can get hands-on access.

A rumor I hadn't heard earlier
From BostInno
' In addition to the five total front cameras, the back camera is said to have optical character recognition that can capture and convert text.
  In other words, instead of stuffing all those business cards into your pockets at your next networking event, you'll be able to snap up a photo of the card and have all the information automatically compiled into your contacts. '
I had no idea this morning whether that was true or not, but that's very useful.  There are Android and iOS apps that have been able to, for some time, take a picture of a sign with text in another language and translate it.
  Turns out that the Fire Phone can read an image to get, say, a phone number but, not only that, it can realize that a graphic element confused it and that the area code is not a valid one and then can fetch the information to correct it).

Jeff Bezos mentioned that 60,000+ people applied to view the launch in Seattle in person, and Amazon whittled that down to 300.

Prime apparently has "tens of millions" of subscribers -- and we know that Prime will be the big factor here, as we've seen with video and music features (along with Kindle book loans and 2-day free shipping) on millions of items.  As you saw in a previous blog entry here, the original 5,000 Kindle books in the Prime Library for free lending of one-book per calendar month has grown to over 500,000.

A sample previous prediction by experts when the first Kindle launched was mentioned -- the investing site Motley Fool said it would be good "for kindling."

Opening PR reminded us that Foresee and YouGov branding charts both list Amazon as No. 1 in customer service.

The Fire Phone with FIREFLY scanning
Claims on slides shown, for the most part:  (I'll double space these after editing, and also highlight a few aspects that were more interesting to me, for easier reading.)
. Rubberized frame, Gorilla Glass, aluminum buttons.

. Premium materials, scratch resistant

. 4.7 inch IPS LCD HD display

. Quad core 2.2 Ghz processor, Adreno 330 graphics processor, and 2 GB of RAM.

. "Beautiful, comfortable, durable"

. Injection-molded steel connectors

. Focus on making it Better than usual for outdoor viewing

. Great imaging hardware
      with 13 MP rear-facing camera, f/2 5-element lens, optical image stabilization

. Slide of Fire Phone vs iPhone 5s and Samsung F5
      (They wouldn't be showing one where the Fire Phone didn't look better, of course)

. "Don't miss the shot" -- instant fast access to camera from

. Free Unlimited Photo Storage

. Dual stereo speakers (Stereo audio in Landscape), Virtual surround sound, Dolby Digital Plus

. Free Mayday Help/Support feature -- (video support by customer reps and AT&T reps within 15 seconds when you need help) is included.  You see the rep, who does not see you but you can hear each other, and the reps can not only show you how to do something, they can do it for you.)

. Watch material on HDTV, 2nd screen, Miracast, plus Xray for movies and tv

. Flat cables, earphones included

. Netflix, HBO Go, ESPN, Youtube, and Showtime apps are included and ready to go.

. includes of course the new Prime Music feature (free for members) - over 1 million songs
      with unlimited free streaming.

. More than a few Music apps and services

. "Semantic Boosting" helps to get the phone number right by eliminating invalid numbers.

. Firefly scanning feature "scrapes" the image for relevant info [via optical character recognition], compressing a large image file to a smaller one with only small bits of info.  That helps the phone send the info to its cloud service to process the image and get appropriate info or answers quickly.

. Reminder about the X-ray feature, now using Firefly also.  As with tablets, if it recognizes the show, it pulls up info on the actors, specific episode, and scene via Amazon's IMDB database.  I expect this works with Amazon Prime but not with Netflix and Hulu Plus etc., as they control the stream with Prime video.  HOWEVER, the Firefly scanning feature has had a lot of training by Amazon and itself can "recognize" movies, TV episodes, music, and get info for X-Ray.  I've added Amazon's description of Firefly functions at the bottom of this post, as it is a very impressive feature, activated by the press of a physical button on the phone.

. Firefly recognizes a hundred million different items in real-world situations.

. The image changes as you move your phone (or head) and perspective.

. A MAP application was shown next, in 3D

. They zoomed into the Empire State Building image, and it's said this looks a lot better than previous attempts at 3D on similar devices

. The 3D couldn't exactly be experienced by our looking at the launch-event slides over the web with our normal devices.

. Various web sites are very impressed with the 3D implementation.  Most writers I read were skeptical about it based on previous attempts by other companies.

. In the web browsing -- "auto scroll" - you can scroll by tilting the phone (I'm not sure I'd want that, but they pointed out that can be turned off when wanted.

. You can pin other apps to the app grid.  They have the Carousel with latest apps accessed at the top.

. Get in and out of apps with widgets (shown on slide) without having to load up a full app

. Music app.  As with the tablets, we can see the lyrics synchronized (highlighting current line) with songs for which they received the rights for that.
      Song info is in one panel - lyrics in a panel to the right.

. Games: You can tilt the phone to look at different perspectives in a game.

. "Dynamic Perspective" - They started working on this 4 years ago and had prototypes working in the first week.

. The phone has a wider range of view for the front camera to cover the area needed for tracking head movement and whatever else needed to make the 3D simulation work well.

. At least two of the Fire Phone's four corner cameras and center camera can find your eyes, creating stereovision.

. To have it work in the dark, they added infrared lights, one in each camera.

. Dynamic Perspective sensor system -- "uses four ultra-low power specialized cameras -- the smallest globally shuttered cameras in existence -- plus four infrared LEDs for invisible illumination, real-time computer vision algorithms, and a custom graphics engine rendering at 60 fps" [frames per second]."

. They used "millions of images from thousands of faces from all around the world" while testing this.

. While trying to find the user's head and eyes for perspective-use, the cameras -could- during development be fooled by another head that happened to be in the picture (as in an image on a t-shirt).  They say they fixed the usual problems with seeing multiple-faces in that case.

. Developers can develop 3D apps for viewing homes while shopping, etc.

. You can silence your ringer for 3 hours.  After that, it turns back on.
      This would help me since I forget to turn it back on and then can't use a landline to call my cellphone to find out where it is :-)

. Price: $199 for 32 GB phone, with a 2 year monthly data plan, and includes a limited-time offer of a free one-year Prime membership, $299 for 64 GB phone w/ 2 yr contract and same Prime deal.

Addendum: More about Firefly and what it does (from product page)
  You just press the physical button on the side of the Fire Phone to "take action on"
' Phone numbers, web, and email addresses
Firefly identifies printed text on posters, magazines, and business cards -- make calls, save new contacts, send emails, and visit websites without typing long addresses.

Movies & TV
Firefly recognizes over 240,000 movies and TV episodes, and 160 live TV channels.  Firefly uses X-Ray, powered by IMDb, to show information on actors, plot details, and related content -- add titles to your Watchlist or download to watch later.

Firefly recognizes songs so you can access artist information, play related songs, download albums direct to your Fire phone, or add them to your Wish List to purchase later on.  With Firefly-enabled apps like iHeartRadio and StubHub, you can create radio stations based on an identified artist, or even find tickets for their next show.

Over 70 million products
Recognize household items, books, DVDs, CDs, video games, and more.  Access product details, add items to your Wish List, or order on Amazon straight from your Fire phone. '

Amazon's 3D FIRE PHONE is now available for pre-order here
Release date: July 25, 2014

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  1. As someone sans smartphone, I am 'available' and tempted. I am seriously thinking about the 64GB model off-contract ($749). With the 1 year prime included, that compares favorably with off-contract iPhone 5s 64GB ($200 less) and what should be a slightly better display (though I'd hoped for full HD screen like Samsung 5s). And then there is the difficult-to-value Mayday and FireFly features, not sure I'd use them. And it is shipping on my birthday! (that should get me a birthday discount...)

    Too bad it is BT 3.0 and not 4.0 (more efficient and secure)--I don't think software update can add that. I was hoping there would be some deal on the calling/data plans, as rumored (free, unlimited photo storage does not qualify).

    I'd probably go with StraightTalk $45/mo, unlimited text/calling, 3GB data, vs AT&T which would be about $65, though the latter gives you LTE (where available).

    Personally I think I would like autoscrolling mode (no doubt you can turn it off when desired). As impressive and cool as the 3D stuff is, not sure what application it would have for me. I thought everybody was expecting 3D, or are you saying they weren't expecting to be impressed by it?

    I was starting to wonder when their map technology acquisition awhile back was going to surface. Presumably the mapping capabilities on Fire Phone is the fruit, and it will find its way onto Fire tablets as well (at least those with GPS). But is it any good? If not, you are kind of stuck with it. With Apple you have at least Google Maps to fall back on, and I think there are alternatives on Google Play.

    What do they mean 'information from YouTube"? how is that integrated with xray? Surely Google is not going to submit their app to Appstore. Are there any decent YouTube apps in the Appstore?

    Speaking of apps, I (as always) wish they'd relax their app policy and allow Fire users to get any app that is in the Appstore (Dropbox, OneDrive, Dolphin, etc). Will they allow MS Office for Android when that ships? Maybe I need to start a campaign (e.g. to raise awareness so there's more pressure to do so. It's really the most annoying, if not exactly evil, thing Amazon does IMO.

    1. Tom! If I were without a smartphone I'd go for Fire Phone in a heartbeat. It's essentially $99 for this fairly truly advanced phone from AT&T (I am on AT&T and it's been great for me, a tiny bit cheaper than Verizon, although I found Verizon to be more reliable in the San Francisco area).

      Birthday! What a great excuse! :-) I had a Samsung Galaxy S2 for years and *loved* it but I would trade it in for this. Now I have a 2-yr update deal last Dec and chose Nokia Lumia 1020 -- and because it has such a GREAT camera, which uses its 40 megapixels very well and with all kinds of settings options, I won't be trading that in, at least not this year.
      I wish I could get a hold of the Amazon phone though. But outside of the camera, yes, in a minute, as the Nokia is not one of the better phones, though the Windows phone interface seems inordinately intuitive otherwise. Sounds as if Amazon is doing very good things with their rear camera now though.

      Firefly features: the more I read about them, they seem terrific. May do a separate entry on that or make it a fatter section in this one, at the bottom. When apps developers get at this, I think you'll like what you're able to do.

      I changed my wording on the sentence you mentioned, as it was badly stated. I meant that tech writers had been very cynical about the 3D feature but they were exclaiming how something was pretty darned impressive (heard on several sites) . But there are pressures and one has to be 'cool' in those situations and some toned it down after the imediate impressions at the event.

      TRAVEL apps. I'd love one that lets me see various places in 3D and let me see 'around' things.

      Map alternatives are on Amazon. I use Google Maps though, from 1mobile - works great! There's nothing about it that would make it not run on the Fire tablets, so I imagine these will work on the phone too if downloaded from places like 1Mobile, which now has 800,000+ Android apps.

      My favorite Youtuber app in the appstore is tubemate. It's wonderful for downloading anything you want in various file sizes and resolution.. Now, as for info from a Youtube video, I guess maybe they can pick up publicly avaiable info from a Youtube video for use with x-ray.

      It's not Amazon's policy re apps from GooglePlay that is the big problem. After all, we can get them from 1Mobile et al, but Kindle Fires are not not acknowledged by Google play site itself.

      I read that B&N, once they gave up on their useless Music ecosystem and Android app store and were failing, finally acquiesced to Google's normal terms with vendors who request to have their devices authorized for GooglePlay. Google needs to do approvals for the other vendors' system updates (for Android OS compatability affecting their apps, I read), slowing down the ability to get them out there) and they want to be designated primary music and apps choice (Google Music, Google play). Amazon is just not going to do that. So, the Kindle Fires are not approved. Probably never were submitted, considering the terms peop[le say are Google's basic ones for vendors wanting approval for their devices to download etc.

      Anyway, Amazon "allows" everything I've ever wanted in apps just by letting us merely check "On' the setting to get these from unknown sources. And we do. It's so easy to 'drive' via web to another store, search and download an app, that I just don't have the same feeling of having something withheld from me. I wouldn't expect to go into Barnes and Noble and see functions that make it easier for me to go to Amazon. Amazon would be unmentioned. Google is both competitive and likely a partner in other areas. So now Amazon has 240,000 apps and will be growing even faster, it seems.

    2. I just find Amazon Appstore inferior, even after over 3 years now. My opinion is of course highly subjective, but it has been quite stable. It's not so much the selection (which is ostensibly fine, with some exceptions like Dropbox), but the quality, and overall experience. Availability of 800,000 free apps from 1Mobile does little to mitigate these fundamentals. And (for example) Feedly ('for Kindle Fire') crashes all the time on my Fire, hardly at all on my Android tablet or iPod Touch. Words With Friends for Fire is likewise worse than on Android or iOS. So it is a real issue when I consider spending $650-750 on a Fire Phone (whether that is all paid up front or paid out over the course of a 2 year contract).

      Actually I think I got Google YouTube app from 1Mobile (there were a few weeks awhile back when Silk would not play YouTube video). But you cannot Sign In so as to retrieve subscriptions, etc. I imagine that is the same with Google Maps? There is a Google Services component that would theoretically enable identity services, but I've had no success in getting it to run on my Fire, and as far as I can tell, short of rooting, nobody has. So this is another case where things would be cleaner on Android or iOS. Thanks for the TubeMate recommendation, but Silk is fine for the little bit of YT that I do.

    3. The only app that gave me problems on an HD or HDX was a free one having to do with travel scenes and it is a very cheap one that I just deleted, but I've been lucky, I guess. I use Feedly and never have a crash with it.

      In earlier days, I did sometimes have crashes with Dolphin but if that happened, I'd power off to clear memory and then there'd be no problem afterward. Sometimes, use of combos of apps will cause there to be not enough contiguous memory to run certain features, so rebooting helps there. This, by the way, happens with Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Android, in my case, also. Re Feedly's crashes for you. I guess there's something lacking in the way your Kindle Fire HD 7" (2012) as I think Iremember?) handles Feedly. I never used that one on the HD so I don't know. It works very smoothly on my HDX though.

      On the other hand, since you do experience these problems with the HD (which I have but which is actually better with Dolphin and Flash than my HDX with the later Android version bases), I'd hesitate too if I were you.

      Re Youtube -- Dolphin and certain Flash files play youtube with no problems at all on my HD and HDX and the only reason I did go with tubemate app as an alternate option is I want to keep certain videos for offline video, and tubemate (from Amazon) is phenomenal for me. I don't know about sign-ins but 1mobile sends me the usual update alerts all the time.for Google apps I get there. Any mixup comes from my having bought some apps on my Samsung via Google play and other apps on my Kindle Fire tablets via 1Mobile.

      I get alerts re updated Google maps -- I ignore the updates on the latter because I like the faster (older) version which I recommend on my blog. But it's been awhile, so I'll try one of the later Map updates to see if they improved the later ones.

      Silk will play some website video straight (w/o flash) better than my Samsung will or better than Dolphin with Flash will - it depends on HTML5, I guess. Their experimental streaming viewer is VERY good. I use Silk now more than I use Dolphin Flash, for that reason. The ESV on Silk will run some website broadcast video while Dolphin Flash on an HDX won't.

      As one who really does like Amazon Prime, it's of course easier to do that with the Kindles and I love seeing them on the HDTV too (especially with X-ray and more so if I used 'fling' and can see it separately on the tablet), via Fire TV, but there is a woraround these days so that owners of pure Android tablets can view Amazon's Instant Prime too if they're Prime members-- it just takes a few steps with a few files. A lot of things need workarounds..

      As for Tubemate, there is no way to download youtube video on Silk or Dolphin/Flash (that I've run across but I have not explored it, out of a lack of need), but if you're sentimental about a video and want to show it offline to friends and not have to get on the Net to see/show it, it's great. One of my favorite apps, as I do like a library of videoclips that tickle me.

    4. Oh, re the slower version of Google Maps, I meant Google EARTH, which had an update that was humongously slow for tons of people, so many of us went back to an earlier version at one point. Google Maps has not been a problem in my case. But one version of Earth was awful. But fortunately some sites keep copies of older .apk's so we can go bacik to earlier versions easily.

  2. i am looking forward to getting the amazon phone, as i love reading kindle ebooks.

  3. The brand notoriety and client dedication of Amazon, joined together with the few peculiarities of the Fire Phone that are novel Dynamic Perspective, Firefly, Mayday, and the Amazon Prime membership—make the Amazon smartphone an exceptionally propelling newcomer. In the event that the gadget and the experience match the quality we've started to anticipate from Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft may end up confronting a commendable new competitor.Thanks a lot.~Thompson.

  4. whether this smartphone can be used in Indonesia, and is able to use any mobile network?


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