Now that Amazon announced the Fire Phone at an event in Seattle on Wednesday, it’s time to compare it to the other phones in its price range: the iPhone(s AAPL) 5S, the Galaxy S5, and the Nokia Lumia Icon. The Fire Phone has a few unique features, but also has a few deficiencies compared to the nicest Android(s GOOG) and Windows(s MSFT) Phone hardware. So how does Bezos’ new baby stack up to the top handsets, by operating system, currently on the market? Here is a handy chart comparing the devices, and below is our commentary:
|Amazon Fire Phone||Samsung Galaxy S5||Apple iPhone 5S||Microsoft/Nokia Lumia Icon|
|Specifications||2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm processor with an Andreno 330 GPU with 2GB RAM. Quad-core Snapdragon 800.||2.5GHz quad-core Qualcomm 801 with 2GB RAM||Apple’s proprietary A7 chip with 1GB RAM||2.2 GHz Quad-core Snapdragon 800 with 2GB ram|
|Size||5.5″ x 2.6″||5.59″ x 2.85″||4.87″ x 2.31″||5.39″ x 2.79″|
|Battery||2400 mAh||2800 mAh||1570 mAh||2420 mAh|
|Display||4.7-inch IPS display running at 720p resolution, which works out to 315 pixels per inch (PPI).||5.1-inch AMOLED display running at 1080p resolution, which is 432 PPI.||4-inch display running at 640 x 1136 resolution, which is 326 PPI.||5-inch OLED display at 1080p resolution, which works out to 441 PPI.|
|Included storage||32GB for $200 on contract, 64GB for $300||16GB on-board storage for $200 on contract, but can take up to a 128GB microSD card||16GB for $200, 32GB for $300, and 64GB for $400||32GB for $100 on contract|
|Camera||13MP rear camera with f/2.0 lens||16MP rear camera with f/2.2 lens||8MP rear camera with f/2.2 lens||20MP rear camera with f/2.4 lens|
|Carriers||AT&T||All four major US carriers.||All four major US carriers.||Verizon only, but a similar variants are available on other carriers.|
|Exclusive features||Four sensors across the front to produce what Jeff Bezos calls “dynamic perspective.” Firefly, which recognizes various products and landmarks when the user takes a photo. Easy click to add the product to an Amazon shopping list.||A fingerprint scanner, and a feature called SideSync which allows Samsung tablets make and receive calls through a Galaxy S5 on-screen emulator.||A fingerprint scanner, called TouchID. Also, a motion coprocessor and the Apple M8.||A 20-megapixel camera utilizing Nokia’s PureView technology.|
|Perks||One free year of Amazon Prime, which usually costs $99. Unlimited free photo storage through Cloud Drive.||50GB free Box storage for two years, 6-month subscription to the Wall Street Journal, 3-months of Evernote premium for free||5GB free iCloud storage for the life of your Apple devices||None|
|Windstream||Amazon Appstore comes pre-installed, and features 230,000 apps||Through Google Play, the GS5 can download 1,000,000 Android apps, although that number may have risen since last July.||Apple’s App Store has over 1,000,000 apps as of October 2013.||Windows Phone has 200,000 apps to choose from as of December 2013.|
In terms of specs, the Fire Phone keeps up with the latest Android and Windows Phone devices. It’s using a quad-core Qualcomm processor, which wasn’t specified, but is most likely the Qualcomm 800. The same chip is used in the Lumia Icon and the HTC One M8, and an overclocked version is used in the Samsung Galaxy S5. The 2GB of RAM also matches other current flagship phones, and beats Apple’s 1GB allotment.
The display is where Amazon’s handset falls behind the market leaders. The nicest Android phones have adopted 5-inch 1080p displays, whereas the Fire Phone still uses a 720p screen measuring at 4.7 inches. However, that was a conscious decision, meant to maximize one-handed usability. Both the Lumia 900 and the Galaxy S5 feature big screens that work against one-handed use. The iPhone stays smaller and has a lower resolution, and Amazon’s device will fall right in the middle of the two extremes, which could end up being a sweet spot for a lot of people.
In addition, at the launch event, Bezos noted the screen was specially calibrated to work well in daylight, outputting 590 nits of brightness. It also uses a circular polarizer, so you can look at it when you’ve got sunglasses on. Is that enough to overcome the lower resolution? We’ll know when we get our hands on one.
The Fire Phone comes with 32GB of storage as part of the entry-level model, which is $200 on contract. That beats Samsung’s flagship, and it beats Apple’s storage pricing as well. Phones like the Nokia Lumia Icon and the HTC One M8 are adopting the 32GB size as the default entry-level price, and that’s a good thing. Of course, only Samsung’s device includes expandable storage by way of an microSD card slot.
The Fire Phone is only available on AT&T, unlike the Galaxy S5 and the iPhone 5S, which are available on all four major carriers. Nokia decided to make its Lumia Icon flagship exclusive to Verizon(s VZ), but offers the bigger Lumia 1520 on AT&T(s T) as well. However, we don’t know yet whether Amazon will sell its device unlocked: if it does, taking it to T-Mobile becomes possible by switching the SIM card as it has all the appropriate GSM, UMTS and LTE bands.
The camera seems like an exciting feature, and its 13-megapixel sensor beats the iPhone’s 8MP sensor handily. However, the Icon features Nokia’s PureView technology, and outputs 20-megapixel images. More megapixels doesn’t necessarily mean a better camera — most of the time it just means the photos take up more space — and since we haven’t had a chance yet to try out the Fire Phone camera, we’ll have to withhold judgment until we get our eyes on the photos it takes.
The Fire Phone starts to fall behind when it comes to apps. Fire OS uses the Amazon Appstore, and although it is able to run Android apps without emulation, Amazon’s Appstore lags behind both Google Play and Apple’s store in terms of sheer quantity. But there are also specific apps you’ll miss, too: Google will not bring its suite of Android apps to the Fire Phone, and that means missing out on apps like Google Maps, Google Docs, and Gmail. In fact, the Amazon Appstore, even with its recently increased 230,000 apps, is much closer in terms of quantity to the selection available on Windows Phone. In addition, only 40 apps so far have been custom-built to take advantage of Fire Phone features like tilting.
Where the Fire Phone distinguishes itself is through features unique to the platform. No other phone has the four front-facing cameras needed to produce what Jeff Bezos calls “dynamic perspective,” although whether you feel that is a feature or a gimmick is still up for debate. If you’re a heavy user of Amazon for daily household shopping, you might also like the Firefly feature, which allows you to take a picture of, say, your almost-empty jar of peanut butter and reorder more from Amazon easily. (It also will allow you to easily price-check items in a brick-and-mortar store.) If you don’t use Amazon for shopping, though, that feature is almost useless.
On the other hand, both Apple and Samsung have fingerprint scanners, which obviate the need to enter a password every time you want to look something up. Apple’s iPhone also has the M8 motion coprocessor, which allows it to be used as more of a fitness tracker than the other devices. And if you’re a fine art photographer, you might find that the Icon’s PureView camera is a selling point.
Perks and freebies
Where Amazon scores a clear victory is in terms of perks: A free year of Amazon Prime is the kind of deal that actually requires mention, as opposed to Samsung’s laundry list of trials most users don’t really want. Of course, the free two-day shipping is part of Amazon’s plan to get you to spend more money on its site, but it also comes with enough Kindle books, movies, TV shows, and — most recently — music to add a real and significant amount of content to your phone’s library. Plus, Prime media is built right into the phone’s menu so you can easily browse what you’re eligible to get. . What is also nice is the unlimited Cloud Drive storage for photos bundled with the Fire Phone. That’s really handy for consumers who don’t want to think about file storage in the cloud era, and it’s something I’d love to see Apple or Samsung do in the future.
The final spec is, essentially, a four-way tie. All four of these devices cost $200 for the entry-level model with a two-year contract (when not on sale). They are all the same price. While it was rumored that Amazon might try to lower the Fire Phone’s total cost through creative deals with its exclusive carrier, AT&T, or even make the phone free with Amazon Prime, it didn’t do that. It wants to compete solely on product and features, which is admirable. However, it faces an uphill battle: by not clearly distinguishing itself on hardware, by being the first phone in its ecosystem, and by limiting the device to one carrier, the only real reason a consumer would pick it over, say, the iPhone, is because of its crazy 3D interface or its ability to make it easier to buy products from Amazon. That’s a tough sell.