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amazon_phone-1200-80Well, the Amazon launch event just wrapped, and there are articles covering all the details all over the place. (Here’s a good one at Ars Technica plus our own Juli Monroe wrote one.) The Amazon Fire Phone (what a creative and original name!) is pretty much as expected from all the rumors. It has decent specs (quad-core 2.2 GHz Snapdragon 800 CPU, Adreno 330 GPU, 2 GB RAM; 4.7” IPS Gorilla Glass 1280×720 display) four head-tracking cameras for lenticular 3D effects, a 13 megapixel image-stabilized rear facing camera, and a few other neat gizmos like that.

It does have some neat capabilities, though, such as Firefly, an instant image and sound recognition service on the order of Google’s Goggles crossed with Shazam. You take a photo, it identifies what’s in the photo (whether that’s a product, text-based information, or even works of art), usually in under two seconds. It can also listen and identify music or TV shows. It’s got an SDK so third parties can extend it—you can use music identifications to make iHeartRadio playlists, for example. And the phone will have Mayday, too.

The phone will cost $199 for 32 GB or $299 for 64 GB with a two-year AT&T contract, or $649 for the 32 GB version off-contract. (So you apparently can buy it unlocked and take it to some other carrier; it’s just that it’ll cost you. Update: No, you can’t. A commenter at The Passive Voice heard from Amazon customer service that even if you buy it unlocked, it will still only work on AT&T.) You can pre-order it now; it ships July 25. It will come with an extra year of Prime service, and unlimited photo storage via Amazon Cloud Drive. (That’s one up on Google, who only gives you 15 GB free.) Plus, Prime subscribers (which will be everyone who buys the phone, for at least a year) will get access to the gamut of Prime services, including streaming video, music, Kindle owner’s lending library, and so on.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the presentation was not so much the phone, but Bezos casually dropping word at the beginning that Amazon Prime has “tens of millions of subscribers.” Given that Prime costs $100 per year, every ten million users equals one billion dollars in annual user fees—and that’s not even counting all the extra purchases Prime subscribers tend to make given that suddenly all your purchases look like nails when you have an Amazon Prime hammer.

From what I saw in the livestream of the event and articles thereafter, I don’t think the Fire Phone is going to set the world on, well, fire any more than the Fire Tablets did. But it’s not really intended to. Amazon never meant for its tablet to compete directly against plain-vanilla Android or iOS devices, and it doesn’t mean for its phone to compete directly with the iPhone, Nexus, or Moto X either.

These devices have a very select clientele—the people who want to drink their Amazon content from a fire hose (hey, there’s that word again!) rather than a garden hose. People who want “regular” tablets have very different needs in mind. It’s apples-and-oranges territory here. You’re never going to get a plain-vanilla Android or iOS tablet with access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Android tablets still don’t have Amazon Prime Streaming Video except by way of a clunky workaround, and who knows if they ever will?

On the other hand, Fire devices don’t have all the capabilities of full Android, either, such as the ability to buy apps from Google’s Play Store (which also means they miss out on some popular games and apps that aren’t in Amazon’s store, such as Plants vs. Zombies 2)—but if you just want a dedicated portable Amazon content-consuming device to the exclusion of all else, there’s literally nothing better. Spiffy little gadgets like Firefly or motion tracking 3D are just icing.

 
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