Why the Amazon Fire phone will fail

by: Simon HillJune 21, 2014

amazon fire phone press (3)

The rumors about an Amazon smartphone have been doing the rounds for many years, and now it has finally arrived. What could the world’s biggest online retailer bring to the already crowded smartphone party? How does Amazon expect to tempt people away from the mighty offerings of Google and Apple? How can it produce better hardware than experienced consumer electronics giants like Samsung, LG, and Sony?

The short answers are nothing much, it won’t, and it can’t.

firephone-announced Image source: CNBC

It’s too expensive

We can point to a lot of reasons that the Amazon Fire is going to fail, and we will, but the biggest surprise is the price tag. It costs $199 on a two year contract (AT&T only) or a whopping $650 off-contract. That puts it in the same bracket as the Samsung Galaxy S5, the LG G3, and the iPhone 5S. When we compare specs with the S5 and G3, you find that the Fire lags behind. It has a smaller screen with a lower pixel density, it has an older, slower processor, and there’s no microSD card slot. It’s also heavier and lacks an eye-catching design. The camera should perform better in low light thanks to a wider aperture, but it ties with the G3 at 13MP and lags behind the 4K-shooting 16MP camera in the S5.

Related: Best Amazon fire phone cases

Having witnessed Amazon’s strategy with the Kindle Fire tablet line you could be forgiven for expecting a low cost device. Wasn’t the idea to get people to buy the hardware so they’d be locked into the ecosystem and spend, spend, spend on Amazon goodies? This device at the Nexus 5 price point of $350 would have caused serious shockwaves, but there’s nothing in the hardware to justify the premium price. Surely Amazon has something else up its sleeve?

Software features and Amazon services

There are some good points about the Fire phone, based on a consumer focus that may be lacking elsewhere, but only time will tell if they are enough to carve out a niche ownership.


We’ve got the MayDay feature for instant tech support. Before you dismiss it, consider that it’s not aimed at you, it’s aimed at that friend or relative who phones you up to ask why their computer or smartphone isn’t working properly, and instantly betrays their complete lack of ability to just “Google” the problem and find a solution.

Amazon is also offering free unlimited photo storage and it does have a decent camera with a dedicated camera button for quick launch. Then there’s the tie in with Miracast and Fire TV making it simple to stream content to the big screen.

Bringing out the big guns we have Firefly. A physical button on your phone that is the pinnacle of a capitalist consumer society – point it at anything and you can buy it on Amazon in seconds. It can even identify songs, movies, and TV shows. Amazon is betting that it doesn’t matter that the competition already offers similar deals, or that these features have been around in app form for years already. It’s also hoping you won’t consider the potential value of all this big data in the form of recordings (images, audio, and location) you’re effectively uploading to Amazon’s servers.

The biggest carrot of all is the free one year membership of Amazon Prime, usually $100 per year. It gives access to a sizeable library of movies, TV shows, music, and e-books, not to mention two-day shipping on any Amazon purchases. Although it does say “for a limited time” so there’s no telling how long that promotion will last.

All of that before we come to “Dynamic Perspective”. Four infrared cameras track your face and give a 3D-like experience (that isn’t actually 3D). It sounds a lot like Apple’s parallax effect on steroids and it was hardly a popular feature. Motion sickness complaints will flood in and Ars Technica already reported that the feature goes wonky when two faces are close enough to the phone to confuse it. Maybe Amazon should have left it out and cut the price of the phone accordingly. feature-dp._V349436054_

The Fire platform just isn’t as good

Amazon’s insistence on forking Android and cutting out Google services means that you are limited to a much smaller subset of apps and games. Less than 25% of what is the Play Store and there are some big names on the omission list. For the Kindle Fire tablet range you could get away without great navigation capabilities, but the lack of Google Maps or a really good alternative on a phone is going to be a deal-breaker for many.

You don’t get the same customization options with Fire either. You could root it and sort some of these deficiencies out, but why would you? The vast, vast majority of people who buy this phone will not consider rooting and the attraction of this hardware for the people who would root is not clear (if it had been cheap then maybe).


It’s for Amazon fans

If we were to judge the Fire phone as a flagship release from a manufacturer looking to break into the top tier then we can safely say it’s going to be an epic fail, but Bezos dropped some clues that this isn’t really the aim when he asked, “Can we build a better phone for our most engaged customers?”

If you’re crazy about Amazon then maybe that’s enough to sway you into buying. It didn’t work for Facebook, but it’s a very different company. There is a real possibility that Amazon will carve out a little niche and look to build on it, but it could well be confined to the US. There was no word on a wider international release for the Fire phone and Amazon is a great deal less popular in Europe and further afield.

Even less convincing was AT&T’s chief exec, Ralph de la Vega, coming on stage to say “I am going to buy a whole lot more things with this technology than I ever have before.” Seriously?

Firefly is one of those features that solves a problem for Amazon – how can we get people to buy more stuff? It doesn’t solve a problem for us. It’s not hard to get Amazon services on any Android device or the iPhone for that matter, and we won’t be surprised if Firefly ends up as a cross-platform app. So what is the USP for the Fire phone? What does it do better than the rest? Why would you recommend it over any of the current Android flagships? We genuinely can’t see a reason.

  • Jayfeather787

    The main thing for me is the price. The specs are pretty good, but the features are useless for me, and I would rather get a Nexus 5, or a OnePlus One (if it ever comes out).
    If the price was similar to those phones, and I could install a custom ROM on the Fire Phone, then it would be pretty cool. However, I believe that Amazon tends to lock bootloaders pretty tight, and being an AT&T phone doesn’t help that situation. Moreover, the cool 3D features would be rendered useless by installing a custom ROM. But I don’t want to put up with Fire OS either.

    • guest

      Only other option would be for a dev to get source code for the features or mod fire os.

    • MasterMuffin

      In my opinion even if this had a perfectly working AOSP ROM, there’d still no reason to buy this

    • jsouthernindiana

      I have kindles with aosp so I am sure amazon won’t lock the boot loader. At&T now that’s a different story. It will be locked for sure. Never buy a at& t phone again

      • Jayfeather787

        Yep. However, I though that Amazon locked the bootloaders on the newest Kindle Fires. Maybe I am wrong. Thanks for that info.

  • Amadeus Klein

    The phone is good, yes nothing mind blowing, but the price is where it fails… I wouldn’t be surprised to see this come down in price quickly…

    I have to admit my surprise when they listed the pricing, not the usual amazon “Loss Leader” strategy of selling at or below cost in order to sell apps…

    We’ll see how it works out for them…

    • Daniel DS

      The phone is “good”? I can’t think of a 400$+ phone released in the past 2 years that is worse than this.

      • Amadeus Klein

        “Good” as in solid mid-range phone… Not worth the price tag, but specs-wise it is in fact good for the mid range market. It is no high end phone…. The problem is they priced it like one. “Excellent” or “High-End” would be the terms I use to describe a high end phone… This definitely doesn’t fit those definitions…

        • Daniel DS

          So it’s a mid range phone with a price that is higher than half of today’s high end flagships, way to go, Amazon

          • Insomniac9000

            Hey look, Amazon pulled an Apple!

  • MasterMuffin

    Even Amazon fans don’t want this. Complete failure that will become a good deal in 2 months when the price is cut to half or less :)

    • Louis Hartley

      It’ll probably be another HP Thinkpad, we’ll find some way at installing android, haha.

      • Evan Cm

        HP Touchpad, and that thing was awesome. Got one during the firesale :)

        • Craig Trunzo

          Me too. An HP Touchpad was my first Android tablet and it worked great for me for over 2 years.

    • Sachin

      Exactly what happened with Blackberry Z10.

      • Anon

        Nexus5 all the way!

    • Anon

      Nexus5 all the way!!!!!

    • Myamo

      At halft the price it’s at Nexus 5s price point. I don’t see anyone (sane) picking up this phone instead of the N5. With the so-so specs and the lack of appstore I would have expected them to give it away with subscriptions, or sell it for $199 without.

    • me

      People need to mind their own and not worry about others. If this phone sells then good for them. If not the just shut up and stop it with all these ridiculous articles. For not caring about this phone you sure care a lot to write about it?

      Productive much?

      • MasterMuffin

        I didn’t write anything other than a small comment :) I do agree in that it’s good for them if this sells, I wouldn’t mind that at all and I don’t hope anything bad for Amazon. If people are happy with this device, what am I to stop them. It’s just that this really doesn’t deserve to sell a lot, people deserve more.

      • Jayfeather787

        I mean, MasterMuffin has to keep his reputation up. He has more comments on Android Authority than the next several people combined.

        • Troll of all trolls

          Master muffin is right all the time and his opinion is the only one that matters…. Smh

      • Barath

        Butthurt much ? You must have bought the phone, and now you’re feeling terrible

  • Salman Thaw

    They should’ve gone the OnePlus One approach, which is actually the Amazon approach in everything but here.

    Release a phone to build their name from the ground up with thin to no profit margins, build their customer base, their app store, accessories… and then release an improved version 2, with a higher price… and keep going from there.

    They’re feeling ballsy with a ton of wins in many fields so they tried to take a short-cut.

    It will sell when the price is cut.

    • pervbear

      I think the problem is they have been doing that for so long with their kindle brand and wanted to get into the fight as a saumsung or iPhone level instead of the nexus level but those are hard to come by these days especially if you want to get in the ring as an exclusive, they needed a good world wide launch at a free on contract of 400-450 off price range to make it in the world where there is a new device every 5 seconds especially when they want to rock their own own Eco system an Eco system which seems almost like a wasteland half the time. I run into so many apps that just never seem to get update or updated way less then the play or iOS stores and that’s not including less options. I think the best part about the phone is mayday which is on the kindle devices making it perfect for non tech wavy people but not at this price range.

      • Hack

        Yup, I agree, the biggest problem is the price. The non-tech savvy, are looking for a inexpensive, if not free, phone on contract. Why buy this at $199, when I can get a free Android smartphone?

        That should have been their first question of themselves when they were trying to figure out price point.

  • Jesus Cumba

    Amazon sorry to say it but you dropped the ball. Selling it for $199 is one thing but selling it for $199 & att exclusivity really killed the phone before it even launches.

  • Not sure why people are saying at&t is the problem here, anyone remember this little phone called the iPhone that came out exclusively on at&t. I recall it didn’t do so bad, anyway the point here is the Fire phone is a fail in every major aspect, not that it’s only available on at&t which btw has around 90 million wireless customers give or take. Let’s move on shall we, specs = Fail; let me elaborate for those who think otherwise, last gen processor with 2 generations ago screen resolution = fail. Price = major fail; 199 really? Oh and don’t even speak of off contract pricing with phones like the Nexus 5 and OnePlus1 looming. Finally FireOS = Fail; sure it will work for some but not anyone who has ever used Android or iOS. So chalk it up to Amazon to do good with their Kindle Tablet line, but drop the ball with the Fire phone.

    • Will S.

      The iPhone is the only carrier exclusive phone to succeed, all other carrier exclusives have flopped in terms of sales.

      • Yea I mean I get why it’s a bad idea, my point was that it’s been done successfully before.

    • abazigal

      That was then, when the iPhone was the first smartphone of its kind in the market and it commanded strong enough interest to succeeded despite being tied to one carrier, not because it was available on only one carrier.

      Today, smartphones are a dime a dozen, and I don’t see how being tied to one carrier can be seen as a strength. I doubt people are going to break contracts and switch carriers just to get the Fire Phone.

    • Bailey

      So by you thoughts which all Android fans think with its a fail because of specs. Therefore the iPhone should have failed it has a dual core chip. Has similar ppi. What people have failed to see is that this phone is not trading itself against the S5 or the iPhone. Mr Bezos said time and time again its for are most avide Prime customer. If you have a kindle fire which it seems a few have you won’t have any problems with this phone because you are already in the eco system. Yes they are giving away a years subscription to Prime for new customers but he made a point of saying to our avid Prime users we will just tack a year onto your membership. Its not meant to be a tech marvel or the most pimped out phone. And it will not sell 40 million handsets but if it can sell around 5 million like the kindle fires are rumoured to sell 6 million a year and half of those are new customers who take prime for a year and I bet renew whilst they are shopping then its been successfull. I love my nexus 5 but I had a kindle fire which for an reason I can’t explain liked more than the nexus 7. But I had to sell it on as I was spending far to much money . my debit card statements just said Amazon. As for ease of use its easy and if you not sure Mayday will help you out. If your not sure with a nexus trawl the internet send an email or if your Apple go to one of there stores que or make an appointment. I have yet to understand why Android fans don’t understand that everyone is not a tech head and don’t need a 801 chipset

      • Look nobody said it will fail cause of specs, I said the specs were a fail for that price yes. The specs are fine, most people won’t notice the difference anyway, but don’t charge 199 for it, charge 99 and guess what, more people will probably be attracted to the phone and ultimately maybe buy it. The point is simple; would you rather pay 199 for top of the line tech, or 199 for last gen tech, anyone with a brain would obviously rather have more for their money. It’s not about Android tech heads or uber specs, it’s simply about getting a good value(which clearly it’s not), isn’t that what we are all after anyway?

  • Will S.

    Many thought Amazon was going to bring disruption, but this is dead on arrival.

    • mike12

      Amazon should concentrate more on online E-Commerce rather than making phones

      • Arturo Raygoza

        I want the firefly app on my N5, other than that idc

  • rjavc

    “SLOWER AND OLDER PROCESSOR” meh. Srsly? As if it is generation behind processor. Snapdragon 801 is just 800 clocked at LITTLE bit higher clock speed.

    • Err0xx

      Now that snapdragon 805 has made its debut on the Galaxy S5 LTE-A, the 800 and 801 are severely dated. Most big flagships from this point on (including the note 4)will be using the 805. So the fastest chip currently in production is the 805, which is *MUCH* faster than the 800/801. So yes, the 800 chip used in this phone is significantly slower and older. You’re thinking that the 801 is currently the fastest out, which it is not.

      • kleinerSK

        No it’s not. 805 has better gpu and better power saving mode, that’s it.

      • AnonGuy

        Severely dated? You people are completely our of touch with the real world, and kinda dumb on top of that. This is a good device and the ecosystem is better than Google when you factor in most major apps are already in their app store due to their tablets selling so well. It’s going to be the first Android phone that gives a user experience even approaching the iPhone out of the box. Not everyone has to sell their phones dirt cheap for them to be good devices. The moto x came with gimmicks and shitty specs yet it was heralded as the best Android phone ever.

        • Kas

          I could point you to the benchmarks that show the improvements in speed and graphics the 805 has over the 800/801 but you don’t seem interested. So I will say this… everything that this phone is could have been done in an app and they could’ve charged $10 for. Amazon is an online retailer; with them bringing a phone to the market they have to manufacture, distribute, and work out carrier deals for something that doesn’t bring much to the table. Also with it being a phone, all the apps that are available on the tablet will not be immediately available on the phone for a while because they will need to scale down the apps. Remember they started off tablet sized they don’t magically scaledown to fit a 4 inch or so screen overnight; The developers will hafta redraw their programs to fit the phone. Think about it from a developer standpoint… ios, android, and windows metro are the big 3. developing for them is where the money… amazon runs a skin on top of android but it really doesn’t play nice with stock android so do you really think they’re gonna wanna develop custom apps for something that may not be around for the long haul? A few years ago facebook tried this same idea… it proved to be a disaster… When they altered their approach and did it as an app instead it was much more successful

          • ASDFGHJKL

            Way to rip off mkbhd bro

      • Louis Hartley

        It doesn’t need to be much faster, an upgrade like this would have been amazing a few years ago but now phones have got so fast its not being bottleknecked by the processor. Things like memory read times are what is slowing phones down now or if its camera start up then its usually the chip the camera uses. There’s a reason that certain older phones have quicker camera start up times.

    • CPA01

      Off contract $649, I expect an 801 or 805. $349 can get you a Nexus 5 with the same processor and better resolution screen.

  • Paul Allen

    I went on a rant a few months ago about the fact that if you want the official Amazon Instant Video app on a smartphone, you’re pretty much restricted to the iPhone. I don’t know if this is due to piracy concerns, a strategy to get us to buy Amazon tablets, or just good old fashioned laziness, but I guess the Fire Phone was Amazon’s long-awaited solution for Prime members who want AIV but hate iOS. From what I’ve read, it’s not enough to get me to buy one, but I still have eight months left on my contract, and a sweet package deal with an HDX tablet and the FireTV might be enough to tempt me. Who am I kidding? Almost nothing could make me switch back to AT&T.

    • AnonGuy

      The phone has practically every radio band in it except CDMA so if you buy outright and unlock it should work on any GSM carrier… like T-Mobile. I’d expect Android users to notice that, but you guys are too busy bashing and filibustering…

      • CPA01

        If you can unlock it. I doubt Amazon will do that, especially given their completely locked down bootloader. Given the nature of Kindle Fire tablets, Amazon is following Apple’s path.

  • John Grabb

    Google/Android fanboys afraid their precious company won’t get revenue from Google play.

    • Carl Draper

      Revenue? This thing won’t make any money anyway, not at it’s exorbitant price

    • Jdotjdot7

      More like we’re snickering at how stupid of a move that is, just the lack of Google Maps in general would kill the phone for many people I know..

  • ugly as hell.

  • Adon

    I think its a nice item,BUT ITS BIGGEST fail is it way to expensive. This Phone could have been a hit. Lower the price,and make money of the whole shopping experience,seriously Amazon. Its obsioulsy aimed at the USA and may be the UK. Anyways,they know they are doing “I THINK” lol.

  • fredphoesh

    It is one gigantic tool for amazon to sell you more of THEIR stuff through THEIR channels. Anyone who cannot see that, and who actually buys this crap is stupid or blind.

  • Timothy Anderson

    This article is right on the money. I think the only ones that would buy this would be the uninformed who buy into the Amazon ecosystem. Perhaps the impulse buyer when they go to the front page of Amazon? But that can be that many people, can it?

  • A Skylit [S]unjΔy

    The Kindle Fire is more than enough for most people so the Fire phone will be good for that. I believe that it is too expensive.

  • Fer

    Too many lagdroids out there that don’t seem to want anything else to grow, greedy Google, don’t they get enough money from spying people?

    • Hack

      Seriously? Are you just trolling to getting responses? Well, I guess, I will bite. First off, I am a huge Android/Nexus fanboy, and I worked for Google for a while, however, I am still looking into Sailfish (currently trying to get into the alpha for their launcher), Nokia’s Z program (tried and failed to get into their testing program, Ubuntu Touch, and Firefox OS, as I believe many other self proclaimed Android fanboys are.

      We just know a epic fail when we see it.

      • bob

        as far as i know, google is still fighting with its epic fails… you wanna say you have experience?

  • End in sight

    Nice try Amazon. I wish you the best in your efforts. However, I predict that there is not much demand for this and so Amazon prob wont get much market share.

  • I’m on AT&T… but I don’t have the slightest interest in buying this phone. I was really interested in what they’d come up with. I honestly thought Amazon could be a game-changer in this market. But I was way, way wrong. This is the HTC First all over again…

  • shamatuu

    I don’t see at a complete loss. Just not the best seller. thinking only 50 people might buy this. NO more than that.

  • Bryce

    The 3D feature is a gimmick that people will get tired of in less than a week, just like the original iPhone’s cover flow. The Firefly button/feature is worthless as most people with a decent brain can just type what they want in a search box and use Shazam, Soundhound, or Google’s sound search to search music.

  • Why this?! When there are other better smartphones? ! You only get Dynamic perspective which is the only ” Innovative” thing.. Thats it.
    Everything else Amazon did with its phone, can be brought to Android using some apps. :/ Big fail by Amazon.

  • Hack

    I don’t understand why they are going with a top tier price on a phone that they want to get into people’s hands. They offer rock bottom prices (well near rock bottom, the cheap tablets have them beat) tablets that are owned by a lot of people, or so we are told. But, their first phone offering is as expensive as the iPhone, without the pedigree. Just seems stupid to me.

    If they go with a Nexus pricing, all the sudden all the people who own Fire tablets are beating down AT&T’s doors to get one.

    The only feature I find intriguing is FireFly, but that will probably wear off after the second or third time I use it.

  • Cory Wilson

    About time! Finally a website that tells it how it is instead of kissing amazons ass like every other site!

  • mario

    You are paying 650 dollars for a product that is designed to make you buy stuff

  • jpd514

    It’s Amazon, it’s U.S.A.. Racism, protectionism and marketing will help Amazon to sell those Smartphone like hot cakes. Like Apple, they have their fans. It’s not a smartphone for the geek, it’s a smartphone for the American middle class.

    There is now a smartphone for every American:
    IPhone for high class,
    Fire for middle class,
    Google’s phone for low class.

    • Kolyan24k

      Hey, my N5 is high class :)

    • CPA01

      The unwashed masses bought iPhones in millions during the holidays when companies had them $0 with 2 year contract.

      And there are plenty of Android phones more expensive than off contract 5s.

  • Falcor

    I don’t think it will simply because my non techie coworkers are excited about it. One even regrets getting his HTC M8! There’s probably lots more out there like him.. ..

  • indio7777

    So – having ridden the waves of bigger and better smartphones since the original Droid, the point that I’ve arrived at sometime last year was: we’ve reached the software peak. Not much really ‘excites’ me anymore, except for hardware.

    I got tired of plastic, etc – So I got a Sony Xperia Z Ultra. I’m still loving this phone. Glass on front and back, aluminum trim, premium all the way around. This is where I’m at. No more plastic amateurish tech. I agree: the Amazon Fire phone – MEH.

  • 1. Jeff Bezos is smarter and richer than I am. And has been counted out before.
    2. For Amazon Prime customers effectively $100 cheaper than “the price.”
    3. (including a free premium streaming service so more potential savings)
    4. For those who create insane amounts of image storage, even a littler “more cheaper.”
    5. Some nice features, ‘specially for noobs/luddites (Mayday mostly) and compulsive consumers of things.
    6. For ATT customers (a much larger base than when Apple did their exclusive) (and this phone’s could be for a much shorter period) (or not)
    7. Has most of the rest of most users need, whether best of breed or not.
    8. And…. …No way I’d personally get one.

    Nor do I think it’ll be a huge seller in v1.

  • Mark Washington

    The most compelling reason to buy the phone is for that firefly app! Anything you want …. Tissue …. Ect….. You always have your phone with you and you are more compelled to use to phone app when it’s built into to the Eco system . With that phone you would definitely spend more …and it’s really 99 off contract because everybody has Amazon prime … Most all at least! But even with all that said, its not for everybody and a smarter move is to release the whole experience in an app.! But you never know how successful you can be unless you try right you guys? Amazon has the time and money to do things an average company can’t do.

  • Nathan Buffington

    These fricken AT&T exclusives. This will turn out like the HTC First, and the firefly app will be on everyone’s android phones by the end of the year

  • Not sure that it will be a fail…we’ll see…

  • dadmadeinbritain

    The Fire Phone has very interesting features and could be a success but the price is very high for an Amazon product. I don’t really understand why Amazon changed their pricing policy but time will tell. Nice looking phone! http://www.dadmadeinbritain.co.uk/reviews/amazon-fire-phone-5-reasons-for-success-1-reason-for-failure

  • Alu Zeros

    if they sold this phone for $100 bucks off contract i can see it kind of doing well.