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Amazon Fire Phone deep-dive review: Two weeks with a weird device

JR Raphael | Aug. 7, 2014
Do you want Amazon in your pocket? After half a month with the company's first smartphone, this reviewer was left scratching his head.

In practice, I've found it to be hit and miss. The first time I tried to place a call to Mayday, I waited for about 30 seconds, then heard someone pick up but never saw her face. A few seconds later, I was disconnected.

My next call went through in about 15 seconds, and the agent popped up on my screen as promised. I asked him how I could change the wallpaper on my home screen — something that seemed like a simple enough question a regular user might pose.

The agent appeared to look something up on his computer for a couple of minutes, then asked if he could take control of my device. He started poking around the system settings and seemed confused; after another minute or two, he asked if he could place me on a brief hold, after which he came back and finally told me the wallpaper couldn't be changed.

Maybe that was just a fluke, though. I tried a few other Mayday calls and the reps seemed a little more knowledgeable. In any event, it may not be the kind of feature most of us would use often, but it's a smart concept and a nice addition to offer.

The Amazon app problem
No matter what you think of Amazon's Fire OS software, there's one massive failing with the Fire Phone: The availability of apps. Or, to be more accurate, the lack thereof.

Amazon's Fire Phone, you see, connects only to Amazon's own Appstore, not the regular Google Play Store most Android users are accustomed to using. And that means you're extremely limited in what sorts of programs you can get for the phone.

Most notably, no Google services are available; you won't find apps like Gmail, YouTube, Google Drive, Google Voice, Hangouts, Chrome or Google Maps. The Google Search app, which includes Android's powerful Voice Search and Google Now functions, is also M.I.A. In some cases, you can use Web-based equivalents, but they're never a very good experience compared to the native apps (and they often border on unusable).

The Fire Phone does come with its own Email application that's capable of connecting to a Gmail account, but to be frank, it's pretty awful. The same goes for Amazon's Maps, Silk Browser and voice control apps. Everything on the phone just feels like an embarrassingly inferior version of what you'd get on an actual Android device.

For me, as someone who relies heavily on Google services, it's been incredibly challenging to even use the Fire Phone as my primary mobile device. Without the Google apps present, there are just too many basic things I need to do but can't on this phone.


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