Fire Phone software update shows just how far behind Amazon really is

New Fire Phone features aren't all that new at all. The latest software update brings the software up to an Android version from 2013 while adding custom home screens and printing.

Despite flagging sales, it's good to see Amazon is still delivering additional features to its Fire Phone handset. A closer look at what's new, however, shows that Amazon still has a long way to go if it really wants to succeed in the smartphone market.

The latest software for Fire Phones, now available over the airwaves or through download and USB transfer from a computer, includes some functions that other phones have had for months, if not years.

Take home screen wallpapers, for example. You can now choose a custom color or use your own image on the Fire Phone's display. The handset's camera already had an HDR function but only just now gets an auto HDR option. Multiple calendars were always supported and with this software update, you can choose the color for a particular calendar. And Fire Phone owners will be able to print from their handset with this update as well.

A closer look at the hardware

Hands-on with Amazon's Fire Phone:

Amazon's Fire Phone has the design quality you might expect from Apple's iPhone, or Samsung's Galaxy S5. It's a strong contender in the Android space, even if it misses a few enterprise targets.

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These types of additions are surely welcome, of course. They're also what I'd call "table stakes" on other phones though; they've long been available on other Android handsets and the iPhone.

Speaking of Android, this new update increases the version of Android -- the open source edition, not Google's Android -- that powers the phone, according to 9to5 Google. Instead of running on Android 4.2 Jelly Bean software, the Fire Phone advances to Android 4.4 KitKat; software that debuted in September of 2013. That's woefully behind if Amazon wants to truly compete in this market.

On the plus side, there are some useful, more modern additions in the latest Fire Phone software update.

The handset is "ready for more work" says Amazon, with support for secure Wi-Fi connections, VPN, 256-bit encryption and single sign-on methods. The phone also works with Bluetooth Low Energy devices and has more robust notifications on the lock screen.

Even so, I wonder how much longer Amazon will continue to push into the smartphone market. The company has surely learned much from the launch of its current device and has even hinted at newer models. Perhaps the best approach, however, is to bring its current phones up to date with the times at a faster pace.

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