Amazon to launch Fire phone in the UK

Amazon's first smartphone is heading to Europe, with a UK launch with O2 and a German release with Deutsche Telekom.
Written by Jo Best, Contributor

Amazon is bringing its Fire smartphone to Europe later this month.

The device, launched in the US earlier this year, will be available through exclusively through O2 in the UK from 30 September.

The Fire builds on the strategy that Amazon has already implemented with the release of its Kindle e-readers and Fire tablets: attempting to tie the consumer ever tighter into its ecosystem, using hardware as the bait.

Firefly scans some tea bags. Image: Jo Best/ZDNet

In an effort to get users spending more with the company, Amazon is bundling 12 months of Prime with the device — free overnight delivery on physical products bought from Amazon, as well as access to e-books, TV shows and movie content with no extra cost. For those with an existing Prime subscription, the extra 12 months will follow consecutively.

Another encouragement to shopping comes through the device's Firefly image-recognition functionality, activated by long pressing the device's camera button.

When the phone's camera is pointed at an object or text, the device can identify what's on the screen and bring up information on it. For example, if the Fire's camera is viewing a paperback, the device recognises the book and brings up product information Amazon, where it can be bought as a Kindle edition, a physical copy, an audio book and so on. Firefly is also integrated with other Amazon apps, so scanning a food item will bring up its nutritional information in MyFitness Pal.

Firefly can pull off the same trick with TV shows and with songs using data from Shazam and Gracenote — by listening into audio from either, it can tell you what you're watching or listening to and offer further context - details about a band on StubHub, for example.

Firefly can also be used to capture phone numbers, email addresses, QR codes, or URLs, which can then be stored or edited. It also works as a translation app - point it at foreign language text, and it will translate it into English.

The device runs on Amazon's forked version of Android, Fire OS, which has around compatible 700,000 apps. O2's eight homemade apps, including Priority Moments, will come preloaded on the device.

The Fire will also come with MayDay, the online support service seen with the Fire tablets. If a support call coming from a Fire phone has any mobility-related queries — about billing or tariff, for example, the Amazon staffer will handover from their video call to O2 support staff on a voice-only call.

On the hardware side, the 4G device has a 4.7-inch IPS LCD screen with Gorilla Glass 3, and a choice of 32GB or 64GB of onboard storage. It packs a respectable 13 megapixel rear facing camera, and a 2.1 megapixel front facing equivalent.

There's 2GB of RAM onboard the Fire, which is powered by Qualcomm's 2.2Ghz Snapdragon 800 chipset. The battery is non-removeable, but it's 2400mAh, so should mean a decent battery life.

When the phone starts shipping in the UK, it will include the second software update released for the Fire phone, with battery life a major feature. According to Amazon, the second software update will extend battery life by around 10 to 15 percent. It also brings more enterprise-friendly features, including better VPN support and the ability to edit, rather than simply view, Word documents.

It will also have four front facing sensors, to enable Amazon's Dynamic Perspective functionality. By recognising where a user's face is in relation to the screen, it can provide a sense of depth and perspective. The device uses Nokia's Here maps, for example, and Dynamic Perspective allows the user to look around a 3D representation of a building.

The device will be available for pre-order from today on O2 on O2 Refresh at £33 a month with no upfront cost. It will also be available on a 20GB data tariff with unlimited calls and texts for a £48 monthly fee.

Amazon will also be launching the Fire in Germany with Deutsche Telekom. The device will be available from a €1 upfront fee with a MagentaMobil package, starting at €49.95.

The Fire will be available on pay as you go or SIM free with both operators and through Amazon itself, but pricing hasn't been disclosed yet.

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