03 December 2014

First Impressions: Amazon's Fire Phone - unlocked and on sale

It seems like Christmas came a bit early to my house with the post-Thanksgiving select sales by Amazon. What did I fall for? (Oh, excuse me...) What was I tempted by? The amazing deal on the Amazon Fire Phone, 32GB (Unlocked GSM) (and the Fire TV - more on that later). Yep, I've just added two new Amazon devices to my household, much like I used to do with Apple.

How about them apples? This devoted Mac girl hasn't used her iPad in ages - instead using the 8.7 Kindle HDX that was my splurge from last year. But I wan't about to plunk down beaucoup bucks to purchase the Fire Phone ($650 without contract or $0-$199 with contract from AT&T), but I paid attention to it. Sort of lusted for it with the camera specs and the size (think eReader on the go) - and it would be linked to all that I have already in Amazon's cloud. But I wasn't going to purchase a phone that locked me into a pricey contract - no way, now how. 

So what did Amazon do but put that darn Fire Phone on a special sale last week (through 3 December 2014). Yes, the Fire Phone, plus one year of Amazon Prime (value $99) is just $199. Since I have to renew my Prime membership at the end of December, I looked on the price of the Fire Phone as $100. A bit of a splurge, but not a huge one. So one of my concerns (the pricey part) was addressed.


Now, to the part about the contract. Since this is an unlocked phone, I wouldn't have to sign up for two years of blood, sweat, and tears with AT&T - really important since I work from home and my cell service is sporadic here - a monthly contract just does not make sense. (I know this well, having had AT&T for my iPhone and canceling it when my phone went off contract, quickly signing up with the pay-as-you go Tracfone instead.)

So what were my options with Amazon's Fire unlocked? As I went through each of the indicated providers, it became evident that even the non-contract options required that you choose a monthly plan. Granted these were all under $50/month, but they still required monthly payment - which I didn't want. The only one I found that didn't was H2O Wireless. I'm still waiting on my Nano Sim card (more about that later), but for a total of $24.99 (plus shipping), my new Fire Phone should be activated and be a truly affordable pay-as-you-go phone. WOOT!


As both the price (for this purpose I'm discounting the $99 for the free year of Prime) and the service met my requirements, I decided to one-click the Fire Phone on Friday. As I'm highly neurotic about all my electronics I also made sure to order a screen protector as well as one of the Amazon phone cases (I chose the Cayenne leather one - also discounted). 

That brings us to today - Tuesday - and the delivery of my Fire Phone. I did a little dance as everything - the phone, case, and screen protector - were delivered today. I wish I had taken a video of the opening of the Fire Phone as the packaging is so beautiful. Yes, like Apple, Amazon designs the packaging for it's electronics in a way that conveys respect and a design aesthetic that is amazing. (I think origami as I unfold and unwrap the components.)

The first thing I did was put the screen protector on, the second place the phone in the case (it fits well and will - hopefully - be protective. It's quite thin and light, but it is a sturdy shell wrapped in a finer leather than on either my Kindle Paperwhite or HDX cases. Then I connected the phone to the charger and waited patiently for the battery to hit a 100% charge. (When it arrived it was a bit under 60%.) After about two hours it hit 100% and I began to play. 

So, what do I think. I'm enjoying it. The navigation is pretty easy for this Kindleholic. I actually like the carousel feature on the phone and it's easy to see the installed apps in a list by just swiping up - if you prefer to access them that way. 

Settings are easy to navigate, but I will say the phone does draw the battery down - quickly. As I hadn't received the nano sim card from H2O Wireless, the phone was just on my wifi system. Within about six hours it had drawn the battery from 100% to 28%. That was downloading apps, checking out settings, taking a couple of photos, and reading a book. Today, I decided to see how it would function in airplane mode - and the battery is holding up much better. But is that really practical for a phone? We'll see. 

I received my nano sim card via FedEx today (H2O Wireless, Rocks) - and with the help of the Mayday feature was walked through the installation of it by an Amazon customer service rep. Not hard, but if you're doing this yourself make sure to press firmly with the tool provided. Eventually the sim card tray will pop out and then it's easy to pop in the nano card. With one call to H2O Wireless, the card was activated and I received a new phone number. Simple as could be. For $14.99, my phone is live and with a $10 pay-as-you-go airtime card, I'll have 200 minutes of calls or text to use in 90 days. (Minutes roll over as long as airtime is purchased before the end of the 90 days.) No pricey contract, no huge expenditure. Yes, this makes fiscal sense!

The reason I want a pay-as-you-go plans is because the I don't have cell service at home - and this network is no exception. Darn. So, until I make a bit of a trip into the nearest city, I won't be able to report on call clarity, etc. But for "at home" calls, I can use Skype over wifi. Not perfect, but hey, it works.

Now, apart from the initial high cost, contract lock-in with AT&T, the other complaint I've seen most often is the lack of apps. I know there aren't as many apps available as in either the Apple store or GooglePlay, but considering the fact that I only used a small percentage of the apps I "had to have" on my iPhone and iPad, for the most part what is available through the Amazon app store is fine. I'm hoping as more people use these devices that programmers will update their apps for Amazon, but right now, what's available works. 

Well, there is one app I really wanted that hasn't been available in the app store for Kindle Fire tabs, so I didn't have a lot of hope it would be available for the Fire Phone. BUT. IT. WAS! What app did I desperately want? Instagram! Another app I'd love to see Fire Phone add is the new Washington Post one that my Fire tabs have with the free six-month subscription. This has now become my favorite newspaper to read every morning - and every evening. Yes, two editions daily and the app design rocks! Okay, Amazon, can you make this available for Fire Phone users too?

So, am I happy with Amazon's first smartphone? Yes, I am. I've been using Kindle tabs since their introduction, so this is an environment I've grown increasingly comfortable with. When I use my iPhone or iPad now, I find them slightly clunky. If you're not familiar with the Kindle environment, you'll probably need an adjustment time. But I think it may be well worth the effort.

As I use this, I'll continue to update my impressions. Thanks Amazon for providing a smart smartphone for me at price that I can afford.