Don't buy the Amazon Fire Phone. It's very rare that I'll say that to kick off a verdict, but that's the bottom line with this device. We don't need wax philosophical about its implications and its competition. We don't need to talk about Amazon's strategy in depth.

First, though it's now free, it's not much more than the deals you'll find for the HTC One M8, LG G3 or Galaxy S5, and you can't even buy it off contract. The Fire Phone is closer to a midrange device than a high end one.

Amazon Fire Phone review

Second, its midrange parts and display will feel incredibly outdated in just a few short months. One can argue that the Fire Phone is already outdated, but when most smartphones start adopting insane QHD displays, blazing fast CPU speeds and monster batteries, the Fire Phone will look antiquated. It already does. This phone is not future-proof.

Third, one of its two gimmicky features, Firefly, is essentially a tool to help you buy more stuff on Amazon. It's disguised as a useful search and identification app, but that's hardly a new concept. Shazam and the like have existed for some time, and Google Goggles was doing the same thing identifying objects.

Fourth, the software is so light on features. It's based on Android, yet looks and feels and functions nothing like Android. Fire OS is not very intuitive, and the Amazon app store isn't nearly as rich and varied as the Google Play Store. You'll miss out on cool new Android apps and timely updates.

Amazon Fire Phone review

Finally, we aren't too keen on the fact that this smartphone is nothing more than a vehicle for Amazon to sell more of its products and services. It's exactly like the Kindle Fire HDX in that sense, and the Fire OS tablets that preceded it.

Sure, Amazon is now selling the phone for free or nearly free in the US and UK, but you're stuck in a lengthy contract with this device. There's no hiding the fact that this phone is intended to make Amazon more money in the long run by locking you into its ecosystem.

Amazon Fire Phone review

I can picture Amazon executives sitting in a conference room asking themselves, "How do we get people to spend even more time and money in the Amazon marketplace? I know! Let's shove into their lives where they're already immersed--smartphones!"

Don't fall into that trap.

We liked

Battery life was good. Call quality was decent. If you're blind to all other smartphones, then this isn't a bad choice as you can get some good things in there, with items like App of the Day a good freebie scheme for bulking up your library.

It's also strong for Instant Video, and coming with Prime membership for a year is a worthy reason to buy it as well. Not enough of a reason, though.

We disliked

The Amazon Fire Phone is hardly an honest effort in breaking into the smartphone market and keeping its footing. It's a device for Jeff Bezos and Company to make more money in selling other goods and services. It's not a device that will help simplify and supplement your life with usefulness and customizability.

Its specs - and I understand specs never tell the whole story - are paltry at best. It already feels outdated, which ought to make one worry about its shelf life at the pace of Android's progress.

Amazon Fire Phone review

Fire OS is, and has been, half baked. It's just enough to do enough, if that makes sense, which is to say that it won't do much more. You can check e-mail, browse the web, use Facebook and watch some videos. But forget about having powerful widgets and access to better apps.

The two standout features are more gimmicky than they are buying factors. And if we're honest with ourselves, most of the new tricks up the Fire Phone's sleeve didn't have to be added into the phone - they could have been standalone apps.

Verdict

Amazon's Fire Phone is a decent attempt at selling more Amazon goods and services, but it's hardly a smartphone worth considering if you're not already invested in Amazon's ecosystem.

If you're looking for flexibility in an operating system (customization, great apps, etc.) and you want top-end specs to boot, consider an Android flagship smartphone or older iPhone. You can nab them for free with the same on-contract commitment as the Fire Phone.

Amazon Fire Phone review

However, if you already spend your life devoted to Amazon's Kindle products, Prime benefits and music and media, you may enjoy this phone. Then again, you can still enjoy all those benefits on Android or iOS with the Kindle and Amazon apps.

The strategy of making a low cost tablet worked for the Kindle Fire HDX range. However, with the Fire Phone, the trick wasn't repeated and as such we're left with a phone on old specs, a confusing new OS to those migrating, and an initially high price. Not one we recommend.

First reviewed: August 2014