Amazon's Fire phone goes on sale today. Starting at $199 with a two-year AT&T contract (or $649 without a contract), it includes a free year of Amazon Prime service. The device also has several unique features including 3D imaging, Firefly image recognition and integration with the company's online shopping site.
But will all those flashy features be enticing enough to lure customers away from iPhones and more familiar Android models? Analysts will be watching closely.
Early reviews say some of the features are cool and might become second-nature. The phone has what the company refers to as "dynamic perspective gestures," using the four cameras located on the front of the screen. Swiveling the phone left or right allows the user to reveal a quick actions menu and notifications tray, while tilting the phone back and forth reveals more information within an app. Tilting the phone away will activate autoscroll, allowing the user to read long pages at a glance. A slight tilt to the left or right will allow users to take a "Peek" at the battery indicator or at the service strength, CNET explained after testing it out.
Amazon Prime will let users take advantage of Instant Video, music and quicker shipping on most orders. Firefly, long touted as an image-recognition software, can also recognize text, such as emails, or phone numbers as well as identify songs, television show and movies.
Like Amazon's Fire tablets, the phone runs on a forked version of Android and will only run apps available through Amazon's Appstore -- which has grown, but still has less than Google Play or Apple's App Store. As a result, the Fire will not be able to run Google services or third-party Android apps, noted one CNET reviewer.
Since starting as an online bookseller, the e-commerce giant has expanded into other industries, including tablets, streaming video and now, phones. This foray into hardware has yet to pay off; Amazon posted a loss of $126 million for the second quarter, the company told investors Thursday.
Also of concern to investors: exclusivity. With the exception of the initial iPhone in 2007, it is become the norm for a new smartphone to be available on all major carriers. However, the Fire phone only offers contracts through AT&T.
"There will definitely be some attention on how well this phone will do," said Aaron Peterson, a senior associate with marketing company Millward Brown Digital, told CNET. "Amazon keeps branching out to all these side, niche products -- they're pushing these things out to test the waters."