The Fire Phone: Things You Need To Know About The First Smartphone By Amazon

Three years ago, Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire, the company's first color, multitouch tablet. Now, the company is expanding the Fire line with its first smartphone. Here's what you need to know.

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On Wednesday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled a smartphone, an extension of the company's Kindle Fire line of tablets, at an event in Seattle, Washington

Called the Fire Phone, the smartphone will launch on July 25 (preorders begin now) and will be exclusive to AT&T in the U.S. It will cost $199.99 for a 32GB version and $299.99 for 64GB, with a two-year contract.

AT&T customers can also buy the phone contract-free via the carrier's Next program, for no money down and 24 monthly payments of $27. Customers will also be able to buy Fire Phone unlocked directly from Amazon for $649. A year of Amazon Prime membership is included with purchase whether you buy from AT&T or Amazon.

The Fire Phone is designed for Amazon's "most engaged customers," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said, and it shows

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Like Amazon’s other devices in the Kindle family, the Fire Phone’s plain-looking body and sharp screen hide some decent — if not quite industry-leading — computing hardware.

But it’s in the mix of the phone’s hardware and software that Amazon tries to stand apart, offering subtle 3D effects, unique gestures for using the phone, and gallons of Amazon-branded video and music features that work with its other devices.

Bezos introduced the Fire Phone by listing its hardware specs and some unique Amazon software twists

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The Fire Phone has a 4.7-inch display, which Bezos claims is "perfect" for one-handed use and came after trying smaller and larger sizes. Amazon says its new phone is bright — and bright enough to read books outside.

The Fire Phone body has Gorilla Glass on both sides; aluminum buttons, including a dedicated camera button; and a USB connector that Bezos said Amazon "obsessed" over, to avoid wobbling when connecting.

Inside is a quad-core 2.2 GHZ processor with 2GB of RAM and an Adreno 330 graphics processor. The 13-megapixel rear camera includes built-in optical image stabilization, and the phone has two dual-stereo speakers arranged in landscape mode.

So, what's good about the Fire Phone?

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The biggest feature of the phone, from Amazon's perspective, is tight integration with Amazon's own content and services. If you buy a Fire Phone, it will be tightly integrated with your library of Amazon content — books, movies, music, software, and so on.

Amazon is leveraging the vast network of internet servers it already has to give Fire Phone users a seamless experience. For example, if you take photos with the Fire Phone, they're automatically synced with Amazon's cloud storage service, allowing users to access the photos from other devices.

The Fire Phone also has a neat new feature called Firefly. If you scan an object — a book, barcode, or even a painting — Firefly will recognize it and offer users options. If it's a product Amazon sells, the user will be given the option to buy it, an aid to the controversial process of showrooming. Firefly can also listen to songs or television programs, identify them, and give the user the option to purchase a copy. Point Firefly at a famous painting and it will show you the Wikipedia page describing that painting.

Finally, the Fire Phone has a 3-D feature, allowing users to view objects on the screen in three dimensions without wearing 3-D glasses.

How does Amazon's 3D feature work?

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Most of the time, when people describe something as "3-D," what they mean is that they make use of the human capacity for stereoscopic vision. By showing a different image to each eye, "3-D" pictures create an illusion of depth in a static image. But 3-D in this sense wouldn't be practical for a phone. No one wants to walk around wearing 3-D glasses all the time, and no one has figured out how to create a commercially viable holographic display.

So Amazon's phone is 3-D in a different sense: the objects on the screen move around as the user moves his head around. You an tilt your head to the side to look "behind" items in the "foreground." This is similar to the "parallax" feature Apple introduced with iOS 7, but with an important difference: that feature adjusted the image as the orientation of the phone changed, but it didn't react to the user moving her head. In contrast, the Fire Phone uses a cluster of four cameras to take a precise read of the user's head, allowing the image to move whenever the user's face does. That creates a more realistic 3-D sensation.

Amazon hopes this will prove to be more than just a gimmick. The 3-D feature isn't just used for the flashy wallpaper on the phone's home screen. Amazon is also publishing an application-programming interface to allow app makers to take advantage of the 3-D capabilities. That could allow 3-D mobile games and perhaps other innovations.

Is the Fire Phone based on Android?

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Sort of. Google's Android operating system for smartphones is an open source project. That allowed Amazon to "fork" Android, creating their own derivative version customized for Amazon's own needs. Amazon debuted its Fire OS for use with the Kindle Fire tablet in 2011. The Fire Phone is based on a version of the same software.

The technical similarity between Android and Fire OS means that it's relatively easy for developers who create an Android app to create a Fire OS version as well. That makes it easier for Amazon to attract developers to its platform, something that would have been much more difficult if Amazon had started from scratch. And of course, this helps Google too, since the ability to easily create a Fire OS version of apps makes Android a more attractive platform for developers.

Spec-wise, it isn't the most impressive phone. But it's not horrible either - it's simply what you'd expect from an average phone.

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Of course, Amazon's focus is on what makes it unique; the gestures, imaging prowess, Dynamic Perspective and Amazon services are differentiating factors that it can boast over other smartphones. Its exclusivity with AT&T limits the number of people who will want to buy the phone, unfortunately, and Amazon isn't interested in selling it as a WiFi-only device.

"Using a phone as anything other than a phone isn't realistic in today's world," Williams said. That said, he also emphasized that this is just the beginning: While he wouldn't confirm any future products, he said that Amazon didn't invest multiple years into these features for just one device.

But how does the Fire Phone compare to other leading smartphones?

The Fire Phone display is 4.7 inches and has a resolution of 1280 x 720. That's a bit smaller than Samsung's flagship Galaxy S5, which has a 5.1 inch display with a 1080 x 1920 resolution. It's larger than the iPhone, which has a 4-inch screen with a resolution of 1136-by-640.

The Fire Phone's camera has a 13 megapixel rear-facing camera and four 2.1 megapixel front-facing cameras. The Galaxy S5 camera has 16 megapixels, while the iPhone camera has 8 megapixels. More pixels aren't necessarily better, though — other characteristics of a camera can matter more than the raw number of pixels.

The Fire Phone has a 2.2GHz Quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor. The Galaxy S5 also has a quad-core processor, while the iPhones A7 processor has only two cores. But it'll be hard to precisely compare the phones until the Fire Phone has been subjected to independent benchmarks.

The Fire Phone has 2GB of RAM. The Galaxy S5 also has 2 GB of RAM, while the iPhone 5s only has 1 GB of RAM.

WATCH: Jeff Bezos introduces Fire phone, the first smartphone designed by Amazon

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