Tech Retrospect: Amazon's new flame and a T-Mo Test Drive
Amazon's phone is finally a reality, but was it really worth the wait? Here are all the details on the Fire Phone, plus T-Mobile's latest Uncarrier antics and an all-electric Harley-Davidson.
Finally, finally, we can stop asking one very tired question. The question? "When is Amazon going to build a phone?"
The answer is now, and you probably could have guessed the name. It's called the Fire Phone and the most surprising thing about it is how utterly similar it is to every other premium smartphone on the market.
Perhaps the most important aspect is the price. Unlike the Fire tablet, which undercut the competition significantly, the Fire Phone launches at basically the same price as some very choice competition. That is, $199 on contract at AT&T (the only carrier that will offer it initially) for the 32GB version. (A 64GB model is $100 more.) While you do get more storage with the Fire Phone, you can pay the same price and get an Apple iPhone 5s or a Samsung Galaxy S5 -- two really great phones.
Is it better than they are? The Fire has some interesting tricks, like a stabilized camera (a la Lumia 920), and tilt-scrolling tech (a la latest Galaxy phones, but better thanks to more accurate forward-facing cameras). It also uses the face- and eye-detecting cameras to enable some perspective-based 3D effects, where you can tilt the phone to see different angles of an object, giving an illusion of depth. Cute, but hardly a game changer.
Finally, there's Firefly -- not the quirky and beloved sci-fi series but a sort of Google Goggles meets Shazam meets, well, Amazon's own app. Basically, you can scan a product's bar code and find it on Amazon. You can listen to a bit of a song and find it on Amazon. You can capture a bit of a TV show and, you guessed it, find it on Amazon. It does seem genuinely useful, but again, hardly unique in the grand scheme of things.
The Fire seems like a genuinely nice phone, but is it nice enough to trump the iPhone 5S or Galaxy S5? I'll hold my conclusions until our full review rolls in, but I'm somewhat skeptical that Amazon's interesting additions will woo the masses away from the smartphone titans. Beyond that, I don't think I'm alone in being somewhat disappointed that Amazon's first phone didn't make more waves with either a ridiculously cheap price or some sort of hip, fresh way of handling data plans.
2.5-inch iWatch said to enter production next month
You just know that whenever Apple launches its iWatch it's going to sell a bunch of the things, and so they're going to have to go into production long before their announcement and ultimate availability. According to Reuters, that time is coming soon -- next month, to be specific. Apple has supposedly entered into contract with Quanta to start producing the device, which will sport a 2.5-inch display, potentially making it significantly bigger than many other smartwatches on the market today. (That's about twice the size of a Pebble's display.) This supposedly leads up to an October release, and while all is unconfirmed at this point, the timing certainly lines up with our expectations.
T-Mobile's latest Uncarrier tweaks
Big Magenta is at it again, trying to shake up the generally reluctant American wireless industry. Its latest tweaks, however, are a little less dramatic than the company's contract-free plans. First up is UnRadio, a Rhapsody-based streaming music service that will be free for those customers with unlimited data plans, $4 for everybody else with a T-Mobile plan, or $5 if you're on another carrier. Use of this service won't count against the company's data caps, but interestingly T-Mo is taking that a step further, also letting the other streaming music services (Spotify, Beats, etc.) operate without counting against data caps. Generous.
The other announcement was a new program called Test Drive. Simply, give T-Mobile your credit card number and they'll let you borrow an iPhone 5s for a week. The idea is to let you see if the network is good enough in the areas you frequent, but we wouldn't be surprised if people use this as a prime opportunity to try out iOS for size. Either way, it's a nice service, and it's totally free -- unless you lose or break the phone, of course.
Harley-Davidson unveils all-electric Project Livewire
Companies like Zero and Brammo have been shaking up the world of two-wheeled transport for years now with their selection of electric bikes, but I've been waiting for a major manufacturer to finally wade into the fray. That time is nearly here. Harley-Davidson this week unveiled its concept for an all-electric future, called Project Livewire. The bike features a design that's neither classic Harley nor overly progressive. And while it most certainly lacks the potato-potato-potato sound that fans of the bar and shield crave, it isn't without its own aural charms.