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Phones

Amazon Fire Phone comes to the UK, but only on O2

Amazon's first smartphone is here in the UK, and is available for preorder on contract exclusively from the oxygenated operator.

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Josh Miller/CNET

Amazon's first smartphone, the Fire Phone , is now available to preorder in the UK -- but it's exclusively available on contract from O2. Amazon won't be selling the phone as a SIM-free version, at least at launch.

The phone will be free on O2's Refresh contracts starting at £33 per month, which will come with 2GB of 4G data. A more generous 20GB data allowance will also be available for £48 per month -- worth paying if you're a heavy data user.

If you buy the Fire Phone before 31 December you'll also receive a year's subscription to Amazon Prime, worth £79. This nets you free next-day delivery on certain Amazon purchases, and gives you unlimited use of Amazon's Instant Video streaming service, formerly known as LoveFilm.

It's interesting to see Amazon partner so closely with O2 for the phone's launch, particularly to the extent that it won't even be offering an off-contract, SIM-free version itself. Amazon is likely realistic about the difficulties non-Apple and Samsung phones face in making any headway here in the UK, necessitating a partnership with a network to push the mobile in its high-street stores and TV marketing campaigns.

O2 seems a sensible choice, given that it exclusively championed the iPhone when it first launched here. O2's willingness to create Fire OS versions of its Priority Moments and My O2 apps for Fire Phone customers was also a likely factor.

Ready? Fire!

The phone itself remains unchanged from the US version we saw back in the summer . Its 4.7-inch display is surrounded on the corners by four front-facing cameras that track your eyes, providing a 3D effect to aspects of the interface like the lock screen and menu.

Firefly is another key feature, which uses the rear camera to recognise products in front of you, so you can instantly search for them on Amazon's store pages and spend even more money with the e-tail behemoth. With Prime included, you can literally take a picture of something with your phone and it'll turn up on your doorstep the next day.

The Fire Phone runs Fire OS, similar to Amazon's Kindle Fire tablets . It's a basic, easy-to-use interface that comes preloaded with Amazon services like Kindle and Amazon Instant Video.

The downside is that the phone doesn't have access to the Google Play store, meaning that you'll only be able to do your app shopping in Amazon's own digital aisles. If you regularly enjoy browsing Google's shelves, looking for new apps and games, the Fire Phone won't necessarily be for you. One advantage is that Amazon screens the apps on its store, rather like Apple, so what you do find should meet a certain standard (ie they'll be safe and work as advertised, at the least).

The phone's key specs don't particularly impress, given the fairly steep price. It has a 720p display, and an older-generation Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor that provided only average power in our tests on the US version. Battery life, too, was unimpressive. Whether the UK version of the phone performs similarly on these tests remains to be seen, but I think it's likely.

As well as the UK, Amazon is also pushing the Fire Phone into Germany, again working with O2, which operates across Europe under the Telefonica brand. At the launch, Amazon wouldn't comment whether the phone would see a wider rollout across Europe.