Not everything Amazon touches (or creates) turns to gold.
Witness the Fire Phone, which debuted in July to decidedly mixed reviews. Although Amazon’s first smartphone offered some unique features and a full year of Prime, the company was reportedly left with a whopping $83 million’ worth of unsold units.
So last week, Amazon did what Amazon does best: slashed prices. You can now buy the Fire Phone (GSM, 32GB) unlocked for $199 shipped. That’s down from the original unlocked price of $650 and the more recent $449. Heck, Amazon originally sold the Fire Phone for $199 with a two-year AT&T contract. Now that same money buys it contract-free.
Viewed purely in a vacuum, that’s a solid deal. The Fire sports a 4.7-inch display, same as Apple’s iPhone 6 (the unlocked 32GB version of which would run you $749). It runs on GSM networks, so you can take it to AT&T, T-Mobile or any number of contract-free carriers. And it includes the aforementioned Prime subscription, a $99 value all by itself.
Ah, but this is not a vacuum. The Fire’s closest competitor is Motorola’s 2nd-generation Moto G, a $179.99 Android phone that’s also unlocked. It has a larger screen (5 inches) and expandable storage, though it comes with just 8GB out of the gate. More important, at least for some users, the G runs pure Android, while the Fire Phone relies on Amazon’s heavily modded version (same as Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets). If you care about access to Google Play, this isn’t the phone for you.
Of course, it’s the deep integration with Amazon’s ecosystem that is precisely the point of the Fire. The big-name apps, the music, the movies, the Mayday live tech support — they’re all there, all on-demand in a way that’s both comfortable and familiar to anyone already using a Fire tablet. What’s more, the Fire is a 4G phone, whereas the Moto G tops out at 3G.
So here’s the question: Is it time to rethink the Fire Phone? Does a much lower price make it easier to forgive some of its shortcomings? About two months ago, PC Mag’s John C. Dvorak asked “what’s wrong with the Amazon Fire Phone,” and summed up his answer in one word: “everything.” If you believe that, there’s no price that would make this model worth owning.
My advice: Look to the 150-plus user reviews, which come from people who have put the Fire through real-world paces, and which average out to 3.7 stars out of 5. Interestingly, a lot of the really negative reviews are from users unhappy it’s limited to AT&T, which is no longer the case. The complaints that really matter: sluggish performance and so-so battery life.
But like I said, a low price makes it easier to forgive things like that. Is this low enough? Share your thoughts in the comments!