Can I be of service?
The Fire ports some “helpful” apps popular on late-model Kindle tablets. These include Mayday, Amazon’s video-chat tech support available on the Kindle since 2013. Also on board is X-Ray, which feeds you details on videos you’re watching, such as the actors in the film or the music playing in the background. Another feature that’s simultaneously creepy and convenient is ASAP, which not only suggests videos you may want to watch based on your viewing habits, but pre-caches them so they’ll start instantly if you click on them.
It’s a shopping bloodhound
The Firefly feature scans objects or listens to music or movie dialog to help you identify and, Amazon hopes, buy the product or content. What it finds is stored in a list, so you can always come back later to something when your wife’s not looking. Amazon says Firefly recognizes 100 million items.
Firefly’s scanner employs a technology called semantic boosting to help the camera sniff out words and numbers that may otherwise be missed by traditional optical character reader apps. It works by scanning or “scraping” the item in layers, so that the OCR isn’t overwhelmed with non-essential and confusing elements. Firefly has a dedicated button for launching it. There’s also Vino, a popular app for scanning wine labels.
If you’re thumb-tied, you can tilt the Fire rather than touch the screen to scroll up and down Web or e-book pages or to see different product views in Amazon’s shopping app. Another flick of your wrist calls up several menu options, including shopping cart (no surprise there).
A better camera, too?
While the 13-megapixel camera doesn’t have the highest resolution we’ve seen, Amazon says photos won’t suffer from the blurriness or noisiness of other smart phone cameras. Our engineers will test that claim. But at least it has a dedicated button so that you can launch the camera even if your screen has timed out.
Other nice features: The phone supports Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, and ESPN, and the wires of the included earbuds are flat, which Amazon says will minimize tangles.
We’ll have more on the Fire when we get it into our labs within the next few weeks.