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Amazon’s Fire Phone Innovates, But Is It Good Enough to Catch On?

The Amazon Fire phone Devin Coldewey / NBC News

It’s kind of like magic. Amazon’s first smartphone, the Fire, can recognize millions of objects at the press of a button, make 2D images look like they’re in 3D and instantly connect you to live tech support.

But is this $199 AT&T exclusive just smoke and mirrors? Here are the pros and cons.

How Does Amazon's '3-D' Phone Work? 0:42

The Good Stuff

3D-Like Screen. The Fire phone’s Dynamic Perspective display catches your eye. Literally. Four cameras on each corner track your head movements and adjust the image on-screen accordingly.

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The effect — enabled in a handful of apps — lets you see 3D-like images. You can also get additional information, such as restaurant listings, merely by tilting the phone to the side.

There are also a handful of games that react to head tilts, but I found it disorienting at times.

Firefly: A Shazam for Everything. The Fire’s other marquee feature is called Firefly. It rhymes with "buy." And here’s why: Hold the camera button for two seconds, and Firefly will not only identify what you’re looking at, but also let you purchase it on Amazon. It even works for videos.

The Firefly app in action. It identifies millions of products, songs, and shows, with things like fine art coming soon. Devin Coldewey / NBC News

When Firefly works, it works well, but I’m not sure how useful this feature is for everyday consumers. How often are you out and about, see a can of Coke, and think, "I need to order a case of that?"

Amazon Prime for a Year. Consumers who sign up for the Fire phone also get a year of Prime service for free — a $99 value — which lets you stream thousands of movies and music, and gives you free two-day shipping.

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The movie and TV show selections are improving all the time, making Amazon a decent alternative to Netflix.

Mayday to the Rescue. Have a question about how to use the phone? Simply press the Mayday button, and you’ll be video chatting with an Amazon rep, who can guide you through almost any problem.

Have an AT&T question? They’ll pass you off to the carrier instead.

The Not So Good Stuff

Hefty Design. Perhaps it’s the four cameras packed upfront, but the Fire phone is pretty heavy, given its small 4.7-inch screen size. The device weighs 5.6 ounces, compared with 5.1 ounces for the Galaxy S5 with a larger 5.1-inch screen. But the Fire does feel more solid.

The Fire phone's 6 cameras (two normal ones and the four used for head tracking) make for a fairly wide bezel area above and below the screen. Devin Coldewey / NBC News

Short Battery Life. In our battery test, the Fire phone lasted just 7 hours on a charge. That’s far less than the Galaxy S5 and HTC One M8, which both went for more than 8.5 hours.

No Google Apps. Because the Fire phone runs a very forked version of Android, you

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won’t find such key Google apps as Gmail, YouTube, Google Maps and Google Drive. Amazon includes many of its own substitutes, but we want the real thing.

Bottom Line

The Amazon Fire phone is an intriguing device with promising innovations, but we wouldn't put one on our wish list.

—Mike Prospero, Laptop Mag

See Laptop Mag’s in-depth Amazon Fire phone review.