How to buy the Amazon Fire Phone in the UK, why you can't buy the Fire Phone in the UK - and why you really shouldn't bother.
What is the Amazon Fire Phone?
Amazon has announced its first smartphone. The Amazon Fire Phone has a quad-core chip and 2GB RAM, and runs Amazon's own operating system, and allows users to scan products in the physical world and then buy them direct from Amazon. There's Dynamic Perspective, in which four front-facing cameras allow the user to interact with the phone via facial recognition. This allows for auto-scrolling, tilting and navigating menus - all without needing to touch the screen.
Amazon has added support for the technology to the built-in apps including maps and games. For example, you can 'peek' in maps to see Yelp ratings, or move your head around in Lili to look around corners or objects.
There's also Firefly, with which you point your camera at physical world posters, notes and even TV shows in order to save new contacts, make phone calls, send emails and visit websites without having to type in any details. It can even perform OCR in magazines, or on posters to identify text. It's probably best thought of as a 'universal Shazam', recognising movies and TV episodes and even live TV, then using information from IMDb to show information on actors and related details so you can add titles to your watchlist.
Critically Firefly also works for music, letting you get information on the song that's playing and offering a link to buy it. From Amazon, of course.
Sound good? Well you can't have it. (Okay you can, but you'll have to read on.)
Why you can't buy the Amazon Fire Phone in the UK
Here's why. The Fire Phone is at heart a relatively mediocre device. What makes it interesting is the way it integrates into Amazon's world. Walk down the street, see something you like, scan it and Amazon will deliver it next day. Hear a song a TV show, Firefly it and you can buy and download it to your handset.
This is both what makes the Fire Phone interesting to consumers, and how Amazon expects it to generate revenue and profit. But for the experience to be good it requires seemless integration with a huge number of third-party sites, services and stores. You need local licensing deals with music, movie, books and TV makers. FireFly needs to understand bar codes and local language.
When the Kindle Fire launched in the US, it took around 18 months to get to the UK. And this was principally because of the requirment to get all the content owners to sign up to deals that worked in the UK. The Fire Phone adds a whole other layer of complexity to this, and for it to work for Amazon users need to be able to spend, spend, spend from day one. Unless it is a huge failure we will get a Fire Phone, but probably generation two, probably in a year or so. However, you can buy an Amazon Fire Phone, even if you live in the UK. The question is: why?
How to buy the Amazon Fire Phone in the UK
Buying the hardware is easy. Ideally you need a friend who lives in the US, because the easiest and cheapest method is to get someone over there to buy your Fire Phone, and then ship it to you.
If you don't have a US contact (and expect them to start appearing on eBay at inflated prices soon), the alternative is to hop on a plane with a credit card, have a short trip to the States and combine it with a spot of tech shopping. The challenge here is that to buy a smartphone you may need a US street address. Your Amazon account certainly will.
Either way, you should also be aware that you may be required to pay duty to import your Fire Phone into the UK. If it is posted to you the package will likely be opened, and you will get a letter requiring additional payment. If you carry it through customs you will likely get away with it, but we couldn't possibly recommend that.
How to use the Amazon Fire Phone in the UK
Even in the US the Fire Phone is locked to AT&T, so in order to use your phone as a phone in the UK you will need to get it unlocked (or use it with Wi-Fi only). Elsewhere on these pages I've written a detailed feature on how to unlock a phone, but suffice to say there are two methods and neither is guaranteed to work. You can source and use an unlock code, or use a cable to connect to an unlock server. The former will likely be tricky for a phone that is not available in the UK, but is worth a try. You are more likely to have success with a cable, if you can find one. And a third-party phone unlock store may be your friend here.
But buyer beware: this a phone that is locked down in the US, so there is no guarantee that you will be able to unlock it to use with UK SIMs. The good news is that a failed unlock attempt is unlikely to damage your Fire Phone.
But in order to use it properly you need a US Amazon account - and you need to pretend you are in the US to use it. So, you can use the US account you had to set up when you bought the phone, and give someone in the US your account details, and then let them know what you want. Or you can spoof a US IP address on your PC, set up an account and make purchases there. Let's face it: not really ideal.
So the question is not *can* you buy a Fire Phone in the UK, but why would you? (See also: The 30 best smartphones: The best phone you can buy