Image Quality & Performance

With a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC and 2GB of RAM the Amazon Fire Phone specifications are more in line with last year's top-end Android devices than the current generation. Nevertheless the device's Fire OS always feels quick and responsive in general use. The camera app opens and is ready for shooting in under a second after tapping the camera icon. Unfortunately you cannot long-press the physical shutter button to open the camera as this action is reserved for opening the Firefly product identification feature.

Shot-to-shot times are very quick. You can essentially just tap away at the virtual shutter button as fast as you can and the Fire Phone will keep up with you. If you need even more speed you can press and hold the shutter for burst mode. The camera will then capture at approximately 2.7 frames per second until you stop or memory is full.

The Fire Phone's AF isn't the fastest, focus acquisition takes around half a second in good light and slows down in dim conditions, but usually works reliably even in very low light. At 2400 mAh the Fire Phone's battery isn't particularly large but more than adequate for the device and we never were in danger of running out of battery before the end of the day, even when shooting a lot of images and video.

Daylight, Low ISO

In good light white balance and exposure are consistently reliable on the Amazon Fire Phone. Colors tend to be a little saturated but that's in line with the vast majority of smartphones which tend to value consumer appeal over natural color rendition. Like on virtually all smartphones with small sensors dynamic range is quite limited which can lead to clipped highlights but in general the camera is handling high-contrast scenes very well, making best use of the imaging sensor's abilities.

When zooming in to a 100% view, images show decent detail, with good sharpness and well-defined edges across the frame. Some blurring of fine low-contrast detail is evident even at base ISO but less so than on many competing devices. The relatively low noise reduction is paid for with very noticeable noise in areas of plain color, such as a blue sky in landscape shots, and some shadow and mid-tone areas. 

On exrtreme high-contrast edges some chromatic aberrations can be observed but it's not an issue in normal shooting. We could not find any other artifacts in our hundreds of good light sample shots and overall the Fire Phone is putting in a very decent performance in daylight conditions. 

ISO 40, 1/2187 s
Good detail in bright light
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ISO 40, 1/1093 s
Saturated colors and nice rendering of fine low-contrast detail
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ISO 40, 1/221 s
Natural skin tones
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ISO 40, 1/507 s
Highlight clipping in high-contrast scenes
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ISO 40, 1/1320 s
Some CA on extreme high-contrast edges
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Low light, high ISO

With its fast F2.0 lens and very efficient optical image stabilization in low light situations the Fire Phone can keep the ISO lower than most competitors and still achieve good exposure. In normal shooting we could not get the Fire Phone to select an ISO value higher than 700, even in very dim night scenes. In an almost dark room we got the camera to go up to ISO 941 which appears to be the maximum setting. Impressively, the Fire Phone was still able to lock the focus, capture a sharp images and maintain decent color when many other phones would have given up much earlier.

When zooming in to a 100% view it can be seen that, like on most smartphones, noise levels increase as soon as ISO moves up from its base value and some detail is being blurred away by noise reduction. That said, noise maintains a pleasantly grainy appearance up to the highest sensitivities and does not show the ugly noise blobs we see on many other smartphone cameras. The fact that the Fire Phone tends to use lower ISOs than most other phones in the same light situation means that you typically end up with a cleaner and less smeared image for a specific scene than you'd get on many competing devices. Overall the Fire Phone's low light performance is quite impressive and it's one of the phones we've most enjoyed capturing night scenes with.

ISO 90, 1/24 s
Noise levels increase as soon as the camera goes above base ISO.
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ISO 277, 1/24 s
Still decent detail in this indoor shot
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ISO 373, 1/24 s
Images start getting a little softer.
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ISO 479, 1/25 s
Still very good color and edge detail in this ISO 479 shot.
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ISO 582, 1/24 s
Good skin tones, even in low artificial light.
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ISO 665, 1/20 s
Noise and noise reduction are evident in this shot but edges are still well defined.
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ISO 697, 1/8 s
The OIS helps capture sharp images even at very slow shutter speeds.
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The Fire Phone LED flash unit has decent output power for a smartphone and can keep the ISO low and still use shutter speeds that freeze at least some motion when taking pictures in flash mode. At least this is true for flash images that are captured close to the subject, like the second sample below. With several subjects in the frame and a little further away from the camera the tiny LED comes to its limits and the camera has to increase ISO to almost the same levels as in non-flash night photography. In very dark conditions the focus can, as on most smartphones, struggle a little but overall the Fire Phone does a decent job in flash mode.

ISO 644, 1/22 s
Slight softness and noise in this flash shot.
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ISO 100, 1/46 s
For this close-up portrait the camera can keep ISO down to 100.
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