ANAHEIM, Calif. -- My buying habits have yet to change in my nearly three weeks with Amazon’s shopping-centric Fire phone.
Rather, I’ve found the phone’s Firefly scanning feature to be far more useful as an information-gathering tool.
The idea behind Firefly is a smart one: Use it to keep track of what you see and hear around you, and then buy the things that interest you on Amazon.
By holding the phone’s side button and pointing the camera at a product label or bar code, I’ve identified movie posters, food products and books. I’ve also used the phone’s microphone to identify songs and television shows.
Once an identification is made, it takes just a swipe from the left and a few taps to buy the item through Amazon. The retailer already has your credit card and shipping address on file. The phone comes with a free year of Amazon’s Prime membership, so shipping is free and takes just two days.
Firefly, which is available only on the Fire phone, is more comprehensive and reliable than any other scanner I’ve tried. It correctly identified a Disney toy spyglass and an upcoming Muppets movie. But it also makes its share of mistakes.
Even with Amazon’s huge database, Firefly often couldn’t make a match, such as when I went to a Gap store to buy gifts for toddlers. In other cases, it gets the flavor or size wrong. During a visit to the Disneyland theme parks this week, a bottle of Nesquik chocolate milk got identified as Nesquik strawberry powder to add to milk.
Firefly works better when you scan a bar code rather than the product label, but even then, the bar code for the chocolate milk got identified as Hercules action figures. A single water bottle became a pack of eight.
Without a precise match, it’s difficult to know whether what you’re getting online is really better than what you’re seeing at the retail store. It would have been better to get several products and sizes to choose from rather something definitive that might or might not be correct.
But the bigger hurdle for me is social.
I imagine retail store clerks giving me suspicious glances as I point the phone toward an item for several seconds as it tries to make a match. For that reason, I didn’t try too hard at the Gap. Besides, I wanted the shirts right away, not in two days by mail.
No one has said anything to me about my scanning, and it’s possible no one has even noticed. But I’ve had to be discrete. For instance, at a Disney gift shop, I refrained from scanning a special Disney edition of the Rubik’s Cube puzzle because a store employee was keeping watch nearby. I went outside instead to type in a search.
This doesn’t mean your phone can’t be useful for shopping.
While visiting Thailand last year, I was wavering on whether to buy an external storage drive at a discount mall. By typing in a Web search, I learned I could get a better deal back home. So I waited.
A few weeks ago, I used a standard Web search to verify the type of battery I needed on a remote control before buying it at a drug store.
I didn’t need the Fire phone for any of that.