FirephoneAmazon’s new ‘Fire Phone’ is turning into a Fire Sale.   Only three months after its splashy introduction,  Amazon is acknowledged a $174 million loss on the device.   (The red-ink bath is likely even larger than that).   Now, Amazon has dropped the unlocked version of the phone at $199, a $450 drop from its original purchase price!   Even though the phone is feature-laden with some pretty “Wow” stuff, including a 13 MP camera, 3-D visuals,  Firefly app, Mayday support,  unlimited photo storage and a host of other goodies, it just didn’t fire consumers’ imagination.   It’s also possible that consumers glimpsed the  dark-side of the Fire Phone;  it is designed to get you to buy things.   From a strictly consumer perspective, this phone is the proverbial double-edged sword.  It’ll cut some of your costs but it will likely cut your disposable income as well, as you’ll find yourself making more impulse buys.

Here’s why you should consider this deal though;  the new $199 price includes a year of Amazon Prime, so Amazon is actually selling the phone for about $100.   At that price, the Fire might be a very nice back-up or second phone.   We have used it as a WiFi-only phone.   It has some pretty powerful qualities that make it a useful mini-tablet, including a highly touted 13 megapixel camera.   And with the software upgrades that have come out since its August release, the Fire is a much-improved device.

There’s no question that Amazon  produced a technically exciting phone.   It offers a host of innovative features boasting a 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 system-on-a-chip at its heart with 2GB RAM, a 13-megapixel main camera with optical stabilization and an F2.0 lens,  Dolby virtual surround sound speakers accompanied by  tangle-free earbuds, 3-D visuals and free unlimited storage on Amazon Cloud Drive.  But the part that is both seductive and scary is its Firefly feature.  Firefly is the proverbial super-scanner.  This scanner-on-steriods will identify book covers, cans of soup, video game boxes, phone numbers, restaurant signs, UPC codes, QR codes—you can create a queue of things to identify, save on the device, or buy on Amazon.   The Firefly app allows you to snap images of DVDs, books, QR codes, CDs, bar codes, and more. It and finds them in Amazon’s massive database and gives you everything you need to buy them. Music and video are also accessible by Firefly’s ability to listen in on content of both types — leading you directly to the ability to buy that stuff directly from Amazon.   It also recognizes art, phone numbers and other useful information.  The bottom line, of course, is that Firefly is designed to make  it all the easier of course for Amazon to sell  things.  It is, pure and simple, a super-powered selling machine.   Overall, it is a nice piece of engineering and is reaping mixed, if not disappointed reviews.   Its failure to disrupt the market, either with an accompanying low-cost cell plan or a lower price point for the hardware has generally disappointed industry observers.

We were one of the first commentators to issue a proclamation of warning back in August 2014:   the Fire Phone will make you buy stuff that you might otherwise not buy because it is a first-class selling machine.   Fortunately, it was an ill-conceived decision to give an exclusive distribution to AT&T made it even less affordable than it might otherwise have been.   We were disappointed and, ultimately, dreaded Amazon’s Fire Phone.    Given that it is now a certifiable disaster, we expect that Amazon will not tip its toe into the wireless waters anytime soon — which is a shame because the market really needed something to shake up both the handset manufacturers as well as wireless pricing.  Amazon flopped astonishingly, but at what is essentially a $100 price tag, it now has become a fairly decent deal.   Our suggestion: grab it….or two.

Recently, we tested the phone capabilities with Consumer Cellular – a highly rated wireless provider.  This carrier is offering a very affordable $20 per month plan and provides a free nano-SIM chip to use with the Amazon Fire.   We used the Anywhere 200 Voice Plan along with the Connect Ready data plan of 1000 messages and 100MB per month.   It works excellently and at $20 per month is a very affordable second phone.  (Our primary cell phone is the Nexus 5 on a T-Mobile plan).   Ting is also rolling out GSM service in early 2015 that will be compatible with an unlocked Amazon Fire phone.