Can Amazon’s Fire burn Apple and Samsung? The mega-retailer’s first smartphone is a 4.7-inch device with innovations such as Dynamic Perspective (think 3D without glasses) and Firefly, which can identify almost anything you point its camera at.
Since this isn’t a traditional head-to-head bout, in each round we awarded two points for the top phone in each category, one point for the runner-up, and zero points for third place.
Although the iPhone is the smallest of the bunch, its aluminum case still looks the best when held up to the plasticy design of the S5 and the Gorilla-Glass-covered Fire, whose five front cameras make the front of the phone look like a prototype.
At 4.9 x 2.3 x 0.3 inches and 4 ounces, the iPhone is the smallest and lightest of the three. The S5 is the largest at 5.6 x 2.9 x 0.31 inches, but the Amazon Fire Phone weighs the most at 5.6 ounces.
I like that the S5 is waterproof, but in order to maintain its watertight integrity, you need to remember to reattach the annoying USB port cover. However, it’s the only phone of the three that lets you replace its microSD card.
Winner: iPhone 5s. Its stylish and sturdy aluminum build makes Apple’s device the best-looking phone of the three.
Runner-Up: Galaxy S5.
The small 4-inch, 954 x 640 display on the iPhone 5S is downright quaint compared with the 5.1-inch, 1080p display on the Samsung S5. We liked the one-hand-friendliness of the Fire Phone’s 4.7-inch display, but its 1280 x 720-pixel resolution needs to be higher to compete with premium smartphones.
At 493 nits, the Fire outshines the Galaxy S5 (373 nits) and the iPhone 5s (470 nits). That makes a big difference in outdoor readability.
However, the Fire’s Delta-E rating of 5.2 (numbers closer to 0 are better) means its display is less accurate in displaying colors than the S5 (0.9) and the 5s (0.05). Also, as it’s only able to display 96.1 percent of the sRGB color gamut, the Fire phone’s screen shows colors that are less saturated than the S5 (158.4 percent) and the iPhone 5s’ 98.4 percent.
Nevertheless, the Fire phone’s larger size, sharper resolution and brightness give it an edge over the iPhone 5s.
Winner: Galaxy S5. Although some colors are oversaturated, the S5’s larger size and higher resolution make it more enjoyable for movie watching.
Runner-Up: Amazon Fire
To gauge the audio performance of these three phones, we first listened to Weird Al’s Tacky. The track sounded best on the iPhone 5s, as it offered the most depth and definition. The S5 was the next best performer, followed by the Fire, whose lack of bass made everything sound tinny.
When listening to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, the canons sounded like firecrackers and bells sounded like wind chimes on the Fire. The bells pealed and rung the loudest and truest on the iPhone, which also made the canons sound like true artillery.
Apple’s device hit 82 decibels on the Laptop Mag Audio Test, compared with 76 for the Fire and just 73 dB for the Samsung.
Winner: iPhone 5S. Not only is it the loudest, but it sounds the best of the three.
Runner-Up: Samsung S5
More refined than before, Samsung’s TouchWiz interface is still packed with options–such as the 20 quick settings. The UI can feel cluttered at times, but there are a lot of customization options here. Apple’s iOS 7 has fewer options readily available, but feels much cleaner overall.
While based on Android, the Amazon Fire interface is a radical departure, with a carousel displaying the most recently used apps and content. It could use some work, but we like the contextual menus beneath each app in the carousel. The side menus, which you can expose via gestures, are nifty but not intuitive.
Winner: iPhone 5s. Apple’s polished interface wins this round.
Runner-Up: Galaxy S5
As Android apps have to be ported to Amazon’s store, the Fire is at an immediate disadvantage compared with the iPhone and S5. While Apple’s store and Google Play each contain about 1 million apps, there are currently only about 185,000 for the Fire.
We’re giving the edge to the iPhone, as developers generally come out with games and apps for iOS before Android, but both stores are robust.
Winner: iPhone 5s. Although Android has almost all of the same apps, developers usually release iOS apps first.
Runner-Up: Galaxy S5
All three smartphones pack beefy processors: the iPhone has a 64-bit A7 chip with 1GB of RAM, the Samsung has a 2.5-GHz Snapdragon 801 CPU with 2GB of RAM, and the Fire sports a 2.2-GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB of RAM.
On Geekbench 3, which measures multicore performance, the Samsung S5 notched 2,927 to the Fire’s 2,645 and the iPhone 5s’ 2,556.
In real-world tests, the iPhone was fastest to load Minion Rush, doing so in an average of 15.3 seconds. The Fire was the next fastest at 16.3 seconds, and the S5 took 18.9 seconds.
The iPhone was also the quickest on the draw when opening its camera app (from the home screen), taking just 0.99 seconds to the Fire’s 1.25 seconds and the S5’s 1.59 seconds. The iPhone was also the fastest when returning to the home screen, taking 1.37 seconds, compared with 1.48 seconds on the Fire and 1.56 seconds on the S5.
When it comes to storage, the Fire gets extra points in this round for coming with 32GB standard, compared with 16GB for the S5 and iPhone 5s. But the Galaxy has a microSD Card slot for expansion.
Winner: iPhone 5s. Although it came in last on Geekbench, in real-world tests the iPhone proved faster than the competition.
Runner-Up: Amazon Fire
If you were to go by pure megapixels, the Galaxy S5’s 16-megapixel camera trumps the Fire’s 13-MP shooter and the iPhone’s 8MP camera. But megapixels aren’t everything. Here are the results of our side-by-side testing.
When comparing a photo of a flower stand, the iPhone did the best job overall. Specifically, it didn’t blow out the white flowers in the back of the frame. The S5 and the Fire both overexposed the white flowers, but the S5 captured better details.
Winner: iPhone 5s; Runner-Up: Galaxy S5
When I took a photo of some girls sitting in front of a fountain with the sun in the background, the Fire did the best job at keeping everything exposed correctly. The iPhone was the next-best performer, as it was able to capture the blue of the sky and not overly darken the buildings in the foreground.
Winner: Amazon Fire; Runner-Up: iPhone 5s
A nighttime shot of the New York skyline looked best on the iPhone, which, though grainier than the S5, was crisper. However, the S5’s image showed better contrast and deeper blacks. Unfortunately, the Fire’s photo was the grainiest, to the point of distraction.
Winner: iPhone 5s and Galaxy S5 (Draw)
A photo of a colleague in a darkened room looked the best when taken on the S5. Not only did its flash light her and the surrounding area evenly, but it also had the most accurate skin tones, and the colors and black squares in the background were the most saturated. The iPhone and Fire tied for second place, as the former’s dual flash was able to light more of the frame than the Fire, but colors were more accurate on the latter.
Winner: Galaxy S5; Runner-Up: iPhone and Fire (Tie)
Overall Camera Winner: iPhone 5s. The iPhone just edges out the S5, 6 points to 5, while the Fire received 4 points in this round.
Runner up: Galaxy S5
Samsung absolutely packs the S5’s camera app with features, including the ability to change image size, selective focus, HDR, image stabilization and metering modes.
The iPhone has fewer features, but includes HDR, panorama, filters, and you get slo-mo video.
The Fire’s camera app has the fewest extras, with just HDR, panorama and the fun Lenticular mode, which makes an animated GIF from up to 11 photos.
Winner: Galaxy S5. It’s simply crammed with fun, interesting and useful extras.
Runner-Up: iPhone 5s
Apple kicked off fingerprint security in smartphones with TouchID, a feature Samsung copied, with less success, in the S5. Samsung also added a heart rate sensor, whose placement on the back of the phone is also less than useful.
The S5 trumps the iPhone and Fire with its Multi Window feature, which lets you view two apps side by side. The Samsung also has a built-in IR transmitter, turning your phone into a remote control.
Amazon’s Fire phone has the most whiz-bang features of the three devices. Dynamic Perspective makes 2D images look like they’re in 3D, and Mayday connects you to a video tech-support call with the press of a button.
But it’s Amazon’s Firefly feature that’s the most magical: The phone can identify almost anything you point the camera at, and give you the option to purchase it (on Amazon, of course).
Last but not least, the Fire phone comes with a year of free Amazon Prime, which includes unlimited music and instant video streaming, as well as free Kindle books and free two-day shipping.
Winner: Amazon Fire. Even without Mayday and Firefly, the year of free Prime membership is a great deal.
Runner-Up: Samsung S5
Of the three phones, the Galaxy S5 has the largest battery–2,800 mAh to the iPhone’s 2,600 mAH and the Fire’s 2,400 mAh–and the difference shows. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (Web surfing at 150 nits), the S5 lasted 9 hours and 42 minutes versus 6:59 for the Fire and just 5:01 for the iPhone.
Winner: Galaxy S5. Not only does it last longer than the iPhone and the Fire, but it’s the only one of the three with a removable battery.
Runner-Up: Fire Phone
In this three-way battle, the iPhone 5s bests the S5 by a very close score of 13 to 12. It offers a better design, interface and camera, as well as faster performance and clearer audio. However, we prefer the bigger display, camera features and longer battery life on the S5. Amazon’s Fire phone, while having the best special features in Firefly and Mayday, came up last in most other categories.
Those interested in the iPhone may want to wait until the fall for the iPhone 6. But for now, both the iPhone 5s and Galaxy S5 trump the Fire phone.