By Nikki Ekstein
July 30, 2014

The Amazon Fire phone is officially on shelves—and we’ve taken it for a test drive. The verdict? It’s unquestionably a first-generation product with room for improvement, but it succeeds at bringing something new to the table for travelers.

The Basics

The Fire stands out for its flagship feature, Dynamic Perspective, a system that uses four cameras (tucked onto each corner of the phone) to track your head’s position and adjust your display accordingly. Combined with a series of tilting motions, it allows you to flip across different forms of content without even touching the screen. For instance, you can tilt the phone to scroll down the page of an article or e-book or flick the phone to either side to pull up menus and apps. In other words, it aims to create a robust hands-free experience—great for people who consume via mobile on the go.

Why Travelers Will Like It

First, there’s the great camera, with 13 megapixels and strong built-in image stabilization. Amazon invested heavily in it as it’s the basis for Firefly, a feature that allows you to scan items in order to pull up information about them—this will soon include, say, a painting at the Louvre (the app will contain details on 2,000 famous artworks—if you’re unafraid to pull out your camera at a museum, that is).

There’s also seamless translation feature, meaning that words seen through the camera will be translated for you automatically. Down the line, the translations will even appear picture-in-picture. Sound familiar? It’s a bit like Word Lens, a T+L favorite.

A tipping feature is built-in to the calculator, and a feature called “Peek” lets you seamlessly pull up Yelp data for points of interest while navigating on the phone’s proprietary, Nokia-powered maps app.

Finally, a number of travel companies—Priceline and Orbitz among them—are creating exclusive apps for the Fire, each taking advantage of how easy it is to comparison shop by tilting the phone to display different “panels,” or windows.

A Few Caveats

Even though the Fire runs on Android, the software is so heavily modified that Google wouldn’t allow Amazon to include their Play store—as a result, the Amazon App Store is your gateway for apps, and it’s limited to 240,000 offerings at launch (Google Maps—and other Google products—are not included).

And while we have found it easy to pick up on hands-free gestures on the Moto X, the Fire’s hands-free motions require a learning curve—especially considering that they’re not universal across apps.

The Verdict

Amazon’s debut into the smartphone category is smart and ambitious—and certainly more attractive than many phones by established competitors, BlackBerry and Windows. That it comes with a year of free Amazon Prime ($99) is no small perk—particularly for value-seekers—and a handful of innovative features make Amazon a company to watch in this space.

Nikki Ekstein is an Assistant Editor at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.