When Amazon launched its first smartphone last year, the Fire Phone didn’t look too bad on paper: it features a 4.7 inch, 720p display, a 13MP rear camera, and the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor used in the Google Nexus 5.

But the Amazon Fire Phone isn’t a Nexus 5. It runs Amazon’s custom version of Android rather than Google’s stock version. It features tight integration with Amazon’s app, music, video, and book stores instead of Google’s. And it has a locked bootloader, which makes it difficult to replace the software that comes with the phone.

No wonder Amazon slashed the price of the phone shortly after launching it, and regularly sells it for less than half of that price. Right now you can pick up a carrier unlocked Fire Phone for $199, and sometimes it’s available for even less.

But… you might not have to use Amazon’s software after all.

fire phone cm11

While the bootloader remains locked, some Fire Phone users have been rooting their phones and installing the Google Play Store for ages.

More recently, developer ggow ported hashcode’s Safestrap utility to the Fire Phone. This makes it possible to load custom firmware on some devices even though they have locked bootloaders. Instead of replacing the software on your device, Safestrap provides a way to bypass it altogether.

For the next trick, ggow ported CyanogenMod 11 to run on the Fire Phone.

This gives folks an opportunity to replace Amazon’s custom version of Android with something that looks a lot more like Google’s stock Android software.

CyanogenMod 11 is based on Android 4.4 KitKat and supports most Android apps. Most things seem to work, but as of July 13th, you’ll need to install a third-party camera app because there are problems using the default camera.

Now that the door’s been opened, I wouldn’t be surprised to see other custom ROMs for the Fire Phone in the future.

Sure, you could probably find plenty of other smartphones with Android software that sell for $200 or less. But if you’ve already got a Fire Phone, now you can make it feel more like a Google device than an Amazon device. And if you don’t already have a Fire Phone, it’s worth noting that the $199-ish price tag includes a free 1-year subscription to Amazon Prime, which is worth $99.

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16 replies on “CyanogenMod takes Amazon out of the Fire Phone”

  1. I couldn’t resist buying the Fire Phone when it was $139 and included the year of prime. I essentially paid $40 for a phone with some pretty decent (but not groundbreaking) hardware specs. But the Amazon OS was just nasty… So I sideloaded Google Playstore, downloaded a couple of launchers (Google Now, Aviate) but each of those launchers ran a bit odd on the Fire Phone (couldn’t add some widgets, phone call issues, etc…). This unofficial build of CM loaded with no problems when following directions, runs well on the hardware and has only a few issues that affect me (1: the camera requires an app download to work and doesn’t work with some apps and 2: the screen goes blank during a phone call making it difficult to end a call. I got around this by making the power button end a phone call in settings). Other than that I can’t say enough about CM. Awesome!

  2. You don’t have to root the phone to install the play store and the google now launcher. You download four APK’s, install each one in a particular order with a reboot in between. Done.

    The current fire OS is android 4.4 based, I think its 4.4.3. So far the only apps I’ve tried that didn’t work on it were the ones that specify certain phone models and didn’t list the fire. Maybe 3 and nothing of consequence. The only thing I wish it had is a notification LED.

    Once you have the google now launcher, it looks and works just like any other 4.4 phone. So not really sure what a load of potentially buggy software buys you.

    You can buy one right now from amazon for $130 and it includes a free year of Prime. You get a tiny charger that charges almost everything, a quality microusb cable and some good headphones that Amazon charges $19 for separately. So if you’re going to keep buying Prime, you’re basically getting the phone for $10. With 15 minutes of apk loading you’ve got a 32GB android ipod. Stick an unused sim card in it so it can do cell and gps location, load an offline map package and you’ve got a nice car gps.

  3. For those that want to tinker, CM11 probably does the trick, but then I hear some apps from the Amazon app store won’t install. Overall, I’m better off with sideloading the Google Play services and changing the launcher to get rid of most of the Fire OS weirdness. With those changes alone, it feels mostly like a normal android phone.

    1. That sounds sensible, Darryl. Can you point to some good instructions? How did you change the launcher to get rid of most of the Fire OS weirdness?

  4. Fire phone has great camera app that takes better pictures and it can install Google play store easily. There is no need to run buggy custom rom, at least for me. Besides, Amazon is currently working on fire OS that’s based on Android lollipop.

    1. So which department of Amazon do you work at?

      (I’m guessing the Camera app one.)

      1. He simply stated relavant logic. Many people would buy the fire phone solely for the iPhone-quality camera so it doesn’t make sense to break it with custom roms for some mediocre cam app.

        1. “iPhone” and “quality camera” should never be used in the same sentence. I’m not saying all android phone cameras are great–especially ones that didn’t do proper image stabilization back in the day–but try actually *LOOKING* at the pictures from an iPhone sometime. I would be embarrassed to post any iPhone photo on my site.

  5. So if you buy a Fire-Phone and get a free year of Prime, does it “burn” you by cancelling the Prime account after you load a custom ROM? In other words, is the free year of Prime tied to the presence of the intact Fire-Phone it came with?

    1. The prime membership is issued to the amazon account that was used at time of purchase. The phone can be gifted and paired with any other amazon account without issues. Rooting the phone will probably void the warranty if there is no path for reseting it back to stock.

      1. its not the account used at time of purchase but the account used for the FIRST sign-in on the phone. If you reset the device and sign-in as someone else, it won’t transfer over. One sign-in first time.

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