Wednesday, February 27, 2013

ZTE Open opens up Firefox OS 2013

On first impression, the answer appears to be no. Firefox OS is a neat idea, and a lot will depend on price, but with so many cheap Android phones already on the market, the likes of the ZTE Open and Alcatel One Touch Fire may be too little, too late.
The Open is certainly a cute little number, with a colorful case and rubberlike feel to the back. That helps you grip what is, by today's standards, a pretty small phone.
When you fire up the phone, you'll see that the Web browser is Firefox. That's because the phone's operating system is the new Firefox OS, an open-source operating system created by Mozilla. Apps are based on HTML5, which means that -- in theory -- they run on the Web as well as on your phone or tablet.Scroll Right

The downside of any new platform is that there won't be many apps yet -- certainly not many of the big-name apps you find on your iPhone, iPad, or Android phone or tablet. Ultimately, the number and quality of apps will depend on how many people buy Firefox phones.
At the time of writing, Firefox OS is still some months away from release, so we can't draw final conclusions from either software or hardware. For example, I found the demo sample of the Alcatel Fire to be slow and laggy. The Open is at least a lot faster than the sample of the Fire I saw, but it's still no challenge to most rival smartphones. The screen has a mere 480x320-pixel resolution, for example, and the camera is a 3.2-megapixel job.
An advantage to being open source and HTML5-based is that there are some decent apps available already. For example, popular game Cut the Rope, Nokia's Here maps app, and Facebook are available in the Firefox app store now.
The Firefox OS interface is very simple. It's similar enough to Android and the iPhone if you've owned a smartphone before, and easy to get to grips with if you haven't.
On the home screen there's a tray at the bottom containing useful shortcuts, including icons for your text messages, phone dialer, and Firefox browser. There's also a big thumbs-up icon that allows you to send feedback about the phone.
Swipe right and your apps are arranged in a grid. Swipe left and you're taken to the Firefox OS app store, arranged in a grid of icons representing the different categories of apps, such as camera apps or sport-related apps. It's a neat introduction to the Firefox app store, much cleaner and simpler than the barrage of featured apps on the front page of many other app stores.
That simplicity carries throughout the design of Firefox OS. And not only it simple to use, it's designed to be simple for phone networks to customize the phone when they come to sell it.
With its simple and easy software, the Alcatel Fire isn't aiming to compete with the iPhones and Samsung Galaxy S3s of the world. But when you buy a smartphone you expect a certain baseline of performance, and the ZTE Open and its ilk skirt perilously close to that line.
Of course, those low-end specs mean the ZTE Open will no doubt be cheap as chips. But Firefox is yet to reveal anything that Android can't do. And there already are plenty of cheap Android phones that look great, more than match the Open's specs, and benefit from an established, app-stuffed Google Play app store.

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