Preliminary review of the FirefoxOS flame
Last week my FirefoxOS reference phone arrived: The “flame”. It’s not a super high end phone, but it is higher end than any of the previous firefoxos phones out there. It’s got all the things they want to test as part of their os, ie, dual sim cards, front and rear cameras, adjustable memory, etc.
First a bit of background: Why would I want one of these when I have a android phone? A number of reasons:
- It was only $170 and I like tinkering with new hardware.
- Android has been worrying me more and more over time. Taking core parts of the OS closed source, tying things more and more to their fiefdom of google over all else, and doing less and less the open source way.
- I’m going to be traveling to europe soon for flock, and my sprint android phone won’t work over there, but I can (and did, see below) get a sim from another provider that does provide text/data roaming there.
- I like rooting for the underdog and android sure isn’t that anymore.
Lets go over the hardware first. You can see a full list (and also buy one if you like) at everbuying.com ( http://www.everbuying.com/product549652.html ). The phone is nicely solid, if a bit thicker than my galaxy s3. The screen is pretty bright and nice. Presses are somewhat different than I am used to, but seem to work fine after adjusting a little bit where I press. The battery life so far has been awesome! Leaving it unplugged overnight after some playing around with it leaves me at around 85%. Doing a wifi hotspot for about an hour leaves me also at around 85% (so 6 hours off power of wifi teathering). There is only one button on the phone which definitely takes some getting used to if you are used to android devices, but is doable. The sim slots and micro-sd work fine and are pretty easy to get to. Wifi works fine as well, it connected right up there. Also, once you enable debugging in the developer options, connection via usb to a Fedora machine works fine and (re)uses the adb and fastboot tools.
On the software end, there’s a lot of rough edges. A bit confusingly to me is that you can use the ‘I’m thinking of’ search bar to search for something… say “facebook” and it basically finds web pages related to that. If you press and hold the ‘facebook’ icon one it adds it to your desktop. It’s basically just a launcher for the firefox browser to load the mobile facebook site. If you go to the marketplace and search for ‘facebook’ you get a facebook ‘app’ that’s a html5/js/whatever application, which you can also add to your desktop. They have slightly different icons, and behave slightly differently when run. I guess if I had to make a suggestion there, I would say they should always prefer the ‘app’ since most mobile sites views are… not ideal. This is apparent in the g+ mobile site with the browser: you cannot get to communities. There’s just no link to do so. It takes a bit of getting used to to look for a back arrow in applications (since there’s only one button), and if you are in a web session, you have to swipe very gently up from the bottom to get a small toolbar with a back arrow (that was not easy to discover). I was very happy to see ‘do not track’ options available in settings, and the browser seems to do pretty well on most any site I hit. The camera pictures I have taken haven’t been great. It doesn’t seem to focus very well. I couldn’t get the email client hooked up to my server because a use a cacert ssl cert, and it’s untrusted and the app has no ‘allow untrusted certs’. Here maps is the replacement for google maps, and it’s actually not too bad. I guess it’s a nokia thing? Contacts imported from google just fine. You can also import from facebook and others. There’s not so many applications yet in the marketplace. In particular I’d like a openvpn client, freeotp (although there are some shady looking otp clients already), fbreader (there is a passable epub reader, but it’s pretty primitive next to the current gen of android ebook apps), and a few others.
I picked up a cheap t-mobile sim for it (T-Mobile has free roaming to europe apparently), and it activated fine and works great so far. The sms app is pretty reasonable, the wifi hotspot app works fine, calls work ok, etc.
The phone is running a prerelease of firefoxos 1.3. It sounds like 2.0 (due out later this year) is going to have a major UI re-write and facelift. It’s not very easy to find one place with any information on the OS. There’s a bunch of different places in the mozilla world mentioning it, and you can drill down to blocker bugs in their bugzilla, but there’s not much in the way of an accurate schedule for when something is going to land and whats in it and who or what is doing the work on those things.
I’m going to try and take and use it as my primary phone next month when I go to flock, should have a good deal more to report then. I think I could use it as my primary phone with some pain, but we will see. I really like the idea of a 100% free android competitor.