MWC 2013 has brought with it a new operating system for smartphones, Mozilla's Firefox OS. Here's our Firefox OS on ZTE Open hands-on review.
The Firefox OS has been a while in the making, originally starting out in 2011 as 'Boot to Gecko'. In a similar way to Android, it's open-source and based on Linux. Well it's finally arrived and we've spent some hands-on time with Firefox OS at MWC 2013.
There are a couple of developer preview handsets running Firefox OS, Keon and Peak, but we took a look at the ZTE Open. It will be the first Firefox OS smartphone to launch to consumers.
The ZTE Open itself is a cheery and colourful little smartphone. We looked at the aptly orange model but it also comes in blue and white. It doesn't have specifications to make us drool, namely a 3.5in screen (320x480), a 1GHz processor and a 3Mp camera.
Firefox OS devices have been designed for and aimed at emerging markets like Brazil so we weren't exactly expecting a high-end spec. The idea is that handsets like the ZTE Open will be a cheap first smartphone.
We could talk about the ZTE Open for a while but it's the Firefox OS we're particularly interested in. It's worth noting that Firefox OS smartphones are not launching in the UK this year, it's possible they will arrive next year but this is yet to be confirmed.
If we could describe Firefox OS in one word, it would 'simple'. It's also best summed up as a cross between Android and iOS.
A simple homescreen shows the time and date while a row of icons along the bottom of the screen give access to the dialler, messages, browser and camera. Swipe to the left and you'll open what we would call an app menu with the four aforementioned app shortcuts staying put at the bottom. This section looks exactly like Apple's iOS but the icons are round instead of square.
Like Android, there's a drop down bar for notifications. This also has a link to the phone's setting and some on/off buttons for Wi-Fi, data, Bluetooth and airplane mode.
Navigation is mostly gesture based except for an iPhone-style lone home button. The only difference being it's a touch sensitive button rather than a physical one. Apps are available from the Firefox Marketplace on the phone or the Firefox desktop browser and Firefox for Android.
There seems to be plenty of the HTML5-based apps available already including Twitter, Facebook, IMDB, Pinterest, Wikipedia, Pulse and Time Out to name just a few. Mozilla said web developers will find it easy and simple to adapt web apps for Firefox OS.
Since this will be a first smartphone for many users, the Telefonica build we saw included a Cost Control app to help them stay in control of data usage. The built-in browser is unsurprisingly Firefox and even on the low-spec ZTE Open we browsed the PC Advisor website fairly smoothly.
Aside from the Firefox Marketplace, users can find apps with something called Dynamic Search. It trawls the web for appropriate apps for your search term. For example, a search for 'shakira' suggested, YouTube, Amazon, Wikipedia, Twitter and more while a picture of the search term is shown in the background. Dynamic Search is accessed easily by swiping to the right from the main homescreen.
Something we weren't expecting to find was a multitasking section, accessed by pressing and holding the home button. This shows any open apps so you can switch between them and also close them by hitting the 'x' or flicking them off the screen.
Despite concerns, the Firefox OS felt pretty nippy overall only lagging slightly to load the Dynamic Search tool.
Considering that Firefox OS smartphones will be targeted at emerging markets, we feel that Mozilla has hit the nail on the head. The operating system is pleasing to the eye, seriously simple to use and already has some decent apps.
If and when it comes to the UK, the story is completely different with serious competition from mainly iOS and Android. Firefox OS will need to be running on a much higher end device and provide a richer feature set to stand any chance.
The ZTE Open combined with Firefox OS will make for a cheap and cheerful option for users in emerging markets looking for a first smartphone. However, in the UK Mozilla will be up against serious competition so will need a different approach to succeed.