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Cellphones Firefox Operating Systems

Test-Driving a $35 Firefox OS Smartphone 132

An anonymous reader writes: Ars Technica got its hands on one of the extremely low-cost smart phones running Firefox OS. The Intex Cloud FX retails for about $35 in India, and its intent is to bring smartphones to people who traditionally can't afford them. So, what do you have to sacrifice to bring a smartphone's costs down that far? Well, it has a 3.5" 480x320 display, a 1Ghz A5 CPU, 128MB of RAM, and 256 MB of storage. (Those a megabytes.) There's no GPS, no notification LED, and not even 3G support. They say the build quality is as poor as you'd expect, and if you aren't at a 90 degree angle with the screen, colors are distorted. But, again: it's $35 — this is to be expected.

How well does the phone work? Well, the UI works well enough, but multitasking is rough. Everything's functional, but slow, sometimes taking several seconds to register touch input. The real killer, according to the article, is the on-screen keyboard, which is unbearable. The article concludes, "Sure, we're spoiled, "rich" people compared to the target market, but it's hard to believe that this is a "best attempt" at a cheap smartphone. ... The problem is that Firefox OS just isn't the right choice of operating system for this device—it's trying to do way too much with the limited hardware. It isn't configurable enough." They say the phone doesn't even make sense for a $35 budget.
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Test-Driving a $35 Firefox OS Smartphone

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  • Whoa (Score:3, Funny)

    by binarylarry ( 1338699 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @07:15AM (#48081829)

    With amazing reviews like this Android better watch out.

    "The real killer, according to the article, is the on-screen keyboard" - Best OSK Ever
    "Everything's functional" - This is a real smartphone
    "Rich people compared to the target market" - Rich people wish they had it
    "best attempt at a cheap smartphone" - it's the best cheap smartphone desired by rich people
    "the right choice of operating system for this device—it's trying to do way too much" - It does so much the average user probably can't handle it

    Can't wait to preorder!

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      But can I put Ubuntu on it?
      Is it hackable?
      Does it have wifi?

      • I'm not so sure that Ubuntu would be pleasant on such a device; but, depending on what capabilities you can coax out of the microUSB port (and/or how many serial and GPIO pads/holes are reasonably accessible if you open the thing up), this device could actually be quite handy as a hacking platform...

        The RAM is inferior to an rPi; but the CPU is nontrivially better(the A5 is the cheapest and weakest of the ARM v7 cores; but it's substantially more modern than the rPi's ARM11, and clocked faster); you get
      • If you need open, Linux-based and hackable, try getting a Jolla. http://jolla.com/ [jolla.com]

        It is not available in US yet, and it's a bit pricy, but it's being developed at a good pace, and I hope it will get there. I'll get one when I retire my current phone, just because Google is closing up Android more and more with each release.

        I wonder how Jolla would cope with low-end hardware like in this 35$ phone. It's supposedly faster than recent Androids on same hardware, not sure how low can you go though.

        --Cod
        • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

          Ahh their is the rub I want a cheap phone to play with. Maybe even to put Ubuntu or some other Linux on.
          I actually have a Galaxy Nexus that I can use for stuff like this but it is the CDMA version so I can not just pop in a SIM if I want cell data.
          A $35 phone that is hackable would just be too cool.

    • by narcc ( 412956 )

      Odd. I have the notorious ZTE Open running FFOS 1.1 around here somewhere. I'd give a significantly more positive review.

      Sure, it has more RAM, 256mb, but it has none of the problems the ARS writer claims the Cloud FX phone has.

      The Cloud FX whiffs on a lot of the basics. It's slow—too slow for Firefox OS.

      Now I'm curious. What OS would he run on a low-end device with 128mb of RAM? Certainly not Android -- even 2.2 needed more than 128mb.

      Just something like opening Solitaire takes 10 seconds (we timed it)

      I know the exact app they tested! It's complete garbage. That thing would take 10 seconds to load on a high-end desktop. They should have teste

      • Frankly as cheap as RAM is there really is no excuse making a phone THAT limited when it comes to memory. From the sound of it the rest of the phone is okay but they might as well have put on broken screens by how much they crippled their phone. I mean if you are trying to make a dumbphone that only makes calls and texts? Then sure but this is supposed to be a SMARTphone and with that little amount of RAM it'll be lucky if it can even single task without hitting swap constantly. Dumb move, just a really dum
        • by Lennie ( 16154 )

          Sure RAM might be cheap and it sounds like this device needs it. But RAM needs to regularly be refreshed so I wonder how much battery power it will use. So you'll have 2 things that would need to be increased ? What would be the price of a better battery ?

        • Re:Whoa (Score:4, Informative)

          by dos1 ( 2950945 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @09:28AM (#48082869)

          Looks like you have absolutely no experience in designing mobile devices. Arguments like "as cheap as RAM is" are bullshit. If you're not so big that you can design your own chips or at least be taken into consideration by manufacturers, you simply have to live with whatever is available on the market in quantities you need (and most of the options used by big gamers aren't even available on free market). For smaller projects (and I can imagine for a project like that with "as cheap as possible" constraint it's true as well), you're often limited to just a few SoC options, which in turn limit you further on available RAM packages (which aren't standardized in any way).

          I'm working on Neo900 project and I know that finding 1GB PoP for DM3730 which wouldn't handicap our ability to connect NAND memory as well was a nightmare - and 1GB is actually hard limit on OMAP3 which was utilized only by a few devices out there. BTW, OMAP3's Cortex-A8 was actually meant for higher-end devices than A5 used in this phone.

          • Looks like YOU sir have absolutely no experience in dealing with customers as nothing will ruin your brand and piss people off quicker than a device that is RAM starved as hitting swap is like tying a boat anchor to your product, not to mention it will wear out the flash but quick. Dude its 2014, WTF you think you are gonna run on an HTML based OS with just 128Mb of RAM? Sheeeit even the stripped down Linux distros demand more than 128Mb these days and you are gonna try to run that with an OS that uses blo

            • Looks like YOU sir have absolutely no experience in dealing with customers as nothing will ruin your brand and piss people off quicker than a device that is RAM starved as hitting swap is like tying a boat anchor to your product, not to mention it will wear out the flash but quick.

              But it's $35!

              I don't think you really understand the customers that this thing is targeted at. Here's a hint: It's not you. Here's another hint. It's likely no one in your country. Go back to playing with your iPhone that a lot of people can't afford before you start talking about "customers".

              • If I take a steamer in a box and offer it to you for "only $5!" would you consider this a GOOD DEAL? Its pretty obvious from reviews that those users would have more functionality with a feature phone than with this crippled POS. There is such a thing as too stripped down to reach a price point, after all the Yugo was the cheapest car in the USA when it was released but its not known now for its price but what a hunk of shit it was!

                At the end of the day if a SMARTphone can't run apps at a usable speed to

                • You're talking to someone with several Raspberry Pis in the house. Everything comes at a price and everything at a price has a specific performance. Whether or not someone finds a $35 smartphone useful is not for you to decide. Clearly you don't want it. Congratulations. That doesn't mean no one does.

                  You sound like the people who claim that a digital camera needs the fastest possible memory card because they can't be bothered waiting an additional 30seconds for the photos to download onto the PC. You see, y

        • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

          From the sound of it the rest of the phone is okay but they might as well have put on broken screens by how much they crippled their phone

          Have you read the review? The screen is HORRIBLE. And not horrible as in low-res (it's that, but that can slide). It's horrible in that it's literally the cheapest POS on the market - given how narrow a viewing angle It has (landscape mode is almost unusable because the colors shift - it's that narrow). Heck, it reminds me of the old PASSIVE displays of ancient times whi

      • by Lennie ( 16154 )

        There are a whole bunch of reviews on YouTube, I've not seen this strange 10 seconds to load crap:
        https://www.youtube.com/result... [youtube.com]

        But it aint gonna be fast, see it loading the camera app (which isn't fast on the other phones I've seen, so it's a bit of a heavy app compared to most):
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

        However you are going to paint it, someone made a bad choice with 128MB.

      • Now I'm curious. What OS would he run on a low-end device with 128mb of RAM?

        Windows 95 would work fine: 4MB RAM (8MB recommended) so the RAM is overkill, ~50MB disk space so you could squeeze it in by omitting a few optional bits, VGA display so you really want 640x480 not 320x480 but it'd probably be OK, and the CPU is about as much overkill as the RAM. It had networking, a browser, everything but the touch-screen interface for which you'd need a third-party add-on. Or Windows for Pen Computing, a modified Windows 3.1.

        .

    • by dos1 ( 2950945 )

      I think any OS that could run somewhat bearable on Openmoko Neo Freerunner would be a great fit for such cheap phones.

  • I remember running WinXPe, on a 600mhz amd, that only had 128meg ram, and did have a 9gig HD, but the OS only took up under 200meg.

    Boots up with less than 61meg usage, better than any smart phone today.

    All it needs is a full screen DX based simple interface based on rendered shapes, no textures.

    • I'm probably just getting old and bitter; but I remember wasting more hours than I should probably admit in public on the family PC, rocking an 83MHz 'Pentium Overdrive' with 16MB of RAM and an 800x600 CRT of deeply undistinguished performance. Something must have gone wrong if substantially more power is unequal to the task of painting an endurable UI on an even less demanding area of screen.
  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @07:26AM (#48081883)
    They did a review of a smart phone yet do not mention how it works as a phone.

    .
    Is voice quality OK when using it as a phone? Does it work well in weak signals?

    • by arielCo ( 995647 )

      Fair enough, considering that the smart~ part is practically unusable. My immediate thought upon reading the Ars piece was "why not get a Symbian Nokia? I have one in my pocket right now and with Opera Mini it does the job better than this thing"; the Ars readership seems to concur.

    • by CODiNE ( 27417 )

      Who cares? The whole purpose of this phone is to get poor people online. It's reason for existence is it's computing abilities. The people who need this already have some dirt cheap Nokia they use to do money transfers with. Hence the 2 sim slots in this phone.

      Given the review, I'd say it probably fails as a phone as well.

      • If they're going online with this phone, they're paying for some sort of voice+data plan. Even in the first year, that plan is going to cost a lot more than the phone. Better to postpone buying a phone for a couple of months and buying something that can actually do the job rather than a piece of garbage that will continue to disappoint on every single use.

        The North American equivalent of this is people spending $200 a month for hdtv via both cable and satellite at the same time, and streaming internet,

  • My first thought upon reading the Ars piece was "why not get a Symbian Nokia? I have one in my pocket right now and with Opera Mini it does the job better than this thing"; the Ars readership seems to concur. There's also mention of a $48 (maybe $60 if the import duties are huge) Lumia 520 and a dozen other workable devices.

    The bottom line: shoehorn your pet OS with HTML5 framework in ultracheap hardware, and everybody loses.

  • There's no GPS

    How is that even legal? I thought countries required phone makers to include GPS for enhanced emergency services. Or is that exclusively a U.S. thing?

    • by maynard ( 3337 )

      Yeah, my first thought was 'no GPS?, sign me up!'

      I've soured on the desirability of gps in my phone. Maps just ain't worth the tracking of everywhere I go by the phone company and facebook and everyone else for targeted advertising and whatnot.

      • I've soured on the desirability of gps in my phone. Maps just ain't worth the tracking of everywhere I go by the phone company and facebook and everyone else for targeted advertising and whatnot.

        Um, you realize that they can track you just fine by doing things like tower triangulation and correlating your position to known WiFi access points, right?

        By giving up on GPS you're throwing away your ability to know where you are while preserving "their" ability to know where you are. Doesn't make much sense.

        • by maynard ( 3337 )

          It's the advertising that pisses me off. Easy to turn of WiFi. And I'll never do anything about tower triangulation anyway, other than yanking the battery.

          • I get that. Nobody likes advertising. But the GPS functionality of my phone/tablet is valuable to me, and turning it off makes no sense when "they" have other ways of tracking me.

            On my android devices I have XPrivacy installed on the XPosed framework, which does a good job of letting me control which apps can track me. I let the google maps, google earth, and Copilot apps have access to location data; all other apps get fake location data. Right now Facebook thinks I'm in Madagascar.

            May want to give tha

    • US thing... and it's not for emergency services, its for the NSA. :-p

    • by GuB-42 ( 2483988 )

      I don't think it is mandatory even in the US... yet
      If you don't have GPS, emergency services can track you using cell tower data.

      • Correct. Tower-based location became mandatory (minimum 95% of operating devices supporting it) in 2005, but GPS in phones won't be mandatory until 2018.

    • There's no GPS

      How is that even legal? I thought countries required phone makers to include GPS for enhanced emergency services. Or is that exclusively a U.S. thing?

      It's not even a U.S. thing. I've tracked down the citations for a slashdot comment before, so I'm not going to do it now, but you can implement E911 via differential time of arrival (DToA) rather than GPS — basically GPS in reverse. Since cell sites have sectored antennas, you only need to be visible to two sites in order to triangulate your position. GSM providers in particular delayed implementing full E911 until they were able to use DtoA instead of putting GPS even in phones where the user wasn't

    • I've never heard of such a requirement until now. It's probably mainly a US thing.

    • GPS is a RECEIVER UNIT ONLY. Unless your phone keeps GPS always on and transmits your GPS location via wireless or mobile connection, GPS is useless for tracking.

      And government, your network provider and emergency services can track your phone just fine without GPS by using triangulation and comparing signal strengths from several mobile towers surrounding you.

      --Coder
  • It doesn't have a GPS. Doesn't that mean it's not legal in the USA? I thought that was required for all phones so that if you call 911, the dispatcher will know where you are. I also thought that the GPS was integrated into the chipsets that they have to use for other basic features anyway.

    • by Paco103 ( 758133 )

      GPS is not required. FCC issued a requirement to improve location tracking by 2018, which is still a few years out. GPS is not a requirement, just a possible way to meet that accuracy.

    • That's a stupid law. My phone has GPS, but it's abhorable. When it does get a signal, it takes around 5 minutes. If there's any kind of major obstruction like tall buildings then it will not get a signal. If I'm moving at high speed, like driving down the highway, it will not get a signal. Inside the house? Might get a signal depending on where in the house you are. Inside an office building or shopping centre? Forget about it. Having a law that requires a phone to have a GPS does not make any sense beca
  • $35 is not a great deal for a phone. Granted, it is cheap. But you can get Chinese smart phones for around $100. Phones just as good as flagship phones for $200. $35 isn't even a good price point for those in poverty. And no GPS? That's just a deal breaker right there. No 3G and no Led is not big deal at all... not even worth mentioning.

    Give it a couple more years and you'll be buying smart phones out of vending machines.

    • Give it a couple more years and you'll be buying smart phones out of vending machines.

      Man, drug dealers are gonna loooooove that. :)

    • Well $100 is almost 3 times as much as $35, so it's hard to compare a $100 phone to a $35 one. $65 is a lot of money when you're living in poverty. It's probably what you spend on food in a couple months. To get the phone down to $35, they had to make a lot of compromises. Considering that's the same price as a Raspberry Pi, I'm surprised they were able to get the price so low. The raspberry pi probably has the minimum specs (or close to it) that would be required for a smartphone OS. Any lower specs (like
    • If you're making $2/day (pretty typical for a small Indian farmer), then the difference between a $35 phone and a $100 phone is a month's wages.

    • $35 is not a great deal for a phone. Granted, it is cheap. But you can get Chinese smart phones for around $100.

      Not everyone has an extra $65 sitting in their pockets. The people that are being targeted here have the choice between the $35 phone and no smartphone, not a choice between the $35 phone and the $100 phone.

      It sounds like this phone is not a good deal for $35.

      Also, your $100 estimate is way too high -- you can get low-end smartphones here in the US for $50, retail; I've got one of them, and it's much more functional than the phone described by the article.

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @07:51AM (#48082039) Homepage Journal
    That's plenty of hardware. Hell, my first color laptop was less machine than that is. Someone just needs to rip the bloated goat of software they've put on there. I bet it'd be pretty damn snappy with a text-mode UI and a bare-bones Linux kernel.
    • I bet it'd be pretty damn snappy with a text-mode UI and a bare-bones Linux kernel.

      Well, people have been whining about X11 being slow ever since it hogged up their Sun 3/60. That thing had 24M of RAM and could multitask.

      For far more years than one might expect, I ran a P133 with 72M of RAM. I think I junked it in around 2004 or so. I also had a Zaurus with OpenBSD on. It had 64M RAM. 128M RAM not a huge amount, on the other hand that machine was reasonably snappy for what it did at the time.

      The trouble is

      • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
        My first color laptop was a 486, had 4MB of RAM and could multitask. With X11, even! But if you want to squeeze all the juice out of a system, you really need to ditch the GUI. I've had Symbian phones that were text mode and offered very respectable performance and functionality for the hardware they were running on. And hell, if a few hundred million people in India are running text-only browsers, maybe the web would swing back that way. You don't need graphics (or video, ugh) for most of the crap that's g
    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *

      Sounds interesting... But is there any such thing as a text-UI smartphone?

      I've got a ZTE Awe that's up for experiments, as the phone is of no use to me glued to Virgin Mobile and it's worth very little on the used market. Any thoughts on what I might try with it?

  • by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Tuesday October 07, 2014 @07:55AM (#48082061)

    Not as a main phone, hell no. But there are times when I might not want to carry my expensive, fragile phone - going to a metal show, or a bad neighborhood, or whatever.

    For that, being able to pop my SIM out of my Nexus 5 into something literally a tenth the price would save a lot of hassle and cash if it gets broken or stolen, and as long as it can still make calls and texts, it will work for most purposes. There isn't a single app I rely on, even email, but I do rely on being able to make phone calls and send texts. I briefly looked into buying a second-hand phone to see if it was cheaper, and it still can't beat the price of $35.

    That said, who the hell said "let's make a dirt-cheap phone OS so the entire planet can enjoy the web!" and then decided to do everything in HTML and Javascript? Even Android is better than that. That's one of the areas where you would really want the speed and efficiency of a low-level language.

    • That said, who the hell said "let's make a dirt-cheap phone OS so the entire planet can enjoy the web!" and then decided to do everything in HTML and Javascript? Even Android is better than that. That's one of the areas where you would really want the speed and efficiency of a low-level language.

      I think the idea was so the entire planet can not only use the phone but that it would be more accessible to build apps too.

    • I'm kind of the same way. Personally, I think my next phone just might be the bare minimum phone I can find that does phone calls, texting, and allows for wifi tethering. I'll spend the remaining money on a 7 inch tablet. I can take the cheap phone anywhere I want and don't have to worry about breaking it, and it would fit in a pocket very easily. I can take the tablet just about anywhere that I would want to take a 5 inch smartphone, an it would do a much better job at actually doing smartphone tasks b
  • FFOS is a good mobile OS. I have tried version 2.0 in a ZTE Open and although this is also a crappy phone (single core CPU, 256 MiB RAM), it is not as crappy as the Cloud FS. The keyboard works well, and the OS runs rock solid (no hangs, decent speed). The only problems with this phone are the crappy camera (slightly better than the one in the Cloud FX) and the poor multitasking due to the low RAM amount. If you install FFOS e.g. on a Nexus device, you will find it performs great and it has no multitasking
    • by Elbart ( 1233584 )
      "FFOS is a good mobile OS"
      No, it's an OS running in a browser running ontop of another OS. It's madness.
      • To me it's more like booting linux straight into emacs, but it's a long order of magnitude more heavy.
        "128 megabytes and constantly swapping"

    • I do not know about you, but for me a "operating system" incapable of doing something as simple as keeping an application in the background when switching to another application is a shitty OS. Hell, he can not even make the alarm work all the time! And the small RAM is not an excuse, I had running Windows 2000 (AND applications) on a machine with only 128MB and a slower processor.

      Short version: The way it works in a limited hardware is what separates the good from the bad operating systems. And from wha
      • Try running Android with 128 MiB and you'll be glad if it ever boots. I have an Android tablet with a Tegra 2 CPU (dual core 1.2 GHz) and 512 MiB RAM Running Cyanogenmod 10.1 (Android 4.2.2 IIRC) and it runs painfully slow. Of course I don't think iOS would be able to run properly with these specs. FFOS does a great job squeezing poor hardware, but it cannot do miracles.
        • I understand, but the biggest problem in my view is not running slow, it is expected in a limited hardware. What bothered me on the test was how Firefox OS dealt with this limited hardware, failing to perform basic activities when it should be executing then (even if slowly).
  • Tech moves fast.

    In two years this sort of phone will be on par with mine, an HTC Desire HD. It's 3.5 years old and does all I could ever want from a Phone. Appart from being a little sluggish at times maybe. But that's hardly an issue, given that it is very sturdy and has a replaceable battery - which most modern phones don't.

    When robots have advanced far enough into manufacturing, we'll have the equivalent of iPhone 6es come out of vending machines and the likes, for prices simular to that of this model. T

  • There are plenty of low-cost unlocked smartphones. For about $50, you can get a new Android phone with similar specs and GPS, and you get a heck of a lot more software for it.

  • A lot of the concerns are legitimate and likely due to needing 2x-4x the RAM to function properly. But a notification LED? Why the fuck would I want that? I don't even have one on a desktop or laptop. No comment on GPS (law enforcement and drone strikes may use GSM triangulation anyway). Lack of multitouch and prediction on the keyboard? like I would want to hit different keys at once and want my keyboard to wipe my ass for me? (also in such place as India I guess they still have dozens languages). The came

    • by jo_ham ( 604554 )

      People with poor or no hearing use a notification LED to inform them of emails and text messages.

  • I have a ZTE Open C and while I'd say Forefox OS 1.3 is not yet ready for prime time the basics work. I believe 2.0 will be a significant step up. I picked this phone up to use while my Galaxy Nexus was repaired. Worked fine for basic stuff. Phone, maps, websbrowsing.

    Maybe the reviewr has too high expectations for this level of phone.

    • From what I've read (blogs, bug reports, whatever) I'm even waiting for version 2.1. Reasonable high hopes with it. I can't remember what was in that version though. But good enough FF OS would give asm.js, WebRTC, copy/paste and whatnot (I suppose WebRTC can be hijacked for various streaming purposes)

  • I only made it about 3/4 of the way through the first page. I clicked expecting an article about a phone. Maybe I would even get to see just what Firefox OS looks like, what features it has, what it does. Instead I found a not-very well done article about the digital divide. Maybe it gets better farther on? I don't know. I lost interest.

  • is the on-screen keyboard, which is unbearable.

    So it's like the keyboard on an iPhone?

    Typing on an iPhone is like being in a pile of naked people in a dark room. You know you're touching something, you're just not sure what.
  • In a couple of years, you're going to be able to buy hardware with x4 the specs of what this phone has for less than $50.00 and it'll be able to run an older version of android decently. If you look at China it's starting to happen now although not yet in bulk supply.

    "It's good enough for poor people" is very condensing. Just because they have no money, it doesn't mean they'll be happy to use an unusable phone. They're better off with a feature phone until hardware prices drop.

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