Before anything else you need to know that the ZTE Open, the first widely-available phone running Mozilla’s Firefox OS, is a cheap piece of crap. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Any mobile operating system that’s not called Android or iOS is struggling right now, and anything that’s not BlackBerry or Windows Phone isn’t even on most users’ radar. But there are other would-be contenders out there, and Firefox OS, with its promise to deliver the open web to mobile devices, is at the very least a compelling idea.
Canonical and Mark Shuttleworth went big in promoting Ubuntu as a smartphone OS. Their campaign to raise $32 million USD for a limited run of the Ubuntu Edge very famously failed over the summer. Mozilla and ZTE have an altogether different scheme for Firefox OS; for just $79.99 USD anyone in North America or the UK can purchase an unlocked ZTE Open via eBay.
That’s how I got mine. I didn’t get in on the first batch as they sold out in a single weekend. The second run added Canada as a shipping option, with extra fees. My grand total was $100.38 CAD.
So what to expect from an $80 phone? As you can imagine, not much…
The Open’s “unapologetically plastic” casing has a metallic orange finish, with a matte feel that won’t easily slip out of your hands. But this is no Lumia, that’s for sure.
The screen is a mere 320 x 480 pixels. There is no Gorilla Glass here — depending on your point of view it’s either durable or cheap. At about 165 pixels per inch I wouldn’t exactly call it pleasant to look at, but it gets the job done. Ditto for response to finger actions; haptic feedback helps out a lot.
I also have to say that I was somewhat dismayed to find a stuck pixel in the lower left quadrant of my screen — something I haven’t had to worry about since, well… forever.
One thing this ZTE has over any iPhone is a removable battery and a microSD card slot. Unfortunately to get at it you have to pry off the phone’s flimsy back and worse, get it on again. I used to dread detaching and re-attaching the back of my Galaxy Nexus; this phone is worse. It’s like cracking open the shell of a lobster only to be told that you have to put it back together again.
The Open also has a camera. For photos it’s not terrible; bright light and the proper focal length will deliver results like this:
For video, however, it’s pretty much useless. 352 x 288 pixels at 20 frames per second? I won’t even bother posting a sample of that.
If all of this seems underwhelming it is, yet somehow I can’t seem to put the damn phone down. This idea of introducing a new operating system via cheap hardware that almost anyone can afford is pretty clever. There’s a simulator available for the Firefox desktop browser, but it’s just not the same as using it with your fingers.
There’s actually a lot to like about Firefox OS; more on that in a future post.