My first month with the ZTE Open and Firefox OS


Looks great on MUNI.

Now that the “totally democratic” ZTE Open is about to be released in the U.S. ($80 unlocked at the ZTE eBay Store), I can reveal how truly cutting edge I am.  I bought a ZTE Open phone in San Sebastián, Spain over a month ago.  Take that, anarcho-hipsters!  The price for showing my Mozilla love was 39 Euros for the phone, and a 4 Euro per week data plan.  Now that I’m home, I’m back on the cheapo prepaid SIM with no data, just wifi-ing it everywhere.

Would I recommend the ZTE Open and Firefox OS?  Sure, especially for the price, but it does have its quirks.  The core phone and messaging features work just fine.  Word guesses when typing are usually close.  The Firefox mobile browser is snappy, as you’d expect.  Some have complained about sluggishness of the interface.  I haven’t noticed it much, except when opening and browsing the app store.

I would mention two unresolved issues though.  One is the use of web apps, rather than native apps like iOS and Android.  I’m a supporter in principle, but there are too many Firefox OS apps that grind to a halt where there’s no internet.  Does a world clock or a solitaire game really need a constant internet connection?  If Firefox OS phones are truly meant for the old feature-phone crowd, I don’t think these people want to be forced into an expensive always-on data plan.  More apps that work offline please!

A second issue is the fiddly-ness of the touch interface.  It’s good that Firefox OS is providing a sophisticated feature set like the other guys, but my fat fingers often find themselves reaching into small spots in corners or edges of the screen.  Pulling down notifications, by running my finger from the top of the screen down, gets me the right result about half of the time.  A small area in the lower right corner pulls up a toolbar, which can be tricky to get at too.  If Firefox OS is serious about being the phone for late adopters, they should consider an optional simplified interface with larger, more obvious touchscreen buttons.

When the touchscreen isn’t working the way I want, my first instinct is to touch the screen again with a longer press, kind of the same idea as talking to someone more slow-ly and loud-ly if they don’t speak your language.  But the correct response seems to be tapping the screen more quickly and lightly.  I’m not sure if Grandma is going to figure this out.

In sum, I’m sticking with my ZTE Open.  Nice phone, OK battery life, and looking forward to the growth of the Firefox OS platform.  One final observation about the boot-up screen:  there’s a fine line between a fox with a fluttering tail, and a fox with a giant flame coming out of its rear end.  Did the focus groups really not catch that?