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Firefox OS grows up: hands on with ZTE, LG and Alcatel Firefox smartphones from $25

HANDS ON REVIEW: Mozilla's Firefox OS is coming of age, with more hardware partners signed up to produce smartphones based on the new 1.3 version of the fledgling operating system

Mozilla has brought the latest version of its Firefox mobile operating system to Barcelona this week, along with a long list of manufacturers that have agreed to launch handsets powered by the fledgling OS. What’s changed since we first set eyes on Firefox OS? Honestly not very much on the surface; Mozilla assured us the new 13 build was focused on stability rather than adding new features.

It feels almost identical to the version we saw back at last year’s Mobile World Congress, albeit now on larger, faster hardware. HTML5 apps open quickly, the adaptive search bar powered by was responsive to our requests and the web browser felt responsive too, loading image-heavy web pages with minimal stutter.

There are now more supported apps than ever, with big names like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest now on board. The default Music and Gallery apps are well presented too, with large thumbnails for albums or image folders. The Wi-Fi shortcuts in the drop-down notification tray still feels a little cramped though. It’s beginning to feel like an operating system you could comfortably use on an everyday basis.

Firefox OS is still very much in its infancy, despite the increased number of manufacturers pledging to support the platform, and remains focused on the entry-level and emerging markets rather than chasing Apple and Android at the high-end. This is reflected in the four handsets on display at Motorola’s booth.

Alcatel OneTouch Fire C

The Alcatel Onetouch Fire C is a typically entry-level handset with a 3.5in, 480×320 HVGA resolution display, 2-megapixel rear camera and 0.3-megapixel front webcam. Powered by a 1GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon and 256MB of RAM, it won’t be setting any benchmarks but proves how smooth Firefox OS can be on low-end hardware.

With a plastic finish, glaring orange colour scheme and pebble-like design, it looks like a larger version of the Pop Fit handset announced earlier this week. Unfortunately the compact screen made it tricky to type using the on-screen keyboard, unless you only tapped with one finger at a time.

LG Fireweb

The LG Fireweb was originally revealed back in October. It has a 1GHz single-core Snapdragon processor but doubles the amount of RAM to 512MB. It also has a 5-megapixel rear camera and 4in display, but stretches the same number of pixels (480×320) as the Alcatel across another half an inch of screen space. It has a much more restrained design, however, with an all black finish that looks reasonably stylish.

ZTE Open C

ZTE looks to be leading the way when it comes to performance, although that’s a term that should be used loosely here. The 4in Open C handset has a higher resolution 800×480 WVGA display, paired with a 1GHz dual-core Snapdragon CPU and 512MB of RAM. It only has a 2-megapixel rear camera, however. It too is more restrained than Alcatel’s design, but is available in a range of colours including a bright orange to match the Firefox logo.

It’s perhaps the most consumer friendly handset of the lot, with rounded corners, a soft-touch plastic finish and reasonably high-resolution screen. Images and text look significantly sharper here than they do on other Firefox OS phones, and the phone itself fits comfortably in your hand.

Huawei Y300

Despite having been announced more recently than LG’s Fireweb, the Huawei Y300 was still running the older 1.1 edition of Firefox OS. Otherwise it matches the competition in terms of specifications, with a 4in, 800×480 WVGA display, 1GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor and 512MB of RAM. It’s the first FFOS handset to come with dual cameras, though; a 5-megapixel rear sensor and a VGA webcam on the front for video calls. It’s also not particularly adventurous, with sharp angular corners and an all-black design that looks rather industrial.

Importantly, once you get beyond physical differences, there’s very little between the four manufacturers when it comes to software. Unlike Android, which is incredibly fragmented by carrier customisation, Firefox OS looks almost identical across all four phones. Some slight tweaks have been made, with Huawei adding a different lock screen, but otherwise the overall interface stays consistent.

Although no exact prices were mentioned, Mozilla expects several handsets to be on sale for around $25 – making Firefox OS one of the cheapest ways to get a smartphone. It’s also unclear whether the four handsets seen here will actually make it on sale in the UK – we’ll have to wait until later in the year, when they launch in the US, to find out.

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