In our country, where the annual median per capita income of an individual is equal to the cost of an iPhone 5S today (Rs. 36,000 = $616 approximately), and only 12% of the 1.2 billion people in India have internet access; the real question that pops up in my head is — how do you make a smartphone that can provide Internet access to a larger section of people while being affordable for everyone at the same time? A company based out of Mountain View, California thinks they have the answer! (more on that later).
Mozilla’s home-bred ‘Firefox OS’ promises to offer a smartphone experience with web access at an affordable price. India-based manufacturer, Intex partnered with Mozilla and the result is the ‘Intex Cloud FX’ – the first Firefox OS smartphone selling for an unbeatably cheap cost of Rs. 1,999. And we happened to spend some time with the device playing around with it, never with the intention of actually penning a review, still how did it go? Lets find out
That is cheap. But wait, what is Firefox Operating System and the idea behind it?
Mozilla Foundation has had a history of making the web open and accessible to everyone through their popular Firefox browser. There’s a good chance you have heard or used the browser, if not, and you are on Windows, you definitely must. Taking forward its legacy from just being a browser, the company showed-off Firefox OS for phones and tablets as early as February 2012.
Today, people are familiar with Android and iOS as the dominating operating systems in the mobile space and Mozilla’s Firefox OS, let’s say, has a long way to go before capturing any significant share of it. Android and iOS combined approximately capture 1.5 billion people out of the total world population, or roughly 20% of the entire world. Mozilla aspires to capture the next million with its target being the first-time smartphone buyers who can afford these low-cost devices. The company operates as a non-profit organization and it helps that, Firefox OS is based completely on open-standards. This is the reason why they are able to offer the OS at a super cheap price. So in some ways, it probably isn’t fair to compare it with Android and iOS.
Okay, tell me about the phone now
Like all Firefox phones, the Intex Cloud FX too has a similar front design. You’ll spot a flat circle icon at the bottom which acts as the home button and performs other OS actions as well. It’s kind-of like how the iPhone needs a physical home button to operate. Above the icon is the 3.5-inch display, sporting a 320 x 480 pixels resolution. Yes, it ain’t a big enough display nor is it high-res but let’s keep in my mind the price. I cannot imagine a first-time smartphone buyer complaining about this display. Although, the only functional way to see on this display, is to keep it straight pointing towards your eyes. The colors just wash-out if you tilt the display even just a little bit giving it terrible viewing angles.
On the left side, you’ll find the volume buttons and a microUSB port above it. The right side and bottom are empty, while the top has a headphone jack and the power button. All buttons work fine with enough tactile feedback and as the device is small, it’s comfortable to reach all the buttons, making it easy for one-hand use. Flip the phone and you’ll find the 2MP camera bulging out with the Intex & Firefox OS logos and the speaker grille at bottom.The back has a good textured pattern. Although it’s toy-like plastic, it helps in providing a better grip. To be honest for this price, the phone doesn’t look ugly. For a phone priced at INR 2,000, it looks slick.
How does Firefox OS work on the phone?
The user interface of Firefox OS is pretty simple. There’s an unlock screen, home screen, fixed app dock at bottom like iOS and a notification drawer. The interface of this OS feels like a combination of iOS and a launcher named Everything.me for Android. Incidentally, Mozilla is an investor in Everything.me and they’ve picked up the smart collections feature. Smart collections automatically groups similar apps into folders. My phone came pre-installed with four collections — Social, Games, Music & Showbiz. These folders also come with suggested apps. Above the smart collections, you’ll find an “I’m thinking of…” box (search bar). Swipe to the right and all the preinstalled apps are lined up. Have a look at our video to know in depth:
What are the drawbacks of the phone?
When you are picking a device, you always focus on what it lacks, let’s list them while keeping in mind the price point:
- The very basic function of a phone is to make calls. But the call quality on this phone is simply unacceptable. Out of my one-week use, my calls dropped randomly in between and also almost every receiver complained of being unable to hear me properly.
- Although the fact of having a 2.0MP camera on a Rs. 2,000 phone sounds swaggy, let me tell you, the camera quality on this phone is just terrible. Actually, it’s just unusable. One may argue that a buyer for this phone wouldn’t require a good camera, but I would rather not have a camera at all. In exchange, Intex could’ve put better cell phone radios.
- 3G adoption in our country is growing, but this device skips it. Not disregarding the fact that you probably can’t expect 3G in an INR 2,000 phone, the issue with that is Firefox OS runs only web apps. Opening these apps or web pages through Mozilla browser or even operating the barebones Facebook web app with a 2G connection sometimes took a frustratingly long time (About a minute on occasions)
- This phone came pre-installed with the popular 2048 game which is also a web app and that’s where it gets frustrating. Including this game and others I tried from the Mozilla marketplace, they’re not a joy to use due to continuous frame drops and terribly slow performance.
- The user interface of Firefox looks very displeasing and isn’t intuitive in daily use. The super tiny back button in apps always requires two-three careful touches to select. The in-built apps don’t have consistency. Sliding down through menus and apps also lags. The app icons look like they were made by some lazy intern.
- A similarly-priced Nokia feature phone can easily last for 2 days. But Mozilla’s phone doesn’t last for more than 5-6 hours on a Wi-Fi or 2G connection. The battery life really needs to improve and I hope gets better in the next software update, because even if the phone has a small 1250mAh battery, the hardware isn’t that taxing either.
- Here’s another pain point – Keyboard. Visibly, the letters always remain in full caps. Hence, the only way to find if it’s in small or full caps mode, it to type something. It’s shocking to know that Mozilla could screw up such a simple thing, but then if Apple could, oh well.
- Although Mozilla claims that Firefox OS runs smoothly with the minimum hardware requirement of an 800MHz processor, 256MB RAM and QVGA screen with 320 x 240 pixels resolution, I highly disagree with the claim. The Intex Cloud FX comes with a 1GHz single-core processor designed by Spreadtrum, albeit with a meagre 128MB of RAM. This is where the problems with performance begin. I’m not even jumping into the terrible performance of using games, but even performing simple tasks like unlocking the phone, opening dialer to make a call, scrolling through settings, can easily take up two-three seconds to perform. I wish Mozilla bumps up the hardware requirement to make it a usable device.
Despite all the problems, should I consider buying it?
No, you definitely should not be asking this question.
As much as I appreciate Mozilla’s mission to make smartphones affordable and hence replace feature phones, I cannot ignore the glaring shortcomings it comes with. You could say Firefox as an operating system is in its early years of development (although it’s been developing now for over two years). Currently, it’s not even worth spending the Rs. 2000 on it. I would rather happily use a feature phone at the same cost which will offer me better call quality, longer battery life and a simpler user experience. Yes, a feature phone won’t have a touchscreen nor will it be able to browse the web, but you need to ask yourself, do you need a device this slow to browse the web on the go? I hope the answer is a no. Today, even some of Android smartphones have gotten cheaper like Micromax sells the Bolt A24 for as low as Rs. 2500. I’m sure this phone would offer a better user experience than Intex Cloud FX.
I’m ready to try Firefox phones again only after they revamp it completely and offer it in a better-assembled hardware. For now, Mozilla’s ‘cheap smartphone’ dream for India and other developing countries still remains a dream.
This post has been written, composed and edited by Kushang Dholakia, who is the associate editor with Pricebaba.com. Kushang has used the device for at least a week before voicing his opinion through our platform.