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Fri, 23 Aug 2013
Booting the Fox
# 20:40 in ./general

I've had the ZTE Open Firefox OS phone for a few days and can write down some initial impressions. I should note upfront that I'm definitely not a phone (let alone a smartphone) "power" user. I've got very simple needs (as my use of both my HTC and this phone will attest!).

The ZTE specs are basic :

  • 1.0 GHz Cortex-A5, 320 x 480, 256 MB RAM, 512 MB ROM,
    Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, 3.15 MP

Yes, the RAM size slightly shocked me: it's half my HTC Desire (which I consider ridiculously small now). Definitely a budget phone.

Having said that, the phone looks good and works well. The touch screen's fine and the OS feels quick enough and responsive. I can make and receive calls, connect to wifi and 3G, surf the internet, listen to music. It has some rough edges of course but I'm happy with it.

It is a little bit of a shock to the system diving into the non-Android world: there are no Android apps here, no Google Play. This means no Google Maps, VLC media player or Google Authenticator for instance. These all seem to have decent (for me) equivalents though: Here Maps, the built-in Music app and GAuth Authenticator. An app I will miss is Meditation Helper though.

But as for Meditation Helper, after having a little exposure to the Firefox OS "ecosystem", it's tempting to try my hand at App development.

The only slight catch I have had so far was getting my Google Contacts into the phone. I found a page that pointed me at an app that can import these ...

And this is where it got interesting!

The phone can import from the SIM card or Facebook by default only. Neither option being good for me.

And some will now laugh at the process ...

  • Clone the FirefoxOS Contacts Importer GitHub repository
  • Add the Firefox OS simulator Add-On to Firefox web browser
  • Enable Remote Debugging on the phone (Settings / Device Information / Developer)
  • Add the manifest for the Contacts Importer to the simulator (Add Folder)
  • Connect the phone to the computer running Firefox (simulator sees device connected)
  • Click Push to install on the phone
  • On the phone, Allow this operation

I also used two Google Authenticator backup codes - one when I ran the app in the simulator and one when I ran it on the phone.

Presto! ... I could now import my contacts from Google. I admit this doesn't look great from the average user's perspective but I'm sure it'll change and improve.

Let me also point out that there's an easy way too install apps via the Firefox Marketplace online. I didn't check this route and Importer is available!

Right now, the phone's being bought and used by a lot of free software (and Mozilla) fans, but perhaps many other types of user will come to the phone from a standard (non-smart) phone and not be tied to any Google services.

To me, running the simulator and pushing a GitHub cloned app to the phone was eye-opening and one of the reasons the phone is exciting.

© Alastair Sherringham 2023
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