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Ask HN: Best Firefox phone to get?
102 points by vijayr on Apr 27, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments
Anyone using firefox phone as your main phone? Do you like it? Which phone would you recommend to get (assuming price is not an issue)?

Don't go with ZTE Open, its the worst phone. Best advise wait for the new models that are being released this year. If you don't want to wait you can get the following models:

* Geeksphone Revolution - the most powerful phone but its running on a x86 architecture and the port is done by Geeksphone, even though they released three new updates already there are still bugs.

* Alcatel One Touch Fire - great phone and is unlockable with some exploits. Better than ZTE Open IMHO.

* LG Fireweb - better specs than the ZTE Open and Alcated OT Fire but its as locked as fort knox regarding the bootloader. You will not be able to flash your own device. If that is not a problem then its a great device.

* Geeksphone Peak - the second highest spec. Larger resolution than most retail devices and CPU but I think the battery drains too fast, I'd rather use Revolution.

* Geeksphone Keon - The standard developer phone for Firefox OS. Wonderful tiny device, the screen sux but the specs are better than the ZTE, Alcatel and LG.

My recommendation is to wait for the flame:


I have all the phones above. My daily driver is the Geeksphone Revolution and I've used the Fireweb and Alcatel daily before that. The Peak would drain too fast.

Disclaimer: I am a Mozilla Rep and member of the Brazilian Firefox OS Launch Team. If you're interested in developing apps for Firefox OS I've authored a free and open book about it available at:


I will hang around this topic if anyone has questions.


I would advise against the Geeksphones unless you're looking to use them as purely test devices. They were intended as developer phones, not for consumers. They also have some really frustrating issues:

* Both devices still run (AFAIK) FXOS 1.1, which is really very out-of-date. You can flash them with updated versions from Mozilla, but you have to do it yourself. OTA updates will probably not happen. New devices still ship with old versions of FXOS.

* The Peak has a very large screen, which was not something that was fully supported when it first shipped. Some of this has been sorted out after updates, but I occasionally still see people frustrated by poorly scaled interfaces.

* The Peak suffers from a bulging battery issue. The manufacturer has assured everyone that the issue is within tolerances, but it made me uneasy. The battery bulges enough that the back cover of the phone does not sit properly.

* Both devices suffer from charging issues. If you completely drain the batteries, it becomes nearly impossible to charge them. As soon as you plug the device in, it tries to boot, which saps whatever charge it just received. The device shuts itself off, then tries to boot again as soon as it has the tiniest amount of charge. If this happens, your device is basically useless.

Hey Basta! I somewhat disagree.

* Maybe out of the box, but geeksphone does make really nice install scripts and has available every version of FxOS available on their site. [0] Maybe directions about turning on remote debugging first on the device would help, but I'd say they've made it pretty easy. A README would be nice, but they even ship OS specific builds of adb and fastboot in the zips.

* Launching the first 3 devices with the screen resolution of 320x480 and not supporting others in the simulator certainly contribute authors to only testing on one resolution. I myself was guilty with the calculator. But I'm not sure that this is a reason not to get the phone. Maybe you're referring to bugs in some CSS calculations? Do you have any bug numbers off the top of your head?

* Yes, I raised an emergency warning when I saw this, but Geeksphone themselves said that was a safety precaution and was expected. It was due to the battery over heating. I only saw this occur on a peak that we were stress testing WebRTC builds on.

* No. It will do stupid reboot cycles when the battery is basically empty like you said, but that doesn't make the device useless. Letting it sit and charge does the trick.

Hope all is well, buddy.

[0] http://downloads.geeksphone.com/

I read somewhere that Flame is supposed to be 170 EUR. Is that true?

Because if so, that's not a good thing. That's the same price as Motorola Moto G (which has 720p IPS display and quadcore) for phone with 800x400 display (probably TN) dualcore. Other specs seem to be pretty similar, but still, it makes Flame pretty expensive.

I know this is because of the economies of scale, but it still makes FxOS look bad. ZTE Open is terrible, but at least it's pretty cheap.

From the link : retailing at US$170, global shipping included

Any idea where I'd follow the Flame release announcement? The Mozilla site [1] states 'Available for pre-order soon' and lists 'late April' as release date..

The manufacturer's site [2] seems - well - useless.

Any mailing lists/twitter accounts or whatever that I can follow to get my hands on that thing as soon as it comes out?

1: https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/Firefox_OS/Developer_pho... 2: http://www.t2mobile.com/

We just started handing them to core devs (and yes it's a really nice device). Once we'll have confidence that it's stable enough we will roll out to more people internally at Mozilla and then externally.

Just a few weeks away!

Hey. That sounds amazing and I appreciate the answer. But ..

1) You state 'We just started handing them out', implying you are part of the process? Would you mind sharing your connection? Your profile doesn't say a lot. Are you with Mozilla?

2) So, my core question is still open: You hope for a release just a few weeks away? Where would I read about that, how would I keep tabs on this device's official launch (or open pre-order)? If you're deeply involved (as it seems, see 1), got any pointers for relevant "You can now order the device here" news channels?

1) I'm a mozilla employee working on Firefox OS. So, I have a pretty direct connection to what's happening there ;)

2) There will be an official announcement on Mozilla's blog for sure (https://blog.mozilla.org/).

ZTE Open is not bad with newer versions. 1.0 is certainly rough, but it gets better with each new release.

And how do you get these new versions? ZTE won't release them, at least here. Root my phone and compile from source? Thanks, I'll pass.

I agree that having to root the phone, and manufacturers making their builds public is an issue. Mozilla can't quite control this, as they can't legally redistribute proprietary and closed source binary blobs that are the hardware drivers. But I've brought it up numerous times to the legal dept that the requirements for both should be part of the branding requirements.

Rooting is a PITA, granted, but you shouldn't be afraid of compiling from source, ever, especially if you're reading "hacker" news.

thanks for the link (and phones review :) )

If you are a Mozilla rep, you probably want to delete this post or at least remove your overtly critical language. Hardware manufactures invest a lot of resources trying to build for your platform. They are your customer. Insulting them is not good business..

His post is one of the most useful post I have read on HN for months.

I don't have the slightest sympathy for the manufacturers who face difficulties when building phones. I do have sympathy for people who buy crap hardware (because that's all that exists) and suffer because of it. And I am especially annoyed when I buy crap hardware because all the reviews were fake, like you suggest them to be.

>(because that's all that exists)

Well, that's not true. Neo Freerunner and GTA04 both exist and Neo900 will soon join them. None of them needs any bizzare "rooting" and if you want to port some OS to them you're ready to go. All you need to have that's not openly available to everyone for free is a device.

Of course they all have some flaws, but as a consumer you do have a choice.

Also, GTA04 and Neo900 should both be perfectly capable to run Firefox OS.

Users are the customer. You can keep the hardware companies as happy as you like by not offending any of them, but by being honest to the actual users about the strengths and weaknesses of various phones, you are far more likely to build a long term base.

edit - and any hardware companies you work with who are worth their salt will understand this and take any criticisms on board. The end-users will be far less polite.

Hardware vendors also write some of the worst firmware, and since next to none of them publish their source code, it can't be fixed by the community. Most people I talk to suspect systemic IP infringement at the hardware/software interface, which would be a good reason for source code obfuscation.

Lets agree to disagree. The hardware manufacturers are our partners and so are the carriers but if it ever comes to a time where we can't be honest and speak our opinions than we're no longer Mozilla.

The OP asked for opinions on phones. I have all of them so I thought I was on a specially good position to give mine.

And from where we stand, business is keeping the internet free and open made by users and for users where everyone can be a creator and not only a consumer. This type of business begins when we're able in engage in healthy conversations such as this one. ;-)

Lol, down voted. Weak, HN, very very weak. This guy could lose his position over that post and I was just trying to help him (maybe it's just a volunteer thing, though).

If he was at our company, he would have been fired in a heartbeat. Publicly insulting partners like that? Yikes..

FWIW Mozilla reps generally aren't employees, but are part of the wider Mozilla community [1].

[1] https://reps.mozilla.org/

I am very thankful not to be in a company where employees don't have a voice.

I am not a Mozilla employee, I am a Mozilla rep. Its a volunteer position. Mozilla is this strange thing where 800 employees and 100.000 volunteers (reps or not) work togheter for the benefit of you. We're only able to work for the betterment of the internet if we're able to voice our concerns, opinions and judgement.

As for insulting partners, I've insulted no one. I think the partners are wonderful trailblazers but I wish the phones were open. All retail phones ship with Firefox OS 1.1 and they could all be running 1.2 or 1.3 by now if the partners did an OTA or if the phones were unlocked. Knowing this and talking about this is honesty, a very valuable thing for partnerships.

Your company sounds doomed.

Most people here are giving suggestions without owning any Firefox phone.

I actually bought one when i was in Mexico. I tried to see them but even finding one to buy is difficult. See in mx and most other countries without heavy regulation, telefonica from Spain owns the market. And usually they have a shell company as competitor to avoid a mother bell like monopoly. In Mexico the shell company is movistar, the one that sells Firefox phones. Now, they spent millions advertising it. But any store i entered i was told they,never had it for sale. after 20 days and more than 50 stores i finally found one in the shady downtown area were you can buy most imported electronics without tax... The store was inside a parking lot, had 4 full time employees and had a total of 5 phones that they could sell (if that's not the point of sale of a shell company i don't know what it is) but one of the phone was a touch fire. So i bought it.

it was ffos almost stock, albeit and older version, there is zero new features from 1.1 to the bleeding edge 1.4... One nicety was offline gps app right out of the box. That beats any ios or Android phone.

Now for using the phone.. It's impossible because it is slow and crash all the time.

The only reason anyone would use one as their main phone is if said someone already compiled the emulator and wrote all the applications he thinks he will write when getting the phone. Until you do that, avoid getting the phone. I use mine just to see how slow a site with too much js would be

Hey, there are LOTS of new features from 1.1 to 1.4. Heck there are new APIs available, advancements to all the rendering stuff...

I am a mobile app developer. I have all platforms in here and I use Firefox OS as my daily driver. I get angry sometimes and things do not work as expected or when I see a bug but dogfooding is a great way to recognize points where you need to improve and then work on it.

I haven't seen a FXOS phone crashing all the time. They can be perceived as slow if you're used to high end devices but their performance still great when compared to entry level device.

Also Movistar is not a shell company. Its present in many countries in South America. Telefonica owns many telcos such as Movistar and VIVO.

I have some Alcatel phones in here, most of them running 1.1 and one running a nightly build of 1.3. They are working as expected and they used to cost USD 75 here for a while at the same time the cheapest Android was USD 150.

But as I said above, there are still features needed and believe me 1.3 is much better than 1.1 regarding performance. I hope with the new devices and new OS we can make a better impression on you. As for 1.1 on that device, lots of people migrated from their feature phones and are pretty happy with the purchase.

yes, the rendering stuff is nice. i agree wholeheartedly... i'm using 1.4 on that phone since i got it, btw.

but for daily use, there is absolutely nothing new that deserves mention.

Oh, and it requires hacks and binary blobs and impossible-to-compile-your-own kernel images... So there's that too.

I have the ZTE phone to play around with - I got it this past fall just for kicks. It's a great phone for the price, but that's also a very low price point.

FirefoxOS is 'ready' for prime time use if and only if you have relatively low requirements of your phone. It can do most basic tasks by virtue of the fact that it uses mobile websites as if they were native apps, but the experience is not yet comparable to Android.

I think it will get there soon, but right now I would only get one if you are very comfortable being an incredibly early adopter, and understand what kind of adjustment that requires on your part.

Just some clarification. Firefox OS doesn't use just mobile websites. It uses web technologies to build apps. You can have mobile websites as apps but you can also have plain packaged apps that live in your phone. Mobile websites that use appcache will work offline and be indistinguishable from a normal app after they cache the content. Packaged apps are just apps that are stored on the phone just like on other platforms.

People need to be aware that Firefox OS is targeted at emerging markets where most people are still using feature phones. In these scenarios, the cheapest Android phones are still expensive to a large chunk of the population. Our Firefox OS phones are built to be a first smartphone for people that are migrating from feature phones. Democratization of internet access is one of our main objectives with Firefox OS. Bringing the next billion people online.

The idea is not to poach users from iOS and high end Android devices but to offer an affordable entry level smartphone that the common people can buy which has a good quality and performance.

And yes, there are a lot of features that still need to be implemented but then again we're building it all in the open and all the source code is on github http://github.com/mozilla-b2g/

If you count the smartphone platforms with devices available to purchase right now, we're the only one that is developed in the open where anyone can contribute and see everything.

There are still many steps to go but think for a bit in what type of world you want five years from now.

A place where walled gardens are king, where platforms are all proprietary or with closed development and where you need to ask permission before publishing an app.

Or a place where we still have the freedom of the web where anyone can publish anything. Where web based apps work with different vendors platforms (as in Hacker News will open in Firefox, Chrome, Safari all the same. The WebAPIs are being standarized and are open for all vendors to implement).

So, as I said, I agree with you that we still need to implement a lot of features but with the points made above you may be able to agree that we have a place and time now to offering a great product to our markets.

Have you upgraded it past the initial build? If so, how far have you gotten?

I personally have been able to get it all the way up to 1.4 on my ZTE Open. It's a mess to do, you need to build the OS from source then splice it into the boot file provided by ZTE and edit some init scripts. It runs perfectly fine after that but I can't comment on stability since I only use it for app testing

I've been using ZTE Open as my main phone for almost 2 months now. The cost isn't very high, but it does typical phone stuff. I've upgraded my FirefoxOS to 1.1 from the original 1.0. I also tried using 1.2 but there was a problem with the virtual keyboard where the keys doesn't adjust to lowercase so I reverted. ZTE Open doesn't have a really good hardware, but you get what you've paid for. It's really good for browsing the web, but doesn't do good with pages that have really heavy JavaScript.

Apps are pretty much limited, but it's a pretty new platform so we'll just have to wait (or code it ourselves). I don't usually erase SMS and I think it causes a bit of a lag when having tons of messages in your inbox. There will be a slight delay when creating messages if that is the case.

Calls are pretty decent, sometimes though, there's no sound in a call and have to stop the call and redial. I'm not sure if it's because of network problems or because of the phone.

There's this feature about sound issue in FFOS, where it "cares" when you've been listening in full volume and using earphones and automatically turns the volume down. I don't like it pretty much, but it's neat.

Also, there's still no copy-paste in FFOS 1.1.

All in all, I'm still using my ZTE Open, it's does the basic stuff but it might not suit you if you're used to IPhone and Android phones. I haven't tried other FFOS devices but if I were you, you can hold it for a while and wait for new devices to be released.

There are no high-powered phones yet. You may quickly get frustrated trying to use the existing devices as your main phone.

I have the geeksphone version with the resistive touch screen, and it isn't a fun experience (yet). I would suggest waiting a while.

It's a shame there isn't a "Firefox OS" app for Android, that basically acts as if it _was_ the OS for the phone.

That way you could try it out without having to throw away your existing install/apps. There's no reason it couldn't be installed as the launcher, and take over running everything on the phone. I assume that that would be a fair amount of extra work though.

This really is not trivial. Firefox OS runs on the same fork of Linux as Android but does not have any of the Dalvik bits.

There is Firefox for Android, you can go to https://marketplace.firefox.com to test most apps. There are some apps that only specify manifests for Firefox OS.

The everything.me launcher may provide some of the look and feel of Firefox OS. http://blog.everything.me/2014/02/06/mozilla-and-everythingm...

Actually we could do it, it's basically "just" loading gaia's system app packaged for android web runtime. That would still need quite some work as we don't have yet feature parity on some api support. That sounds like a cool contributor project that could be mentored.

I have a Geeksphone Keon as my main/only phone. It's not the fastest phone, but fine for my fairly light use, but I think it does have more RAM than the first-gen retail FxOS phones (e.g. ZTE Open). I don't think I'd get one of those to use as my main device.

Geeksphone provides nightly builds, and I upgraded to FxOS 1.3 about a month ago. It's been stable for and a nice upgrade from 1.1.

I'm watching/waiting for 2nd gen devices before I'll upgrade. I think these will launch with at least FxOS 1.3. Some that I noted from MWC are the ZTE Open C and Alcatel One Touch Fire S. (These are the smaller-sized phones I'm more interested in, but there are others.) I don't think these devices have been released yet.

Mozilla's reference device, the Firefox OS Flame, is supposed to be coming out soon too.

[edit: added note on nightly builds.]

I'm using ZTE Open as my only phone for around 5 months now. It works for me. I have upgraded a few times, though you have to download a lot of git repos to compile the latest builds. Compiling the build takes a lot of time too. I'm running on version 1.3.

It's a good phone, enough for my needs. Sometimes background apps crash when you are using something else. This is an issue if you are listening to music while reading HN... If you use a single app at one time it works great. The phone cannot handle pages with a lot of data or JS.

ZTE Open is a good phone if your needs are low. Otherwise check out the other phones out there...

I have Geeksphone's Keon which is fine if your needs are not too ambitious. I'm very happy with it but it has obvious limitations so not everyone would be. App selection is not great (but happens to be fine for me) and UI can be a bit unresponsive (you need to wait for transitions to play out). Some of this problems would probably disappear with a more expensive phone, but others wouldn't (e.g. the dialer app would still be a bit crap). Cheap phone also has a benefit of anchoring your expectations appropriately.

Still, I do like my phone a lot.

Geeksphone now sells Revolution which is not that expensive, reasonably featureful and can run both Android and FirefoxOS. I have no experience with it, but if I had to buy a FirefoxOS phone today, it would probably be this one.

ZTE Open.

The good: cheap, it tethers very nicely. The bad: almost everything else.

I gave my android phone to my son when I decided to try FFOS as my only phone on the ZTE open. The hardware isn't good enough and it often lags. I can live with it since I almost always have my tablet which is wifi only.

My biggest concern is that Mozilla hasn't done a good job of providing an update path. I can live without OTA updates, but I'm not going to spend the time hunting in random websites for builds that have vague instructions to update my phone.

We are working on fixing the update situation, see https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/mozilla.dev.b2g/2pnA...

Look at the push back I got from some people... but things will happen!

Guys, guys, one question…

Can I build apps for FirefoxOS without owning a phone? I mean just html/js/css using an editor and testing it on an emulator. That's the way I do android apps and I don't have a phone.

Can I? Can I?

I believe Firefox OS and html based apps are the future. I want to start building it now.

Yes, there's a simulator that you can run on your desktop computer. See [1] for instructions on installing it.

[1] https://support.mozilla.org/en-US/kb/how-set-firefox-os-desk...

Yes you can. I've wrote a free book giving you all the path, you can pick it up at:


You basically need a recent version of the Firefox browser and the Firefox OS Simulator add-on. The rest is having a nice editor and doing your web stuff.

How about installing Firefox OS on an existing android phone or dual booting?Possible?

Wait until the Flame is available. It will be the reference device.

i like the geekphones but the flame is far better

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