Budget Phone Week: Can I survive on Firefox OS?

Firefox OS is designed for phones that’ll be sold in developing countries. What can I learn from using it exclusively for a week? Day One: Disaster strikes.
I’m a tech journo. You might have gathered that if you’ve been paying any attention, but the reason I start out with that statement is that I do think there’s a certain bubble around most tech journalists, and it’s a bubble that I’m all too guilty of nesting myself in from time to time.
I’m speaking here of privilege. I get to test out interesting and different gadgets all the time — it’s not a bad job, although the pay could always be sparklier — but that tends to bring with it an expectation of the best, because technology companies will naturally enough supply review stock that shows their products off at their best. Why give a reviewer a bad impression, even if the high end model has a high-end price?
When I get a review sample in, it tends to be the higher specification model. The one with all the bells and whistles and optional doodads. There’s a certain logic to that — if the lower specification models don’t have a particular doodad — say, the touchID sensor on the iPhone 5s — then you can’t test them.
Still, it ignores the fact that many of these phones are the “aspirational” models. They’re not the ones that sell in absolute mass quantities.
That field is largely dominated by Android. Indeed, some pundits suggest that Android’s current market share has little to do with HTC Ones and Galaxy Note 3s, and plenty to do with much cheaper phones from makers such as Huawei and ZTE.
Still, I’m pretty au fait with Android as it stands, and the experience on lower end phones is much the same as it is on higher end ones, only reduced in scope a bit.

The Firefox has a puffy tail. I shall resist the urge to giggle at this. Mostly.
The Firefox has a puffy tail.
I shall resist the urge to giggle at this. Mostly.

So I thought I’d do something different. That’s why I’ve picked up a ZTE Open, the first “Firefox OS” phone you can buy. I’m going to try to use it as my primary phone for a week, both to sort out what it can do, but also to refine my scope when looking at phones across all price barriers. It won’t be the only phone I touch this week, but the idea is that if I’ve got a smartphone task to do, I’ll do it with the ZTE Open.
No Australian carrier stocks the ZTE Open as yet, although Telstra did indicate it was testing the device earlier in the year, as per a story I wrote up over at Gizmodo.
Still, I ordered mine the only way you can get a ZTE Open, and that’s via eBay. Here’s a link if you’re interested in playing along at home.
First step involves unpacking it, and I won’t bother or bore you with an unboxing. You can find them all over the web. It’s worth noting locally that the unit I got, which turned up with no external signs of having been shipped internationally direct to me, still came with a US-type charger. It’s still a standard microSD charging setup in any case.
The setup process isn’t terribly dissimilar to any other smartphone operating system you could name. It wants a wireless network, it wants to know where you are, and you can add accounts as you go.
The choice of Australian locales, by the way, is Adelaide, Brisbane, Broken Hill, Currie, Darwin, Eucla, Hobart, Lindeman, Lord Howe, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. That’s where we all live, isn’t it?
On the plus side, if it is 1980, I get my hair back. On the minus side: I can't have a beer, drive a car, and I'm decades away from my children.
On the plus side, if it is 1980, I get my hair back. On the minus side: I can’t have a beer, drive a car, and I’m decades away from my children.

For some reason, the default date is 1980. The 1st of June 1980, to be specific, when this was the number one song across the country.
I was expecting this to feel like a somewhat dated phone, but probably not quite this dated.
Day one, however, wasn’t today. Day one was, technically speaking, some time back, and that’s because day one was met with unmitigated disaster of the most basic type.
My day to day phone at the moment is an iPhone 5s. I quite like it, but it has the distinction of being the only platform that uses a Nano SIM.
The ZTE Open uses a full sized SIM, and if I was going to go all-in on the ZTE Open, that meant using a sim adaptor. So that’s what I duly did, but there’s a catch here.
About six of them, and every single one went “ping” and snapped off when I put the SIM in. Broken, busted, defeated — and all on day one.
This was not the shiny start I was envisaging. Not at all.
With my environmentally sound hat on, I did try getting the SIM PIN tray repaired, partly at least to see how cheaply that could be done. The local phone repair place tried, bodged, left me hanging for a while — but ultimately failed. It was an optimistic thing in any case, because the repair cost was likely to be close to the replacement cost of the phone itself.
SIM Pins following hefty repair centre abuse. I can't blame them; I was the original killer.
SIM Pins following hefty repair centre abuse. I can’t blame them; I was the original killer.

So in order to keep this thing going, I’ve had to buy a second ZTE One, and readjust right from day one.
I won’t put my regular SIM in the ZTE Open, because I don’t want to kill the second ZTE Open I’ve purchased. It’ll get a full sized SIM instead, which means I won’t be testing its phone chops particularly hard. Them’s the (gulp) breaks.
In the meantime, anyone want to buy a perfectly-functional-except-for-borked-SIM-Pins ZTE Open? Anyone?
Tuesday: Firefox OS and productivity
Wednesday: Can Firefox OS keep me ‘appy?
Thursday: I see what you did there: Screens, cameras and entertainment
Friday: Do we really “need” fast phones?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.