Firefox OS has been billed as the de-facto champion of the low-budget smartphones running less powerful hardware than even entry-level phones from Android. As a result, we will see a slew of new Firefox OS phones in the market soon, with the Spice Fire One and Intex Cloud Fx being the first two out of the gate. The former is what we have with us today, and at a price tag of Rs 2,299 (Official MRP: Rs 2,699), it’s one of the cheapest smartphones you can get right now. But is that enough to sway buyers from the Android or feature phone camp?
Design and build
There really is nothing that stands out in terms of build or design in the Fire One. It's about as non-descript as phones come. Like many other budget phones, the Spice Fire One looks far removed from press renders. In person, the cheap quality of the plastic is very evident and the glossy back is particularly tacky and looked used after just a day with us. We got the black model and it fits in the palm of your hand very well, but that’s about the only attention to detail we see. The back of the phone can be removed and underneath are the battery, SIM cards and microSD card slots. The back comes off fairly easily thanks to the groove on the bottom right corner, though you will need to get your nails around all sides to slip it off. The back itself feels like it could snap anytime, so be careful with it.
Display and camera
The 3.5-inch 320x480 pixel resolution display is horrid to say the least. The viewing angles are terrible, and colours look insipid in comparison to most other budget Android phones, or even feature phones from Nokia. Contrast has gone for a toss too, and very often we found ourselves wondering whether the display is actually showing us a ‘negative’ image.
Similarly the 1.3MP camera is a disappointment, over-exposing everything when the scene is brightly lit, or not capturing enough detail when there’s just enough light. Some pictures look like they have a ton of filters applied to them right after capture. There’s a front camera too, but combined with the horrible display and the VGA quality, you may only be able to spot yourself on in the viewfinder in that one very elusive angle. Once again a lot of the times, the front camera showed us a ‘negative’ image of our mugs.
The Fire One is not all the snappy, which is to be expected from a phone with a 1GHz single core processor. Getting in and out of apps takes some time, while the choppy scrolling, extremely high touch latency reminded us of pre-Froyo days on Android. The time taken to register touches is extremely annoying, and the wait is not filled with snazzy animation. It's almost as if we were using a resistive touchscreen, even though it's advertised as capacitive.
Sound quality from the speakers was adequate for the occasional listening session, but it wasn’t great. The audio was tinny and muffled as is expected from a phone in this price range.
Needless to say, this is the part that’s most crucial when it comes to this phone. Thanks to the low price tag, we didn’t expect the hardware to shine, but the OS showed some promise.
Let’s go through the basic UI. The lockscreen of the phone is in the slider style with the right end leading you to the homescreen and the left side to the camera. You will see the time, date, and your cellular connection status above the slider. Unlock the phone and you will see the main homescreen which by default has a couple of folders and a universal search bar. Swipe to the left and you will see your app drawer in a grid-style.
That’s about it as far as homescreen navigation goes. There is a notification drawer with quick access to certain settings, while all your notifications come in here. It’s very much like Android, but Android 2.2 Froyo.
Firefox OS comes with just the basic tools to get you started with the Marketplace storing the other apps available for the platform. Spice has preloaded a version of the 2048 game on the phone, which is a great time-killer, while the ConnectA2 app works as an experimental client for WhatsApp. The lack of official app support could be the biggest deal breaker for most people looking to jump on the smartphone bandwagon.
In the Marketplace, one will find some of the most basic puzzle games with Candy Crush clones ruling the roost. You will also find apps for YouTube, 9Gag, Hungama Music, while Etsy, OLX, and Trovit are in the shopping category. We couldn’t find many cloud storage apps but Box is present, and for photo editing, we found Aviary in the Marketplace. However, the collection is woefully inadequate when comparing it to even Windows, let alone iOS or Android.
Aside from apps, there are some nagging annoyances with Firefox OS. No matter which Wi-Fi network we connected to, the phone would drop the connection when it goes to sleep mode. Moreover, we couldn’t find any setting to keep the Wi-Fi awake in the background. This was the real deal breaker for us, since it really reduces the potential of the phone greatly.
The Fire One charges quickly, but doesn’t hold charge very well. During our usage, the phone ran out of juice overnight from around the 50 percent mark, even though it was on standby and without a SIM card. That didn’t give us a whole lot of confidence when it came to actually using the phone. It lasted us a little over 9 hours of usage, with Wi-Fi and 2G. This is not bad by itself, but first-time smartphone buyers would feel shortchanged if moving from long-lasting feature phones.
Spice Fire One feels like an experiment to see what could be the cheapest smartphone. Yes, they have achieved something close to that, but it’s an not an experience we can recommend at all. In fact, despite the shortcomings of Firefox OS, it’s not the platform we have any complaints about. It is very nascent and still has a long way to go and we will surely see improvements in terms of usability, UI and app catalogue.
The big problem with the Fire One is the phone itself. For someone who has used a budget Android smartphone for even a short while, the difference is immediately noticeable. Touch interactions are not smooth, the display is barely usable, while the cameras might as well be potatoes. We realise that smartphones at this price point are lacking in all of the mentioned aspects, but perhaps it's just not time yet for consumers to get a Rs 2,000 smartphone that does justice to that label.
The Fire One feels very far removed from a smartphone experience. Yes, it’s cheap, but don’t let anyone tell you that this is the best mobile device at this price point. Instead we would suggest buying another feature phone if your budget is limited.
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