$35 Firefox OS smartphone – back to the drawing board

Ron Amadeo's review of the much-heralded Cloud FX phone, a $35 smartphone for the "rest of the world," paints a gloomy picture of a poorly thought through first outing.

Amadeo's found the Intex Cloud FX underpowered, poorly built, buggy, and nearly impossible to use — from its terrible keyboard to the fact that it lost the current time (and with it, the ability to parse SSL certificates and perform other vital functions) every time the battery died, and could not re-establish the time without access to a live cellular connection (wifi wasn't good enough). The camera is so terrible as to be pointless.

It's a shame, as I had very high hopes for the device, and want Firefox OS to succeed — it's got best-of-breed privacy protection, and the mission of putting free/open code into the first computers that the world majority gets to own is incredibly important and noble. But the Cloud FX is also the first attempt to build an ultra-low-cost smartphone, and we can hope that subsequent manufacturers learn from Intex's mistakes and take more care in speccing and building their Firefox mobiles (and that they won't be scared off by the inevitable failure of the Cloud FX).

Navigating webpages is a nightmare. The problem isn't just that the phone is slow, it's that scrolling is nearly impossible. A lot of times the phone is busy, and scrolling doesn't do anything. When it does scroll, you'll find the rest of the page often isn't loaded and you'll get a gray screen that takes a few seconds to be loaded into memory. The other problem is that scrolling is often interpreted as pressing on a link. This, combined with the speed of the device and the often-frozen scrolling, means the Cloud FX is frequently doing things you don't want—and doing them very slowly.

The performance of the Cloud FX really cannot be understated. Screen taps sometimes take seconds to register. Firefox OS has a recent apps screen, but there is never any free memory, so nothing other than the current app is ever open. During particularly slow freak-outs, the screen will just turn black. If the phone falls asleep, or the alarm pops up, or a phone call comes in, your app closes and you lose your progress. Even something as simple as opening a folder of apps has a load time measured in seconds.

If Firefox OS was a little more considerate of the ultra-low-end specs of the Cloud FX, things wouldn't be so bad. A big part of the problem is merely that the OS clearly isn't targeted for something this slow. Being able to disable images and JavaScript in the browser would be a great first step, but Firefox OS offers no way to do that. We couldn't find an app or alternative browser, either. Android deals with low memory by saving the state of an app if it is going to be closed due to low memory, but Firefox doesn't appear to have any such abilities. Users will frequently lose data if they try to bounce from app to app.

Testing a $35 Firefox OS phone—how bad could it be? [Ron Amadeo/Ars Technica]