Last week the ZTE Open C (a variant of the ZTE Kis III running Firefox OS instead of Android) was sold for just 29 € by ComeBuy. Given such a low price I just had to order one as a “trow-away” phone for concerts and the likes.
Turns out the device is quite good. Overall build quality is better than the Flame’s and its touch panel does not suck.
Sadly the device ships with Firefox OS 1.3, based on Jelly Bean, so Mozilla’s current B2G-builds do not work here. There are community builds, but they still feel quite unpolished, so I had a look for alternatives. Turns out there is a CM 12.1 (Android 5.1) based ROM available and it works great so far.
Update 2015-05-23: Still no problems and Firefox for Android runs fine on the device, too. As it is much more powerful than the Firefox OS browser, using Android is the better choice for me at the moment.
Having played around with the Firefox OS reference phone, the T2 Flame, for some days now it’s time for a short review:
- Build quality is ok-ish but but great. The phone feels solid but should be both lighter and thinner.
- The screen is ok-ish, too. However the touch panel is quite bad. It has a very cheap plastic feel and it often fails to register touches.
- Vibration is strong but very noisy.
- Volume button is on the “wrong” side (this is very subjective I guess but to me it just feels wrong). Having the power button on the top feels strange, too.
- Not a problem with the hardware itself but not being a common device there are no cases for this device. At least you can find screen protectors.
- The phone shipped with Firefox OS 1.3 but Mozilla offers builds for Firefox OS 2.0, 2.1, 2.2 and even 3.0. Here begins one of the main problems with Firefox OS: While versions 2.0 and 2.1 should be “code complete” for some time now (even 2.2 is nearing code completion), they have not been formally released. I don’t know what Mozilla plans in this regard, but to me the situation regarding updates looks even worse than Android at the moment.
- On the bright side, the Firefox OS itself is much better than what I expected. It generally looks very nice and runs smooth. Going from 1.3 to 2.2 shows some very nice improvements as well.
- The system only makes use of a single device button. A short press brings you back to the home screen, a longer press opens a task switcher. This is probably what Apple users would expect but I really miss Android’s back button.
- No support for USB-OTG.
- Besides the system launcher there is a number of apps. They all look good and work fine. There is still a lot room for improvements, though. For example, the contacts app only supports syncing with Facebook. Would it be that hard to support CardDAV sync? Maybe some future update will bring this functionality as the calendar app already supports CardDAV sync.
- Surprisingly the weakest point of Firefox OS seems to be… Firefox! The browser does not even support sync let alone addons and tabbed browsing is hardly usable. There is A LOT to do here, Mozilla!
- More apps can be installed from the market app, which works very well. However the amount of useful apps is very small.
- There is a calculator app written by Mozilla, I wonder why it was excluded from the official ROM.
- Sadly there is neither TextSecure nor WhatsApp for Firefox OS. There are some WhatsApp compatible apps but I would really like to use apps with official support. Come on Mozilla, messaging is one of the main uses of a phone and most people are no longer using SMS. Thinking about it, Mozilla should really team up with WhatsApp and bundle its app with Firefox OS. This way Firefox OS users would have easy access to a widely used messaging platform and WhatsApp would get new users.
It is always interesting to explore a new OS and it is very nice to see that Mozilla is doing great work. However there is much to do:
- The web browsing experience needs to be improved a lot.
- Mozilla needs to win support from some of the more popular app developers like WhatsApp.
- Security. Even the yet unreleased Firefox OS 2.1 is based on Gecko 34, which is old. Replacing Gecko in Firefox OS seems to be hard because the whole system UI runs on top of it, so everything needs to be tested. I do not know how Mozilla plans to solve this problem but I really hope they come up with something, soon.
I got the opportunity to buy a T2 Mobile Flame (official Firefox OS developer phone from Mozilla) for cheap (60 €) last week. While it would not be fair to compare this phone to my current daily driver phone (Nexus 5) I have to say that I am mostly pleased with the Flame.
It is still far from replacing Android for me, but it will give me the opportunity to follow Firefox OS development more closely. I am already compiling a list of things that keep me from using a Firefox OS phone instead of a Nexus and will report everything on Bugzilla, hoping that at some point the Firefox OS will mature enough to suit my needs.
As noted earlier, I hope that Firefox OS can replace Android on my phone at some point. Mozilla has done some great work in the past month but there is still a lot to be done. Right now the main problems for me are…
- Hardware support: While Firefox OS is fully open source, neither my old Nexus One nor the Galaxy Nexus can run it in a stable way. At least the Galaxy Nexus has much better hardware than any official Firefox OS phones and even the Nexus One should at least be on par with the ZTE Open.
- Firefox Sync: This feature is great, I use it sync between my Fedora desktops and phone. Especially sending tabs from one device to another is great. It is totally beyond me how Mozilla could not support this killer feature on Firefox OS.
- Firefox extensions: Well, I only really need Adblock Plus…
- CardDAV: Another fact that is hard to explain, given Mozilla’s love for open standards is the absence of CardDAV sync. In order to sync contacts you need to use, guess what, Facebook (or Google/Hotmail). Maybe this will make it into a release sooner or later.
Besides those, it would also need solutions for at least news, passwords and file sync to match the functionality I get on Android.
I plan to follow the development of Firefox OS more closely from now on and update this list as features become available or I find other important things that Firefox OS is lacking.
The following is a short list of nice Android apps which help getting away from proprietary services (Google, Dropbox, …)
Out of these, FolderSync is the only app that is not open source, but hopefully Encdroid will support fetching files from ownCloud directly soon.
I am still looking for a solution regarding notes, ideally giving me access to the same set of notes on GNOME, Web and Android.
Messaging remains the biggest problem. Sure there’s XMPP, but nobody seems to use it. Maybe heml.is can replace WhatsApp? For Email, let’s see how Mailpile develops…
Google has done and is still doing a lot of great things, but recently they have crossed a line.
For myself it began with the shutdown of Google Reader, which was a very useful service for me. The company thought otherwise and wanted us to use Google+ instead, but that doesn’t really cover my use case. I looked around and finally went with selfoss, which works fine but feels a bit slow.
Then the Nexus 5 was released and I ordered one day one… big mistake. The first unit I received had a very bad power-on button. Shaking or even slightly moving the phone caused it to create rattling sounds. Also, the vibration motor sounded as if it was dying already. Turned out these problems were quite common… a sign for perfect QA. RMAing was no problem but the replacement was said not ship before mid-december. Sigh. I got the replacement a few days later and started using the phone. Easily the best Android phone I every owned, BUT…
Sadly Google does not care about open source anymore. On the Nexus 5, the closed source Hangouts has replaced the messaging app and the various other parts of the system (launcher for example) are no longer open source as well. For me this is a big deal, but even those who do not care will notice that Google is now actively fragmenting Android by not adding some KitKat features to the Nexus 4 or Moto X. I had big hopes after the relatively smooth and quick rollout of Android 4.3 but with KitKat Google destroyed this illusion.
Could it get worse? Sure! Google banned the CynogenMod installer from Google Play. I guess it is only a time before other popular root-only apps will follow. Some time ago Google also banned AdAway from Google Play, but thankfully there is F-Droid.
It does not stop here. There is another very sad story here. In a nutshell: Google offers a way to import custom CA certificates in Android but in KitKat, there is a very annoying and misleading warning message about this after every boot. The bug was closed WorkingAsIntended and Google basicly asks us to trust them but not ourselves. Nice.
A way out?
It can be hard to migrate away from Google services but thankfully ownCloud is finally getting into usable shape. I use a pre-release of the upcoming ownCloud 6.0 for files, contacts, calendars and news. The only Google services I still cannot replace are GMail and Maps…
As for Android: I will probably switch to a custom ROM soon and not buy anything from Google Play anymore. In the medium term I hope that Firefox OS will be able to fit my needs.
I have been concentrating on job and real life stuff during the last few month but I guess I should take a minute to comment on GNOME 3.0 nevertheless
All things considered, the “.0” release has turned out very well. There are various problems and regressions for sure, but still I am impressed about all the work that has been done, especially during the last two month. I just want to thank everyone involved!
I have been lucky enough to make it to the Mozilla Summit in Whistler, BC again this year. Needless to say, the conference rocked. Thanks to Mozilla for inviting me! Everything was organized really well and after seeing the coolest tech (HTML5, CSS3, WebGL, WebSockets, …) running in Firefox 4 Beta for a few days it really improved my feeling on how Firefox 4 will stand up to Google Chrome…
Unfortunately I did not manage to make it to GUADEC again
But, thanks to Fluendo and Flumotion, I can still follow the talks as WebM streams!
A few days ago, my girlfriend asked me to set up PureData on her Fedora 11 box. Installing Pd was easy thanks to CCRMA. Making it work – not so much…
After countless failed attempts I came up with a simple yet working setup which can be implemented in about two minutes:
- install pd-extended, jack-audio-connection-kit and fluidsynth
- start JACK: jackd –realtime –silent -d alsa –midi-driver seq &
- start FluidSynth:
fluidsynth -l -i -s -a jack -o synth.sample-rate=48000 /usr/share/soundfonts/default.sf2 &
- connect FluidSynth to ALSA:
jack_connect fluidsynth:left alsa_pcm:playback_1
jack_connect fluidsynth:right alsa_pcm:playback_2
- pd -rt -jack -alsamidi -midioutdev 1
I first tried to not use JACK because I thought it would clash with PulseAudio. Problem with this approach: Pd does not support PulseAudio natively and neither does FluidSynth in F11 (upstream supports it, but that is another sad story). So it’s either PCM sound or midi, but not both at the same time
Fortunately, JACK turned out to work great – but for normal desktop usage, I am still very happy to have PulseAudio
It’s 2009 already, which means: time for another blog entry
During the last months I have mostly been busy with university. Unfortunately things tend to take a bit longer than expected… But now, having only only one exam left, I took the chance to get up to speed with the latest GNOME, Linux and FOSS development.
The general “theme” for GNOME 2.26 seems to be getting rid of legacy dependencies like libgnome(ui) everywhere, which is very nice. Also, there’s a lot of small-but-welcome improvements here and there. Finally PulseAudio will be properly integrated into the desktop (if the remaining bugs can be fixed before the final release, it will rock). Brasero is a 1st class GNOME app now: the team has done some impressive work, just look at the level of integration they accomplished during the last development cycle!
While WebKit/GTK again didn’t make it into GNOME 2.26, the progress still seems to be huge and it should really “be there” for release+1. Even without it, Epiphany got some really nice improvements (woohoo bar!).
In other news, the coming Thunderbird will follow Firefox and provide a nice native look. I really hope the motivation to draw all the needed icons will be high in the weeks to come…
I’m also pleased to hear that OpenOffice is finally starting a GUI revamp, even if this effort will take quite some time: every journey starts with a first step.