Review: Firefox OS sputters on the ZTE Open

The open source challenger is meant to be simple, but it crosses the line into the less than functional

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The Mail app supports just IMAP accounts, though it doesn't see all your mail folders. There's no POP support, and the ActiveSync support doesn't work with Microsoft Exchange, but just Hotmail and accounts; don't even think about accessing corporate email. If you want to add an attachment to a message you're composing, dream on -- you have to go to an app such as Gallery to select and share the app via email. There's no formatting for message text such as boldface.

The Calendar app supports Google Calendar, but that's it. And forget about repeating events or issuing or accepting invitations. The Contacts app supports no server-based contacts, just what you enter manually or have on a SIM card. The Messages app supports only SMS messaging, none of the free and popular instant messaging services.

The Firefox OS and its built-in app suite simply can't be used for business, even for small businesses relying on the Google Apps capabilities that nearly every device out there supports via native client or Web browser.

The Music and Video apps are similarly disconnected from the world -- you need to copy files to the SD card to gain access to them. That's a challenge on the ZTE Open because the heat sink partially blocks access to the SD card entry; it's very easy to bend the card when inserting it, and removing it requires a difficult, painstaking effort.

The Internet browser often didn't open links on Web pages, and it often took multiple tries for my taps on buttons or links to be recognized, which I assume is a flaw in the ZTE Open's touchscreen. But the score of 397 for HTML5 compatibility beats that of iOS 6 -- there's hope that the browser experience might improve on a better device.

I downloaded and tested the Dropbox app, which did connect to my account but displayed an error message when I tried to view PDF or Microsoft Office documents. There's no way to add documents to Dropbox; you're limited to seeing what's in your Dropbox folder. The button at the top to download the Android app should have clued me in that the Dropbox "app" is just a Web page to your Dropbox storage.

The bundled Notes app, by contrast, starts to show what's possible. You can enter text, bring in images from the Gallery app or your camera, and even share your notes via email. The Twitter app I downloaded works like the Twitter apps on other devices, another example of what could be.

On the whole, Firefox is a woefully incomplete mobile operating system, and the ZTE Open will only confirm people's suspicions about Chinese manufacturers' poor quality. The ZTE Open costs just $80, but it's not a device for serious use.

The ZTE Open is aimed at developers, though it is sold in Spain commercially as well. It's best to think of this not as a serious smartphone choice even in the developing world but as a proof of concept that you pay to try.

Maybe next year, Ubuntu Touch will be out of beta and competing with an improved version of Firefox OS to show the world that open source can put mobile computing in reach of the whole world. But today, you're better off to look for a cheap Android device whose hardware may be compromised but whose OS can do the basics and more.

This article, "Review: Firefox OS sputters on the ZTE Open," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in mobile computing, read Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog at, follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter, and follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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