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Firefox OS Keon Developer Phone Review

This week I received the Firefox OS Keon. This phone is for developers who want to build mobile web apps and better quality mobile websites.

Firefox OS – Keon Review

Unboxing the Firefox OS Developer Phone Keon.

Android is curious about what’s in the box.

I have spoken about the Firefox OS Developer Phones before. The Keon is the lower powered developer phone from geeksphone. The Keon and the Peak have quickly and repeatedly sold out. Supply has not kept up with demand. I was lucky to check the site at a time when the Keon was still available. Besides, orange just feels right for a Firefox phone. And I’m a Syracuse basketball fan so I’m comfortable with the color.

Firefox OS Keon with accessories.

Back of the Firefox OS Keon. The phone shipped with headphones, a microUSB cord, and an adapter to plug the microUSB cord into an outlet. The phone did not ship with a microSD card. Geeksphone never stated that it would, but they never stated the other accessories either. I bring this up because they entirely reserve the storage on the device for the operating system and apps. You cannot add any music or take any pictures without a microSD card present. I inserted the extra microSD card I had from my original Droid phone just to take a screenshot. This was the first major difference I noticed with the phone. Android phones will not power up without a microSD card present.

Size wise the Firefox OS Keon is not very large. It has the same display size as the iPhone 4, but it is slightly wider thanks to the back cover. It is just a bit shorter than the iPhone 4. The back cover is removable and you can remove the battery. The battery is slightly better than the battery on the original Droid and the iPhone 4. It is the iPhone 4’s equal with 512 MB of RAM. This is double the space of the original Droid. The resolution is very low at 480×320 which about 165 ppi. This means that it is about halfway towards a retina device.

Smartphone comparison.

From left to right: The original Droid, the Galaxy Nexus, the Firefox OS Keon, and the iPhone 4.

Picture taken with the Keon

Picture taken with the Keon

Picture quality on the Keon is not very good. The Keon only supports a single 3 MP camera on the back. This is the weakest camera that I have ever seen on a smartphone. Good enough for a test device.

The Firefox OS Keon includes a feature I have never seen in another smartphone. It has an FM radio! Strangely enough, the radio requires headphones. The phone has speakers. You can watch YouTube videos without plugging in your headphones. This explains why they included the headphones with the device.

The phone supports GPS. It works pretty accurately from my testing. It doesn’t say much, but this is even better than the GPS on my Transformer Prime.

Wi-Fi works very well. I consider the Firefox OS Keon on par with my Surface Pro. It felt superior to my iPhone 4, Galaxy Nexus, Transformer Prime, and original Droid.

There are four buttons total on this device. The volume up and volume down buttons, the power button, and the home button. There are no dedicated back button or search buttons.

Firefox OS – Mobile Web Apps

Firefox OS Keon screenshotFirefox OS truly is the mobile operating system designed from the ground up to build a better mobile web. Every app is just HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. These are the same languages uses to build mobile websites. Mozilla has worked with the W3C standards body to define standards that allow websites to get access to things you can only do in a mobile app at this point. These things include access to your address book, the camera, etc.

The only difference between the two is that a Firefox OS mobile web app needs a config file written in JavaScript in JSON format. This file must end in .webapp. Serving this file from your own site requires a special MIME type. You do not need to worry about this if you are serving the app from the Marketplace. You can write this config file in a few minutes. A bare-boned web page that just says something like “install now” that a user can click on to install the app from your site can also be written in minutes. I’ve done it. It’s easy.

Firefox OS – Mobile OS Review

Firefox OS values privacy. Just like with the web, Firefox OS supports Do-Not-Track. Do-Not-Track is a user configurable option that sends a message to companies (e.g. advertisers) that you do not want your behavior tracked. Firefox OS correctly disables this feature by default to send a message to advertisers that this is what a user desired.

As mentioned before, Firefox OS supports GPS. You must allow GPS in each app or website. The first place you are likely to encounter this prompt is in the HERE Maps app. Nokia owns and runs HERE Maps. It is another local business directory you can use to improve your local SEO efforts.

While I have enjoyed Firefox OS, there are a few things that have bugged me. The first thing to stand out may have been specific to the Firefox OS Keon’s low specs, but transitions between screens did not feel fluid. It felt like it was lacking hardware acceleration present in other operating systems. Also, the screen felt resistant to my touch. It felt like I had to press harder than necessary for a touch to register.

Screenshot showing off the Firefox OS Keon on screen keyboard.Speaking of touch, the on-screen keyboard is strange. I know they need to differentiate from the competition but putting an apostrophe key next to the “L” button resulted in many typos on my part. Theoretically it’s smart to include the extra key. It’s something you would need to get used to if you switched from another mobile OS. Add to the fact that there is no auto-correct feature and I was glad that the backspace button was in a normal location.

File uploads don’t work. Prior to iOS 6 I criticized Apple heavily for the lack of file upload support in Safari. I still criticize them for limiting file uploads to images/photos/videos. That you can’t upload files from the mobile OS that’s focused on enhancing the mobile web is shocking.

Firefox OS does support notifications. These notifications are far more limited than I expected. Letting me know that there is an upgrade for the phone or that my Facebook contacts failed to sync makes sense. I did not test this, but text messages should cause notifications. But the email app doesn’t notify me when new mail comes in? No Facebook notifications? I know the onus is on Facebook to add the notification features, but the email app is a core app. There is no excuse there.

You can only import your contacts from Facebook at this time. Support for importing Google and Outlook.com contacts was recently broken. It has already been fixed in build 1.1, but that has not been pushed as an over the air update. This is a minor gripe on my part.

Some apps clearly need work. The Google+ app is terrible. It thought I was on a desktop. Everything is all out of proportion. It’s not like Google is unaware that there is a mobile version of Firefox — the Google+ mobile website redirects and works fine on Firefox for Android. I blame that on Google, but it’s something you need to know.

That’s it for my review of the Firefox OS Keon developer phone. It does feel like it’s on the right track towards building better mobile websites and mobile apps. What do you think?

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About

Brian is the Director of Development and Social Media for Brand Builder Websites where he oversees the development, strategy, and goals for our software development. He is also a huge fan of Android.
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