Firefox's new mobile OS in action on the Geeksphone Peak
BARCELONA, Spain--If you're going to try Firefox OS, try it on the Geeksphone Peak.
This smartphone, with a 4.3-inch 960x540-pixel multitouch screen and a 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor, is the best way so far to experience Mozilla's browser-based operating system. Mozilla debuted Firefox OS today at Mobile World Congress, signing up an impressive array of mobile network partners and mainstream phone makers LG Electronics, ZTE, Alcatel, and Huawei.
But it's Spanish startup Geeksphone that had the nicest hardware with the Peak. It's for developers, not mainstream buyers, and it showed off Firefox OS to its best advantage.
Other attributes of the phone include a proximity sensor so it can tell when you've put the phone up to your face; an accelerometer for orientation detection; an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and 2-megapixel front camera; 512MB of RAM and 4GB of flash memory; microSD and Micro-USB ports; a GPS receiver; and an 1,800mAh battery.
The hardware had a nice heft and polish to it, with a feel that reminded me of Nokia's Lumia Windows phone models. The processor and graphics could smoothly run Mozilla's favorite game demo, Zepto Labs' Cut the Rope -- a Web-based version, of course, since we're talking about Firefox OS here.
So far the app ecosystem around Firefox OS is hit and miss. It can use mobile-optimized Web sites like Facebook's as Web apps, which gives the OS a huge head start. But many top-shelf games are missing, and even with Web sites factored in, I didn't get the feeling that the Firefox Marketplace search feature will produce the app store holy grail, a list of relevant, high-quality apps. (Of course, neither does Apple's App Store or Google Play, but they have a better range of dedicated apps.)
Mozilla's operating system so far has laid a solid foundation for low-end smartphones, and that's where Mozilla's allies are hoping to sell it at the outset. There are plenty of feature-phone owners today who can't afford an Android or iOS device, the Firefox OS fan club reasons. The operating system is designed to take full advantage of the hardware, without Android's intermediate Java-like layer, and on the Peak it's reasonably responsive. It's not up to the standards of iOS devices, which in my experience still are the fastest to respond to a poke, pinch, or swipe, but Mozilla's job is to impress folks who aren't even used to a touch screen.
Firefox OS developers -- in principle any Web developer, really, since the OS runs Web apps -- naturally will gravitate toward the Peak because it's more powerful and it's got a nice, crisp screen.
But that would be cheating. My guess that customers who can't afford a cheap Android phone today will be more likely to something of the Geeksphone Keon class or lower, so programmers should be aiming for that level rather than what looks to be the hero phone of the Firefox OS world.
For more details on the operating system itself, check CNET's First Take on Firefox OS. Suffice it to say that it worked best on the Geeksphone Peak.