I was looking forward to my first test run with this Firefox mobile OS smartphone: the Alcatel One Touch Fire. So I rushed to be the one to review it when the bright orange thing first passed under my nose. A poor impulse it seems now, as the alternative platform does not hold up at all, and is well below Android standards.
The Alcatel One Touch Fire is a smartphone in a very affordable range. Without dwelling on the subject, there are some things that are entirely understandable and acceptable in a device that costs less than 100 dollars, but some others are simply inexcusable and prohibitive. In this test you will see what aspects of the One Touch Fire make it absolutely unusable. Whether this is the fault of the Firefox OS or Alcatel, the fact remains. This failure, sadly, means that Android will have a long wait to see any competition in the form of Firefox OS.
Design & manufacture
The One Touch Fire is pretty well finished. Design choices and the bright orange color will either please you or not, as is always the case with things of this sort. The colors of course are based on the Firefox system's shades of orange. The handset does not look or feel "cheap", but it is still quite heavy for a smartphone of this size. The rear plate and the battery of the Fire are removeable, and provide access to a micro SD slot. Nothing else to report in terms of design and manufacturing: for less than 100 dollars, it's all good.
Not much to say about this 3.5 inches display with 320x480 pixel resolution. It does its job perfectly acceptably without stepping anywhere near being amazing. There are major problems with touch sensitivity though, that greatly hinder the use of the device, but we will return to these in the system section. The brightness is sufficient and, in general, the display is suitable for a smartphone in this class.
System: Firefox OS
So far, so good, especially for a smartphone in the double figure price range. The system though, will change that evaluation very quickly. First, it is really slow, displaying a serious lack of fluidity, that even considering the youth of the OS and the price of the device cannot explain. Major slowdowns and buttons that do not respond even after 5 seconds are not only really, really frustrating but are unacceptable on a consumer device in any price range.
As for the interface, it is halfway between Google's Android and Apple's iOS, so we have a home screen, but no application drawer "à la Android". When you slide to the side, you can access your applications... eventually, when the One Touch Fire finally responds.
Firefox as a company is centered around protecting privacy and promoting security in particular, but these principles are kind of missing here in the way you might expect. All that is offered here though, can be easily replicated on Android with permission management apps, or disabling location services with third-party applications such as XPrivacy. Indeed, nothing prevents us from using an Android without GPS enabled, without a Google account and with only installing applications that don't require intrusive permissions. In short, what does Firefox OS bring to the table that we can't already do on Android?
After a few minutes of use I had to come to the obvious conclusion: the One Touch Fire simply acts according to its own will! My touchscreen gestures seemed to have practically no effect on what was actually happening on screen. I could tap an icon and drag it somewhere, and then the notification bar would open like magic! Controlling the actual phone was almost impossible.
My test proved to be a joke. To show you what I mean, here's an amusing anecdote: I took some screenshots to enhance this article, but when I tried to email the pictures to myself, I opened the email app only to find that the create new message button didn't work.
The touch screen malfunctions are even worse than I originally thought: every time I clicked anything in the top right of the screen, the notifications bar would react. The ridiculously unreliable sensitivity was causing this problem up to about one whole centimeter below the area that should launch it. This weird issue is so pervasive that you cannot create or send a message or go back in many menus, meaning you are forced to leave the application from the task manager and restart. Or not, because nothing works properly anyway. Perhaps we just had a serious dud on our hands, but this level of inaccuracy would be laughable if it wasn't so infuriating.
To finish on a ''high'' note, the camera is ok. Careful though, it's really not that great but all things considered it's one of the best things on the Firefox phone. But to give you an idea of how it stacks up, I would rate it slightly above a Galaxy Ace 2.
The interface of the camera app could not be more simple, and by this I mean incomplete. When I touched the screen to take a photo, I would see a weird black bar appear that left me perplexed. It turned out later to simply be the shortcut bar to the latest photos taken, although nothing actually appeared in it.
I will not pretend: this first test of a smartphone running Firefox is an absolute disaster. I can not tell if the problem is primarily Alcatel's or Firefox's or both, but the result is an absolutely useless smartphone. This is unacceptable not only to me but to anyone who wants a device that works and it is a pity that a smartphone rocking an alternative OS that comes in under 100 dollars, which otherwise would have been very welcome, could turn out to be so terrible. It's hard to even see a way in which the OS would be better after some improvements: it was so unreliable it was impossible to get an idea of what it might do if it was actually working.
Has this review turned you off Firefox OS completely, or would you still consider it if things improve?