There is always a sort of aura of importance on the first of anything. You could sort of feel this mixture of excitement and curiosity when the first Keons were handed on Madrid.
Make no mistake. This is not the average consumer phone and I would not recommend it for any casual user just yet, but for developers looking for a device in which to run and test their code on Mozilla’s entry into the mobile web this is certainly an excellent opportunity.
The Keon is a medium to low end smart phone, and a good sample of the target demographic for Firefox OS’s emerging markets strategy of bringing the web at a low cost. Even so, the guys at Geeksphone have made a wonderful job from boxing to the actual hardware.
I am usually not one for package presentation but the Keon’s box took me by surprise. A cubic cardboard cover that on removal reveals the phone, presented on a 45 degree angle with no other distraction. Clean and simple, it reinforces the “first device” importance I commented before. All acesories (charger, battery, cable…) were stored in tabs under the phone’s holder.
As I said, I usually do not give much for packaging, but I tough this one was pretty neat.
The phone itself is small and fit comfortably in the hand. The back and sides of the phone is made of Firefox-orange plastic that makes and odd but unique contrast with the typical black bordered screen. I like how simply but unique it is.
This are the nice presentational elements, but this is a phone for developers, so how does it goes for developing?
The specs on the phone are nothings especial, a 3.5″ HVGA screen, a Qualcomm single core 1Ghz processor ,512 MB of RAM… which goes along nicely with the entire point of Firefox OS, which is to bring performance to low-end smart phones. You can also expect features such as Bluetooth, Fm Radio, accelerometers, GPS, micro sd card and a 3 MP camera which should give us devs a good range of things to try for our apps.
The phones we received on Saturday were running an older build of Firefox OS and were we asked to update as soon as it booted up. I do not know if phones shipped in the future will include the newer version, but either way the update can be done OTA with just a button press. I am now running what is market as Boot2Gecko 126.96.36.199-prerelease, which apparently only includes the bare-bones apps such as camera, gallery, radio, settings, marketplace… you get the idea. Missing are all the cool demos the simulator has, like the cool CrystalSkull or the less-cool but more useful Test Sensor. Not much a problem since the source code for all the demos is available and pushing apps to the phone is a snap, as I will comment on later, but I would be nice to have it preinstalled nonetheless so devs can see what the phone can do out of the box. Maybe it is better to get a clean phone to play with as a developer and I am alone in this opinion. Anyway! Uninstalling apps is very easy so that should not be much problem.
Setting up the connection between your computer and the phone for app pushing requires some work. But once it works it goes along smoothly. I have heard Mac users manages to get it working as soon as they plugged in the device, while Windows users require a driver which, I hope, Mozilla or Geeksphone will make available soon and Linux users are going to have to do a little more (as usual). I have made a post on how to make it work on Linux.
In order to push apps you are going to need to use the Firefox OS simulator 3.0 version, which works as a Firefox plugin. Once your device is connected the simulator’s dashboard should show a “device connected” message.
Then you click the “push” button next to your apps name and the notification for remote debugging will appear on the phone’s screen. Accept it and wait for the installed app confirmation. Done!
Overall I am very happy with the device. Not everything is perfect however, but must of it has too do with the typical quirks you expect on an OS under heavy development, minor bugs here and there, wifi sometimes disconnecting while looked or some notifications not showing up. But I expect this things to get better as the OS matures.
But when I see a dev phone my approach is to think of it as blank canvas. It is not to be judged by what it is, but for what it could be.