- Extremely economical
- Factory unlocked
- Well built for the price
- Very little available software
- First generation OS
- Limited 3G/4G support
An impressive exercise in an economical smartphone, the Open's biggest weaknesses are currently in its software.
Firefox OS made its commercial US debut recently in the form of the ZTE Open, a smartphone sold directly by ZTE to customers for $80 shipped, with no contract or subsidy needed. Is an $80 smartphone too good to be true? We take a look.
The ZTE Open is the first consumer-level device to bring Firefox OS to the US, and it’s clear they’re trying to make a splash. (If you don’t know what Firefox OS is, you might find our primer on the subject useful.) At $80 shipped, and distributed right to customers through eBay, the Open is an unlocked phone: it comes without carriers’ strings attached, and can even be used on prepaid plans as cheap as $30 per month.
And apparently, customers have noticed, to the extent that ZTE has already sold out the initial run of the Open. While more are no doubt on their way, they’re not selling from ZTE’s eBay store, and resold units are going for as much as twice their original asking price. But is the ZTE Open, and the Firefox OS, really worth the time and dollar of the average consumer? That’s a complicated question, and one that depends on your needs.
Taking it out of the box, the ZTE Open feels tiny compared to most smartphones–not a shock given that its screen size an inch or more below what’s considered standard these days. It’s also quite light, weighing just 4.3 ounces (120 grams). The default color of the device is very, very orange, albeit not an unpleasant orange once you get used to it. Although it also comes in black, that version hasn’t been put up at the $80 price (at least not yet) so you’d have to pay a premium for it by buying at auction. Despite how inexpensive the device is, it feels remarkably well built. There’s no Gorilla Glass or kevlar fibers here, but it’s well put together, with good quality plastic and assembly work.
There’s no way around it: the screen on the Open is tiny. Looking at a 3.5-inch screen makes me think back to the days when that was a standard size, and wonder how we ever used them. It’s painfully noticeable when typing — unless you have incredibly tiny fingers, be prepared to slowly hunt and peck for every letter, something made worse by the fact that most apps don’t seem to support a landscape mode keyboard. And that includes the text messaging app. But although it’s tiny and low resolution compared to what we’ve come to expect (320 x 480), the actual quality of the Open’s screen is pretty good. Colors are vivid, and the viewing angles, while not amazing, are certainly acceptable.
Other Buttons and Ports
Aside from the basics of microUSB, headphone jack, and power / volume buttons, there’s not a lot remarkable about the Open’s design. It’s simple, it feels good in the hand, and the color is non-eye-searing enough that you’ll get used to it.