Mozilla's preparing to make some big announcements at Mobile World Congress, but it's let one cat out of the bag ahead of its press conference. The ZTE Open is the first phone we've seen running Firefox OS other than a few developer units, and just as we figured it's an extremely low-end device. It's very small, and feels pretty good to hold, but we immediately noticed its washed-out screen. Details are scarce for the moment, but we've heard rumblings that the Open is running a Cortex A5 processor, has a 3.5-inch HVGA touchscreen display, and is reminiscent of Android phones from several years ago.
Update: Now that the event's over, we've spent considerably more time with the Open side-by-side with its stablemate from Alcatel, the One Touch Fire.
Low-end phones with low-end components
If we haven't been clear enough already, these are relentlessly low-end devices that are obviously equipped with low-end components the second you touch them. That's great for keeping the price low enough to slipstream these into emerging markets at a reasonable MSRP, but it also drives the point home that Mozilla doesn't currently have anything that could really survive in the brutal smartphone markets of the US or Western Europe. Lag is a major concern — apps took multiple seconds to load, to change toggles, and to make UI transitions, though at least some of the performance issues could probably be attributed to the poor cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity we've got in the venue.
Bottom line, there are no needles being moved here from a hardware perspective — it's really just a question of whether consumers are finally ready for the web-based app stores that their carriers are trying to push on them.
Chris Ziegler and Vlad Savov contributed to this post.