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Firefox OS grows up with bigger, better phones and much faster software

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Gallery Photo: Firefox OS 1.3 hands on
Gallery Photo: Firefox OS 1.3 hands on

ZTE, Huawei, Alcatel, and LG have all brought Firefox OS devices to this year's Mobile World Congress, with the latest generation of both software and hardware looking much more mature, complete, and potentially compelling. Whereas the very first Firefox OS phones had tiny screens with horrible displays and intolerable lag, the 2014 editions are much smoother in operation and more attractive in look and feel. Alcatel is leading the charge with three new handsets and a Fire 7 tablet, while ZTE is introducing the Open C and Open II phones.

Mozilla is aiming for a $25 smartphone

Handling the new devices with the latest version of the platform is like a night and day experience compared to prior Firefox OS smartphones. Apps open up much quicker, there is little to no input lag, and the browser is something that is actually usable for viewing websites on the go. Underpinning Firefox OS' on-device search is EverythingMe, which provides contextual results from the device and the web when you search for something like music.

The ZTE Open C's display is much larger and higher resolution than we've seen on Firefox OS phones before, and while it won't give a high-end Android phone anything to worry about, it does at least feel modern enough to be called a smartphone. Overall, the whole platform feels as if it's grown up a lot in the past year, and Firefox has addressed many of the performance complaints we had at its initial launch.

"We have challenged ourselves to start with affordable devices and move from there," says Mitchell Baker, Chairperson of the Mozilla Foundation. One of the press releases from the web company today puts a price tier on its affordability goal: $25 smartphones. In 2013, Mozilla managed to get devices into 15 different markets across four global carriers, among whom Telefónica has been the most active supporter. Over the next few months, there'll be 12 new countries added to that list: Argentina, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, Germany, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Panama, all from Telefónica, and Croatia, the Czech Republic, Macedonia, and Montenegro, covered by Deutsche Telekom. Later in the year, there'll be a "strong focus" on Africa and Asia.

Additional reporting by Dan Seifert