Intex Cloud FX first impressions: lowering the price barrier for smartphones

“While the Cloud FX sports a great pricing, everything isn’t a rosy affair with the device and Firefox OS”

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It’s surprising to see that amidst talks of a rising number of smartphone users, India is still predominantly a feature phone market. This could be because of multiple factors, but the price barrier is surely one of the key reasons. Compared to feature phones, smartphones haven’t reached a truly affordable price point – at least not just yet. Things can be expected to change now, as Mozilla has partnered with Indian phone manufacturers Intex and Spice to launch Firefox smartphones at the same price of a feature phone.

While Spice might have stolen some limelight by announcing its Firefox smartphone first, Intex still holds the title of launching India’s (in fact Asia’s) first Firefox OS-based offering. Badged as the Cloud FX, the device was formally showcased at an event in New Delhi today. We were lucky enough to get our hands on India’s most economical smartphone to bring you our first impressions.

Compared to large-screen smartphones emerging from all nooks and corners these days, the Intex Cloud FX features a modest screen size of 3.5-inches. With a resolution of 480 x 320 pixels which results in pixel density of 165ppi, the display is vibrant but shows a fair bit of pixelation. Apart from the display, the front is also home to the earpiece at the top and a single button below… just like the Nokia X series. The button allows you to directly return to the homescreen from any app. You can also long-press it for a few seconds to bring up the multi-tasking menu.

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The volume rocker as well as the micro-USB port is placed on the left spine of the Cloud FX, while the right side is empty. Up top is a power button and the standard 3.5mm audio socket. The rear of the device houses the main camera unit, as well as Intex and Firefox OS branding. With the matte texture at the back, the smartphone shouldn’t pick up scratches easily and offers a decent grip too. It offers superior build quality and doesn’t feel like a sub-Rs 2,000 phone at all, based on handling. It’s also very lightweight and even though it’s thicker than most smartphones these days, it doesn’t feel too bulky. The phone will be available in classic black or white options.

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Prying open the back panel gives you access to the battery, removing which you can see a pair of full-sized SIM card slots and a microSD card slot.

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Since pricing is a key factor to drive the adoption of Firefox smartphones, its parent company Mozilla has partnered with Chinese chipset maker Spreadtrum to offer smartphones for as low as $25. In the Intex Cloud FX, the Spreadtrum’s SPD6821 handles all the processing duties with its single core ticking at 1GHz. Accompanying the processor is a measly 128MB RAM. While the combination may not seem powerful, it should be noted that the device aims to offer a smartphone’s functionality, rather than performance. For memory, the device comes with built-in storage of a mere 256MB, out of which only 8.9MB is freely available, although this could be due to pre-loaded content on the demo unit. Even though memory can be expanded up to 4GB, it’s still very low in terms of user-available storage.

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At the back, a 2-megapixel snapper is present, which is just good enough for taking images or videos for personal use. We tried to take a few photos at the event, and they are just about fine for basic purposes and turn grainy if you zoom in. We also noticed minor lag between pressing the shutter button and the image being clicked. Sadly, a front shooter is missing in action.

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In the connectivity department, the smartphone supports 2G (or rather 2.5G network) for calls and internet browsing via GPRS or EDGE. Wi-Fi b/g/n is also available for connecting to wireless networks for accessing the internet. For file transfers, the device offers Bluetooth. Sadly, there’s no GPS, though you can make use of Assisted GPS for navigation.

While we may have devoted more than half of our hands-on experience to the hardware department of the Intex Cloud, the actual talking point should be the Firefox OS. Although we weren’t able to spend enough time to give you a conclusive review of the OS, let’s talk about a few of its important aspects.

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The lock screen is pretty conventional, with a slide-to-unlock mechanism for unlocking, or a passcode for privacy. Once unlocked, you’re greeted by the main homescreen. It has a search bar at the top followed by all the apps neatly stacked into different folders such as Social, Games, etc. At the bottom, there’s a permanent bar giving access to basic features like phone calls, messages, contact book and browser. Swiping to the right will bring up all the installed apps.

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Mozilla is touting the search bar as one of the USPs of Firefox OS. It offers “adaptive search”, which means that when you search for anything on the device or on the web, the background changes to a corresponding image. So if you search for “Harry Potter”, you’ll see a photo of him in the background. The other thing adaptive search does is throw up related results in the form of apps/games installed, as well as direct navigation to the corresponding search term on various websites. Using the same Harry Potter example, you’ll see results of the official pages on Wikipedia and IMDb, among other websites.

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The notification panel is similar to Android and can be brought up by swiping in the downward direction. You can also see quick toggles at the bottom allowing you to turn on / off Wi-Fi, Airplane mode, etc. Targeting the rural masses in India, Firefox OS is localised in many languages such as Hindi, Bengali and Tamil. The multi-tasking menu is in a card-style format, allowing you to switch to other apps or close them with a single tap.

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While the smartphone comes pre-loaded with basic apps like Facebook and Twitter, you can download more apps from the Firefox Marketplace. The app store isn’t comparable to mature ecosystems like Android and iOS devices, and there are many popular apps which are missing on the OS including the must-have WhatsApp. However, the OS has a workaround for using WhatsApp with the preinstalled Connect A2 app. All the apps are based on HTML and hence hardly consume any space on flash storage and RAM when running. That’s the reason the Firefox OS doesn’t require high-end hardware to operate smoothly. However, during our usage, we did notice some lag here and there.

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With the sticker price of a mere Rs 1,999, the smartphone makes for a very compelling proposition for feature phone users to upgrade. It’s competition also includes low-end Android smartphones, which cost a tad more than the Cloud FX. In our opinion, Android isn’t well-optimised to run on entry-level hardware smoothly and hence Firefox has a slight edge over it. Additionally, the OS is fairly easy-to-use compared to Android.  However, not everything is a rosy affair with the Cloud FX and Firefox OS. The omission of 3G is a very big problem since the phone requires a data connection to run most apps. The app count is also very low at the moment. We’ll wait to review the phone and the OS before arriving at a final conclusion, so stay tuned.

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