Mozilla's developer preview handset offers Firefox OS clues

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Mozilla's Firefox OS isn't slated to debut until later this year, but the Firefox-maker introduced a Firefox OS developer preview phone Tuesday that will soon be available for purchase. The developer handset isn’t a consumer phone; it is meant as a tool for people who intend to make apps for the new Firefox smartphone platform. The device does, however, provide a general idea of what to expect when Firefox OS handsets debut in the coming months.

Unlike Android, BlackBerry, iOS, or Windows Phone, Firefox OS is based entirely on Web technologies such as HTML 5 and JavaScript. This includes basic functions such as the dialer, address book, calendar, and third-party apps designed for the platform. Mozilla claims that using more lightweight Web programming tools instead of a more traditional programming language such as Objective-C (iOS) or Java (Android) means you can offer a full-featured smartphone with lower-powered specs at a cheaper price.

The first round of Firefox OS phones are expected to appear in Brazil in 2013. It's not clear when Firefox OS would show up in the U.S., but Sprint has pledged to support the new smartphone platform.

The official Firefox OS developer preview phone, dubbed the Keon, certainly qualifies as a low-powered device. The Keon more closely resembles smartphones from 2010 like the Nexus One than the current crop of quad-core, 4- and 5-inch display behemoths with LTE connectivity. The Keon features a 3.5-inch HVGA display, 1GHz Snapdragon S1 processor, a 3 megapixel camera, 4GB onboard storage, 512MB RAM, a microSD slot, 802.11n Wi-Fi, 3G and Edge cellular connectivity, light and proximity sensors, an accelerometer, GPS and a microUSB port. The device also has a 1580mAh battery, comes unlocked, and will receive over-the-air software updates.

The Keon was developed in partnership with Geeksphone, a company based in Spain, as well as Telefónica, the Spanish telecom that will roll out Firefox OS consumer devices in Brazil in 2013.

Geeksphone also will offer a more upscale developer preview phone called the Peak. Mozilla, however, did not mention the Peak in its announcement. The Peak features a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 processor, 4.3-inch qHD display, an 8MP rear-facing camera, a 2MP front-facing camera, 4GB storage and 512MB RAM. The Peak includes similar specs to the Keon including a microSD slot, 802.11n Wi-Fi, light and proximity sensors, an accelerometer, GPS and a microUSB port. But the device also has a camera flash, and an 1800mAh battery. The Peak is also a non-LTE phone featuring 3G and Edge connectivity.

Pricing was not announced, but the devices are slated for February availability via the Geeksphone website.

If you are not a developer, but would like to check out Firefox OS, several options are available. The easiest thing to do is to download the Firefox Aurora Marketplace for Android phones to get an idea of what to expect in terms of apps from Firefox OS. Since the apps are Web-based they should run on any modern smartphone. If you'd like to try out the smartphone OS itself, you can run Firefox OS inside an emulator on your desktop.

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