Saturday, September 6, 2014

Intex Cloud FX : a complete picture


The race of smartphones to the bottom had long begun. This space has been largely lead by low cost Android devices that easily challenged many high end feature phones, to the extent that the later is almost extinct for good in this price bracket. But the real challenge is the lack of unified choice (other than a number of non-uniform feature phone interfaces) for first time phone users who probably can not afford or just do not want to spend a lot for their first communication device.

The way a vast majority of us do communicate however has radically changed over the recent years. The number of calls, and texts have given way to Whatsapp and Skype calls. The older mobile networks that used to carry overwhelming traffic of voice and text traffic has now been shifting to transfer of packets of data. That is what defines the smartphone era. There is a lot more that you can do over packets of data than plain old voice and text traffic. And that is the space that Apps on smartphone OSes cover.

Smartphones OSes are however desktop class OSes that require considerable hardware resources. Over the years the cost of this hardware has been constantly decreasing while at the same time offering incredible performance improvements. Apple created history when it launched iPhone with industries first 64-bit mobile processor, which have until recently being only used for desktop computers. That however is both high end and high cost devices. Not the once that are affordable to every one on the planet.

About two years ago, I had made a post on my ideas of building a new open Smartphone OS with the intent building an ultra low cost programmable device, which I called Kosh (see here: Around the same time Mozilla announced Boot2Geeko (B2G)project. The result was the Firefox OS, which now has made possible a smartphone at $25 price point. But does this setup offer a good package? Does it serve as a complete replacement for a feature phone? I check out one such device, the Intex Cloud FX, to find out the answers.

Firefox OS

The Firefox OS is a Linux Kernel based OS for smartphones and other devices and is being actively developed by the non-profit Mozilla foundation that is best known for the Firefox browser on the desktop and mobile devices. (Read more:

The Firefox OS architecture diagram. (Ref.:
What makes Firefox OS different from other smartphones is the apps: they are purely based on open web technologies: HTML and JavaScript. Where as other smartphone OS platform offers native SDK with different set of programming environments (iOS : Objective C, Swift, XCode; Android: Java, Eclipse; WP: C#, Visual Studio), Firefox OS uses the same language that is used to build webapps - HTML + JavaScript. The major advantage of this is that everything on web is available as an app in Firefox OS. That also means you need an internet connection - a reliable one - on the mobile device. There are however another set of applications that do no require persistent internet connection - they are offline apps. But all these are still built using the same technology - HTML + JavaScript + Firefox OS APIs for accessing device features.

Firefox OS UI (as of version 1.3 - the version that is publicly available as stable - as of this writing) borrows a number of things from iOS and Android, yet it feels unique. There is the usual grid of icons and a dock from iOS, the notification pull down and quick settings panel from Android, a lock screen that looks borrowed from both iOS and Android. But then as you look further there are different UI elements that are unique to Firefox OS. The most interesting one being smart collections and the 'smart search'. The smart collections is like folders of iOS / Android, but they are kind of intelligent in that they automatically update themselves with the apps in that category available in the Firefox marketplace. For instance if you put a 'Shopping' smart collection on your home screen, this collection will automatically list Flipkart, Snapdeal, eBay and a host of other shopping apps. Further, if a new app becomes available in this category, it will automatically be populated. This is kind of cool new way to discover new apps in a category.

The other important element of the UI is 'smart search', labelled as "I'm thinking of.." on the home screen. The home screen is always accessible by pressing the 'home button' - usually a capacitive button at the bottom of the screen. The search feature is not as system wide as the one offered by iOS spotlight search, but actually provides intelligent suggestions for apps based on what you are searching for.

Other than this, there are usual standard apps: Phone, Contacts, Messaging, EMail, Calender, Camera, Gallery, FM Radio, Clock, Music, Video, Filemanger and a Data usage app that are inbuilt. The Contacts app can connect to your cloud service (Google/Outlook/Facebook) to import and sync contacts. Calender app can also sync with your Google / Outlook calender. Data usage app allows you to monitor your data usage on the mobile device and receive alerts when you are using too much of mobile data. Apart from this there is a Settings app that allows you tinker with all the device related settings, a Marketplace app where you can search and download specific app (I find it using less as the search and smart collections are much better ways to discover apps), and a Calculator app.

The notification system on Firefox OS is kind of hit-and-miss when it comes to apps. While third party apps like Connect A2 (an unofficial WhatsApp client), seem to work very well; I was not able to consistently get notifications for inbuilt SMS app for some reason. For other apps - which are purely webapps - like for instance Twitter and Facebook, there is no way to get any notifications, at least in the current implementation.

While first devices running early builds of Firefox OS came over an year ago, none were available in India until recently. Two local OEMs (Intex and Spice) have partnered with Mozilla foundation to release ultra cheap Firefox OS based devices. I have been playing around with one such device: Intex Cloud FX over the past one week, following is a closer look at the device it self.

The device and specs

First let us start with the device spec. The biggest and the most noticeable spec of the device is price. It is what sets it class apart from other devices. At  ₹1999/-, it is easily the cheapest smartphone you could get in India from a branded company. It is little higher than the promised $25 price range by Mozilla, but even at $35 it is a no barrier buy for a large number of people.

How did Mozilla bring down the price of the device to such a low price point? A price point that most entry level feature phones sell? The crux of this lies in a collaboration that Mozilla build up with Spreadtrum (see: to build a reference platform for such low cost devices. Intex Cloud FX is powered by an Spreadtrum 1.0 GHz and an SOC.

The Spreadtrum SOC used in Intex Cloud FX. Ref:

The Spreadtrum SOC SC6821, is an ARM Cortex A5 CPU at its core, with integrated support for EDGE/GPRS, Bluetooth, WiFi and FM radio. The chip also has numerous other support functions on a single chip that are usually needed by a smartphone. The highest screen type this processor can handle though is limited to 3.5" HVGA screens. Coming back to the specs the rest of which reads like the following:

  • 1GHz single core CPU
  • 3.5" captive screen with HVGA resolution
  • 128 MB RAM, 256 MB ROM, ~60 MB internal storage, expandable storage upto 4GB
  • Sensors: G-sensor
  • Primary Camera: 2.0 MP, no front camera
  • 1250 mAh battery
  • Dimensions ( L x W x D)(in mm): 115.9 x 62 x 11.8
  • Weight: 104.0g (net)

For a complete spec sheet see: this price point, the device is very well built and feels nice to hold. It feels super light in pocket as well. The back panel provides a good grip with textured finish and fits properly without making any creaky sound, which is so common when removable back-panels are involved. 

Here are some shots of the packaging and the device:

Firefox OS branding on the packaging is very prominent.
Packaging is good, so is the phone build quality.
In ear head phones quality is average, but are well made.
USB data cable cum power adapter. The cable is about 1.2 M long.

Daily use: Phone, Text
They work without an issue. The call clarity and reception is just good. The provided headset also works fine for calls. Issues with the SMS apps: Sometimes I do not notifications of the new text on the lock screen or in the drop down notification panel. The SMS app also does not seem to work in landscape mode which makes typing a bit tricky on this device.

Connectivity: WiFi, EDGE and Bluetooth
The device provides all standard connectivity options WiFi, EDGE and Bluetooth. The USB can also be used as a mass storage device, generally for the purpose of data transfer with a computer.
Bluetooth connectivity is very basic. I was able to connect this to the Spice Smart pulse, and it simply worked as a bluetooth head set, the contacts were not visible on the Smart pulse.

The Web Browser 
This is the heart of the OS. The Firefox browser on this mobile device is well designed in terms of UX and navigation. You can easily open and switch tabs, add bookmark or add app shortcuts to the home screen.

Music and Video
Works as advertised. Although I did not try to play any HD videos. There is an Youtube app as well. You are better off using it over a WiFi connection, works flawlessly though. The FM radio is OK, but I found the reception to be somewhat patchy.

Everything in Firefox OS is HTML5 + JavaScript. Even the phone dialer and the SMS app. If there is a webapp / webpage for your favorite app it most certainly is available on Firefox OS. Firefox OS is open in true sense: there is no closed marketplace like the one found in the top three smartphones OSes : iOS, Android and WP. You may call Android 'open' to some extent, but in essence all three are what is generally termed as 'walled garden'. The 'walled garden' has some perceived benefits like substantially less threats from spywares and other malwares. But the open web is what makes a no barrier entry for a new developer.

Many apps are available: Weather, ESPN, Wikipedia, Piano and other popular suspects.
The shopping smart collection
I am thinking of...

Lock screen is neat. You can access the camera from here.
There is a 'restart' option! Long press on the power button.

Here is a quick run down of the apps I tried:

(Social - Facebook, Twitter, Linked, Pinterest, Tumbler)
All of the above social apps work and are usable.

(IM - Connect A2, Line)
Connect A2 works with Whatspp after an update. I was able to install Line but was not really able to use it.

(Navigation - Here Maps)
Works like a charm. Including the limited area offline maps (although there is no way to move the offline maps to SD card). The Nokia Hear Maps is actually one of the best third party apps I liked on the Firefox OS. There is no GPS on the device, so the location is approximate based on A-GPS (Cell network + WiFi positioning).

(No VoIP apps yet)
I did not find any apps that support VoIP in the marketplace. Although it appears that Firefox OS does provide API support for VoIP.

(Photos - your photos are copyright Spreadtrum!)
Ok this one is kind of bummer. Seems like that the photos you take have their Exif ( set to copyright Spreadtrum. That is like saying Canon owns the copyright of the photo you took because you used a canon camera to shoot the photo!

Why my image is copyright Spreadtrum?

Though a 2MP camera, the quality of photos is about ok. Well-lit shots are good, but sometimes washed out. Indoor shots or average. The trick to taking reasonable photo is to hold the mobile really steady. Also the time taken to process the first shot after you open the camera app is somewhat long (about 30-40 seconds!), which may be frustrating. Subsequent shots take about 2-3 seconds. Here are some samples.

Camera shake! 

(Taking screen shots)

Yes you know it is a smartphone when you can take screen shots ;-)
Press the power button + double tap the home button to take a screen shot.


They are somewhat limited on the marketplace. But was pleased to find some familiar ones: Cut the rope, Fruit Ninja (but was not able to properly play this), Chess, Tetris, Packman (unofficial), 2048, Flappybird (unofficial). The gaming performance is below average, at times frustrating on the device. This is not really a device you would want to play any serious games.

This is very tricky to judge. If you count apps as the only measure of ecosystem, I would say Firefox OS has a pretty good start. Also, given than every webapp is an app in Firefox OS, the initial barriers for developers is relatively less. However, I do not think just the usual apps make an ecosystem. Apps and other supporting devices that far surpass the original capabilities provided by the device are what make an ecosystem. In that sense Firefox OS has quite a poor ecosystem as of now.

Battery Life

I found the battery life to be erratic and unpredictable at best. At times it gives a battery life of about a day at other times it drains off in about 6 hours with pretty moderate usage (Web: Twitter and Connect A2), and 1 or two phone calls and text per day, with a single active SIM. I have not performed any systematic battery test so cannot conclusive tell about the battery life. But if you want to compare it with what feature phones of similar price range offer, then the feature phones win out with a large margin. If battery is your preference, a feature phone is a better device. The Cloud FX could be your smart companion in such a scenario.


Since Firefox OS is all about web, it makes sense to see how fast can the Firefox browser on the OS support your app code written in HTML5 and JavaScript. One of the widely used benchmarks for browser performance is Sunspider. The shorter it takes to execute the benchmark, the faster the device + browser combination. I ran this benchmark on the Firefox browser that comes with the OS, with a score of 4570.8 ms using v Sunspider 1.02 of the benchmark suite ( for a comparison with a slightly older version 0.9.1 of the benchmark on other top line mobile devices see:

For a reference my 2007 desktop (Intel Core 2 Duo, Chrome, Windows 8.1) gives 440.6ms with the same benchmark. With IE the numbers are best at 263.5ms, while Firefox sits in the middle with 363.7ms. All the browsers in the test were running their latest version at the time of this writing.

The benchmarks should be taken in the context, but you can easily see that my 7 year old desktop is still faster than the top line mobile devices of today, that too by a wide margin. Although I was extremely surprised when I ran the same benchmark on my iPhone 5s (Safari) and it gave 407.9ms - that is almost as powerful as my desktop - finally! I have a hunch that the processor coming in the next iteration of iPhone (mostly to be announced next week) will easily surpass my desktop at least in this benchmark.

I believe over the coming years, the hardware on mobile devices will close the gap and even surpass performance in many cases. Those will be the times when open web devices like Firefox OS may shine - not only in cost but also in experience.

Device freeze and other issues

Till now I have experienced at least 2 device freezes that required me to pull up the battery. On both these occasions I had opened pretty heavy website using the browser. Occasionally, I have also experienced sudden unresponsive scrolling behavior when the text is fairly long. Both of these appear to me as a basic limitation of device that as only about 128 MB of RAM.

Another issue I encountered was switching between most recent app (by long press on the home button). Almost always, this list is empty, or has at most two recent apps. Again possibly an issue of limited RAM on this device.

On the comparison to first gen iPhone

While writing this article, I found a number of references comparing the internals of the iPhone 1st generation along with the design closely resembling the Intex Cloud FX (see: Sure there are some similarities. But unfortunately, I doubt the software experience is as good. Although I myself have not used the 1st generation iPhone, it is clear from the demos I saw of the software that the first iOS version was much more polished in terms of user experience than the current Firefox OS.

Feature phone replacement?

I have never used a feature phone on daily basis. Right from my first phone it has been a smartphone. So I am comfortable with the way smartphone OSes works. I know how to get around and much more. Basically a lot more as I can program them as well ;-)

I needed to find out what people who already use a feature phone feel about the Firefox OS. So I gave this device to one guy who had never used a smartphone, but wanted to try out one. He easily installed the SIM (as this device has a standard SIM) and then memory card from his existing feature phone. Then I waited. After about an hour he came back and said he did not like it. He said it seems there are a lot of options, but he simply could not figure out how to make a call - let alone use the camera!

Next I gave the same guy the Spice Smart pulse (that I reviewed here: to see what was the reaction. Though termed as as 'smartwatch', the Spice watch basically runs a feature phone interface. With in 15 mins he said he liked the device. He was able to figure out everything from calling to messaging to even taking photos.

My simple understanding from this one off experiment is this: Firefox OS is not a replacement if you are already using a feature phone - keep it with you - and probably save to upgrade to a better experience device such as the forthcoming Android One devices. However, if this is the first time you are buying a phone - I would strongly recommend you the Intex Cloud FX. This is very much the future - it provides you with a smartphone that is actually programmable using open web technologies - and is also open source and community driven as opposed to being propitiatory and controlled by one corporation.  If you are ready to tinker around you should also join the Mozilla community as a volunteer and contribute to the Firefox OS project (see: and be the part of a global movement.

In the end I actually like the Firefox OS. It is simple and uncomplicated. And the possibilities of great webapps are limit less. For now the hardware is a limiting factor though.

Where can I buy the device?
Currently Intex Cloud FX is only available via Snapdeal for ₹1999/- (see: However, it should be available in open market soon.

Side note:
NDTV gadgets has a more 'standard' review, if you are interested see here:

Ars Technica has also said that they will be reviewing Cloud FX (see: I consider this huge. Wait to see what are their views.

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