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Firefox OS Hands-On: HTML 5 System Features Cool Search Tool

Browser-maker Mozilla has continued to tweak its Web-based Firefox OS since it was first announced last year and we got an up-close look at their progress at CES 2014. Specifically, we spent a bit of time with the LG Fireweb, ZTE Open and Alcatel One Touch Fire. We were surprised by the speedy performance despite seemingly subpar specs, especially on the LG Fireweb. 

With HTML 5 compatibility, the operating system is lightweight and doesn't require much by way of specs to run efficiently so that FFOS phones will cost you much less. In fact, according to a Firefox rep, most FFOS handsets will cost between $70 and $100 depending on the carrier and manufacturer. Despite packing just 512MB of RAM and 2GB storage on a Snapdragon MSM7227A CPU, the LG Fireweb proved responsive as we swiped through pages and opened apps such as YouTube. 

Firefox's rep said the software was designed to be open and simple, and we found the interface with oversized icons newbie-friendly. Android and iOS users will also find their way around easily thanks to a familiar grid-like arrangement of apps and a home button at the bottom.

Perhaps the most intriguing feature of FFOS is its integrated search tool that acts like Google for your phone. Instead of returning just apps or Web pages with your keyword, the search function guesses your intent and provides the closest results. For example, the rep looked up "sushi" on the LG Fireweb and despite a spotty Wi-Fi signal, the phone returned a picture of salmon rolls which took up the background of the search within seconds, and after awhile returned Yelp results for sushi restaurants. We tested this feature ourselves by looking up the band Imagine Dragons and FFOS returned YouTube, Grooveshark and Twitter profiles, among other results, for the musicians within 30 seconds. 

MORE: CES 2014: Full Coverage

Another cool FFOS concept is the ability to add any HTML 5 website to your phone as an app, so you can have direct access to your favorite content even if the site's makers don't offer an Android or iOS app. Mozilla built in some tools to make sure those sites look good on your device without the developers having to do anything. The company is in the process of adding offline capability by caching your last-loaded content so that you can still view old articles or pages without Wi-Fi. 

Every FFOS phone will come with standard Dialer, Contacts, Camera, Firefox, FM Radio, SMS apps and others depending on manufacturer preference. We liked that the Contacts app pulls information from your friends' Facebook or other social media accounts. The keyboard on the LG Fireweb was smaller than we prefer thanks to its 4-inch screen, but offered gentle haptic feedback that made for a realistic typing experience. Those savvy with HTML 5, Javascript and CSS languages can also change the operating system to their desires, which could make for a more sophisticated overall experience over time. 

On the whole, we are intrigued by the potential of FFOS phones. The operating system is evolving based on input from the wealth of HTML 5 developers around, leaving it much potential for improvement. Now, if we just had one for review; stay tuned.