Monday, January 6, 2014

Geeksphone Peak (Hardware Review)

This weekend I received my Geeksphone Peak, a step up from my good old ZTE Open, both Firefox OS phones. I'm very excited about this!

Mine is black on the front and white on the back. It's beautiful and fast. After shipping from Madrid, my new phone cost me $244 vs $79 for my ZTE Open.

From my point of view (Firefox OS Game Developer), the Peak is worth it! Here is the reason:

Room to move!

I now have 1.8GB for applications and 1BG for media storage. This is with no SD card installed. If I install an SD card,  the media storage bumps up to whatever my card has.

My ZTE Open only had 150MB of storage. That was fine for apps, but if I loaded a few of my own code programs (not zipped), I would run out of memory fast! Essentially I could only test one of my own apps at a time. Not good! So right now, I have about 12 times the app storage I had, so I can have lots of games and two or three of my own apps and still have room to move!

Memories are Made of This

I didn't understand what the memory meant, because everyone on Twitter told me I couldn't have 1.8GB of memory. Because I am new to phones, I didn't understand how memory works, but now I do, thanks to several helpful people.

When people talk about memory on a phone, they are talking about RAM, which is the fast memory that apps are stored in when they run, and is (probably shared) with the operating system. It turns out that even though I can't see it, my Peak has a RAM memory of 512MB. The ZTE Open only had 256MB. This memory isn't Application Storage or Media Storage. It's just memory, commonly known as RAM, and you can think of this as similar to the RAM on your computer (for example, the computer I'm typing this on says it has 9GB of RAM (64-bit Windows)) and is fairly speedy as a Windows computer.

What is so cool about my new Peak is that by having twice the RAM memory, it runs fast. I was prepared for my ZTE Open to run slow. I only paid $79 for it and I was happy that it ran at all. But it would take a minute for things to load, shut down, surf the web, etc., in its 256MB memory. But now my Peak, with 512MB of memory, is fast and isn't noticeably different from my Android Galaxy Note II or my iPhone 4.

I thought the Application Storage was RAM but it isn't. Both Application Storage and Media Storage are not RAM, they are Flash memory, similar to a USB memory stick. Not super slow, but who cares? The action is in the RAM, but being able to have 12 times the applications is really great for me. Woo, hoo!

Anything Else?

The Peak is larger. I haven't measured it, but it seems like it might be almost twice as large as the ZTE Open, though smaller than my Galaxy Note II (but larger than that tiny iPhone 4).

Oh, and an important difference. My Peak had an OS update when I turned it on the first time and right now I'm at Boot2Gecko and I've been told that I can update this phone, unlike the ZTE Open which seemed perpetually stuck at 1.0.

This is a Peak, by the way, not the rumored Peak+.

And it was interesting to unpack it. It had a plug that looked like this

The two prongs were round and won't fit in my USA sockets, but I had a similar one that was USA standard and it had the same USB plug in the side that then I could plug in a USB cable that had a USB micro plug on the other end. 5 volts DC. It works!  No worrying about voltages. Everything is just 5 volts DC. What a wonderful world!

Everything else was standard. I plugged in a micro-SD card, plugged in a SIM card I had lying around, turned it on, answered a few standard questions, and ... Bob's your uncle, it all worked, right out of the box.

Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful

I still love the ZTE Open for two reasons:

1. I will test any serious programs to make sure they run on the most-minimum platform. There are other folks out there with ZTE Opens and it is a perfect test platform.

2. Now that my Peak is my main computer, I'll risk updating the ZTE since I can afford to mess it up and take time to un-brick it later. I couldn't risk it when I wanted to keep producing this blog. I am very appreciative of the ZTE Open since it helped me to write 60+ blog posts and track down some interesting bugs with Firefox OS.

The ZTE is beautiful because it was only $79 and I could get it fast on eBay in the US. It's not like I can walk in to a phone store and buy it. The best thing I can say is that all the features work, I learned a lot about using a Firefox OS phone, it does phone calls, surfs the web, plays music, plays games! And lets me write programs in HTML5 and run them on it.

The Peak does all the same stuff, but does it faster and holds more apps. Other than that, it is the same wonderful Firefox OS, and I look forward to see what else Firefox OS will do.

I'll write more about that soon, because today (because of CES), there were announcements about more Firefox OS phones, a Firefox OS TV from Panasonic, Firefox OS tablets, and a cool Firefox OS pc that fits inside a book. It's called the APC Paper and it costs a whopping $100. Here's what it looks like from the top:

There's a PC in there and it runs Firefox OS. It's the size of a book, in case you wondered.

Here's what the back looks like:

It's got the usual USB, networking, HDMI, power, etc., I/O and reminds me a lot of the Raspberry Pi computer which is popular in the UK as a way to teach kids about computers. I have one of those too and they are cool, but not as cool as Firefox OS. Instead of Linux and Python, you can play with HTML5 inside your APC Paper!

I couldn't resist, and bought (again for $79) the innards of the APC Paper, which is called the APC Rock. (Okay, so when does the APC Scissors come out, and how far beyond that will be Lizard and Spock?)

Here's what the Rock looks like, with no case but standard I/O and the same power supply that phones use (5V).

As a retired engineer, this is a thing of beauty, especially since, unlike the Raspberry Pi, this board is designed to fit inside a standard Mini-ITX and MicroATX PC case. So I will soon have a Firefox OS PC and of course you'll be the first to hear about my adventures with this and maybe even a comparison with the Raspberry Pi.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend that you go out and buy this unless you are a hardware hacker or, on the other hand, if you've been working with the Raspberry Pi and are comfortable with those wires hanging out, give it a try. The Pi is $35, so the Rock will be approximately twice that. I'm not sure where APC is located, but there was some quick flash of VAT when I was ordering it (I didn't pay VAT, but I saw it somewhere in the background, so it might be located in the EU or who knows, these days. My guess would be that or Taiwan.)

By the way, in case you are curious, there's one other cool thing about these new APC devices besides running Firefox OS. APC was a project to create a $49 Android PC. They have one, but I have enough Androids, thank you. What is cool about this is that the design and chips for this are created by a company called VIA. You may never have heard of them, but I have, and I have a few VIA PCs lying around in a closet somewhere. You can find out more about Rock and Paper at

You've heard of Intel, and you've probably heard of their rival, AMD. But there is a lesser-known Intel-compatible CPU manufacturer called VIA. And VIA owns APC. So this computer is not only a small PC, it is one that runs open source Firefox OS, open source Linux (underneath), and not-open-source but not Intel, CPU!

This is an incredible time to be working with Firefox OS. Stay tuned, but never iTuned!

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