Upgrading a Geeksphone Keon to Firefox OS 1.1

Note: This is not a technical post, it's more in the way of a story. If you're looking for step by step ROM flashing instructions this is not the post you are looking for, please refer to the Geeksphone docs.

A few months ago I bought a Geeksphone Keon in order to play around with Firefox OS. My brother did an unboxing video and, not too surprisingly, the comments from his audience of (mostly) high end smartphone users weren't too positive. This didn't bother me overly, I knew what I was getting: a developer phone with a beta operating system, what excited me was the idea of an open phone platform for which the web technologies I am well familiar with were the primary app development paradigm.

The thing that did disappoint me about the phone was that GPS seemed to be non-functional. I tried a few things like leaving it by a window or visiting wide open spaces, waited for some OS upgrades and tried them again, but however long I left it the GPS never got a lock; instead it just flashed away in the notification bar and drained my battery. Since pretty much all the useful apps I could think of depended on GPS this failure quickly drained my enthusiasm both for the device and any potential app development adventures so I put the device aside for several weeks.

During this time Google has set about removing the most useful feature of Android and the top device manufacturers seem to be hell bent on only providing you with top end processing power in phones that are too big to be comfortably operated with one hand. Now that they've achieved market dominance Google seem to be locking down the bits that made Android interesting to me as an open alternative to iOS in the first place. So I've started to consider other options for my next 'proper' phone. In this frame of mind I came across Geeksphone's new device, the Peak+ - doesn't seem to be significantly less powerful than the HTC One Mini, lets you plug in a MicroSD card and about half the price. Plus I'd get the warm, glowy feeling from owning a 'properly' open device. But of course none of that would be any use to me is something as basic as GPS didn't work, which leads directly to today's adventures in ROM flashing.

Geeksphone provide an easy download page for all their ROMS, you can choose from stable (1.0), beta (1.1) and nightly (1.2):

Download page for Geeksphone ROMS

Download your chosen image then the process is quite straightforward:

  1. Unzip and cd into the directory
  2. Connect your Keon by USB and enable remote debugging (Settings > Device Information > More Information > Developer > Remote debugging)
  3. Issue the command: sudo ./flash.sh
  4. Answer the question about keeping user data
  5. Wait until the phone reboots; you're done

Simple. So, of course, the first time I tried it the phone wouldn't reboot. I saw the startup screen but not the Firefox OS splash screen. I found a blog post with a section “Ok, I bricked my phone” and followed the steps, unfortunately the same result. In desperation I tried downloading the image again and noticed I'd been trying to install the 9th August build when the 10th August build was available. Downloaded the new build, flashed and voilà I once again had a working phone.

The first happy news:

Keon showing my location
Keon showing my completely different location

GPS works! The second thing I noticed, as I was taking the screenshots, was that it's now optional to have an SD card. Firefox OS 1.0 wouldn't even let me take pictures until I put a card in, now stuff is saved to the device by default:

Settings for default media locations

The other major change from Firefox OS 1.0 is the home screen. Previously there was a basically empty home screen and, one swipe to the left, an 'apps search' screen with a bunch of icons on it (though not for apps, just links to websites). Now there is just the home screen with a search box, typing stuff into it brings up the icons like before along with a relevant background image:

Firefox OS home screen
Firefox OS search for HTML5 books
Firefox OS search for Firefox OS

Overall I'm very satisfied. Upgrading is easy, the upgrade actually fixes stuff as well as improving performance. I'm going to seriously consider getting a Peak+.