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Firefly review: Firefly

Not your ordinary cell phone, the Firefly is ideal for worried parents and active kids. Read our review to get the full report.

Kent German Former senior managing editor / features
Kent was a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).
Kent German
4 min read
Firefly phone
Picture it: Your middle-school-age kids are clamoring for a cell phone, but you think they're much too young. On the plus side, cell phones can be a great way to keep in contact with your offspring and to keep track of where they are. Also, they can be invaluable in case of an emergency. On the downside, though, a mobile carries a lot of responsibility. Not only do kids have to keep track of the phone itself, they have to be mindful of their allotted minutes while staying away from expensive extras such as text messaging and swapping pictures. And in all honesty, in a world where preteens have MP3 players, PlayStations, and laptops, do they really need a mobile too? Fortunately, the Firefly offers a solution for parents who want the convenience of a cell phone but with a lot of control over how it's used. And at $100 from Firefly's Web site, it's also fairly priced.

The Firefly phone is about uncomplicated as a mobile can get. There's no keypad or camera, and a simple candy bar-style shape leaves out any moving parts. It's pleasantly compact at 3.25 by 1.75 by 0.5 inches and extremely lightweight at 2.1 ounces, making it perfect for a kid-size pocket. Alternatively, a lanyard and a backpack clip are included. Just 0.8 inch diagonally, the monochrome display is tiny, so users with poor eyesight may want to give it a test run first. On the upside, the screen shows the date, time, battery life, signal strength, and caller ID (where available). As the Firefly is a tween phone, we were glad to see that it offers a choice of styles. While it comes with a cool see-through case, four additional color "skins" are available for purchase through Firefly.



The Good

Compact; easy to use; personalization options; parents will appreciate the phone's lack of support for text messaging.

The Bad

So-so performance; bare-bones menu structure; exposed emergency button; kids will bemoan the phone's lack of support for text messaging.

The Bottom Line

With parental controls, ease of use, no text messaging, and a prepaid calling plan, the Firefly phone is an ideal mobile for tweens.

Half pint: the Firefly is compact and portable.

Since the Firefly has no keypad, you control the mobile through just five buttons. Below the display are the Talk and End keys. Besides doubling as soft keys when accessing the menus, the End button is the power control, and Talk opens the menus. Between and slightly below them is a large button that opens the contact list and serves as the OK key. The last two keys are dedicated controls for calling Mom and Dad. They are marked with the same gender-specific symbols you'd find on a restroom door, so their designations can't be changed (sorry, same-sex parents).

Overall, the controls are large and amply spaced. That said, learning to use the phone took some time, but we got the hang of it eventually. As expected, the menus are a bit primitive, to say the least, but they can be set to English or Spanish. Entering phone numbers takes a fair amount of tapping to select the correct number/letter on the screen, but fortunately, you won't need to open that function too often. And in all fairness, the Firefly was designed with bare-bones simplicity in mind. Other controls consist of two volume buttons on the left spine, along with a key to activate Firefly Fireworks. Nothing more than a fun extra, the Fireworks feature makes the keys and screen flash in varying colors with a bit of animation on the display. On the right spine is a button that automatically calls an emergency number. We think that's a great feature, but it's much too exposed for our tastes. Misdials to 911 wouldn't be the best thing.

The phone book holds up to 20 contacts in addition to the designated numbers for Mom and Dad. To prevent your kids from going on a calling spree, the phone book's menu and a call-screening function can be protected with a PIN. When call screening is on, the phone can receive calls from only numbers in the phone book; in fact, it won't ring for all other numbers. When the feature is off, all calls will come through. Protecting the phone book also means that only stored numbers can be called from the handset. You can't add new numbers to the phone book without the PIN, and while there are call timers and a Missed Calls list, you don't get a voicemailbox.

Other features are nonexistent. There are no messaging or organizer applications, but the Firefly offers some pizzazz on top of its functionality. You get a choice of colors for display backlighting and screen animations, and you can activate a light when the phone is charging. There are also 12 monophonic ring tones that can be assigned individually to Mom and Dad or to contacts as a whole. Also, when the phone rings, it lights up in varying hues.

Service is available through a variety of sources. Besides going through Firefly, you can buy the phone from Cingular for $49 with a two-year contract. Target also offers the phone with a Cingular SIM, or you can purchase it from regional carriers Cincinnati Bell and SunComm with service on their respective networks. Working on a prepay plan, there's no contract or expensive charges for going over your minutes. Each handset comes with 30 minutes, but you can buy more when you're done. An additional 40 minutes is $10, 100 minutes is $25, and 200 minutes cost $50.

We tested the Firefly phone in San Francisco using Cingular Wireless service. Call quality was decent but not perfect. Audio quality sounded a bit hollow, and we encountered some static. Also, our friends on the other end of the line could tell we were using a cell phone. For battery life, Firefly promises 6 hours of talk time and 8.5 days of standby time. We managed only 3.5 days of standby time on a single charge.