Firefox for Android Beta Hands-on Review

FF landscape

Firefox has been working on the mobile version of its popular browser, aka Fennec, for quite a while. The first beta version for Android has been released and is now available in the Android Market. We’ve taken it for a test drive, and while it shows potential, it’s not quite ready for prime time.

Mobile Firefox uses the same web page rendering engine found in its desktop version. It uses Firefox Sync to keep bookmarks, tabs and other browsing information in sync with the desktop browsing experience, something desktop Firefox users will appreciate. It also borrows a feature from the Android Dolphin Browser that I like: Bookmarks and preferences are accessed by sliding the screen to the right and left, respectively.

The Firefox app is huge by Android standards, with the installed app occupying a whopping 29.33 MB of memory, and after gentle use, over half again as much in data storage. That may play a role in how long the app takes to start, and how slow it can be at times during use. Firefox can be moved to the SD storage card, which makes the storage easier to handle.

The core function of a web browser is web page rendering, and Firefox needs some work in this area. Pages take a while to appear, and while WebKit-based browsers keep text legible during page display, Firefox does not. Even standard pinch/zoom functions, while performed smoothly, do not keep things legible while they happen. Firefox doesn’t reflow the text as zooming happens, something most Android browsers do very well. It shows potential, but isn’t quite there for daily use.

The browser makes use of add-ons, and Firefox already has a lot of add-ons available to improve the browsing experience. There are ad blockers, Twitter utilities and the like that can be installed to the browser. Adding them can be a clunky experience, something that will surely improve as the browser evolves. I was quite surprised to see that many add-ons aren’t free; they can be quite expensive in fact.

The best way to get a picture of Firefox in action is through images, and I’ve snapped a few. They make it clear that Firefox for Android has a way to go before it’s ready for heavy usage. It’s great to have choice in browsers, and Firefox desktop users will love having a mobile version that syncs bookmarks with their desktop, but as good as most Android browsers are, it might be looking to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. It does bear watching to see how Firefox develops for the mobile platform.


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