Competition in the desktop browser space is fierce. But the big new frontier is in mobile. Android users have a glut of big-name options to choose from — Dolphin Browser HD, Chrome, Opera Mobile (and Mini) — the most recent of which is Firefox. Mozilla's latest entry finally ditches the beta tag, bringing along features like flash support, a new UI and performance enhancements. Naturally, we did a quick investigation to see how Firefox for Android handled.
Mobile users want information instantly, which means a browser doesn't do much good if content loads at a glacial pace. In our unscientific tests using our office Wi-Fi, we took Firefox on a spin through some of the Web's most content heavy sites, including yours truly. First impressions: It's fast. Very fast.
One small gripe we noticed almost immediately, though, is that Firefox for Android didn't give us the opportunity to browse a full site. If it kicks you to the mobile version, say, of ESPN, you have no other choice. That might not be a big deal for some, but others might find the restriction frustrating.
From a UI stand point, Firefox does an all right job of handling tabs. Starting up will greet you with an Awesome Screen, which shows you shortcuts to a search bar, Top Sites, Bookmarks and history. Once you jump out of the Awesome Screen and into a website, there will be a number that you can click on next to the address bar that indicates how many tabs you currently have open. Pressing the number will swipe down a menu of tabs, where you'll have a few options: X to close specific pages, and a + button to add a new page. It's an intuitive look, and very easy to navigate and use.
It's a similar experience to using Chrome, at least as far as handling tabs goes. In Chrome, you simply press the number button next to the address bar and your tabs will be displayed, along with options to close specific pages and a + New tab button. When you jump into your open tabs, Chrome's UI almost resembles a stack of cards, while Firefox's method looks like shelves one on top of one other.
Firefox also has a Save as PDF option, which lets users read articles and such offline. It might not be a feature everyone uses, but it's nice to have. As far as syncing goes, bookmarks were ported over from the desktop without a hitch, making it painless for users with a big catalogue to make the mobile jump.
Like their desktop counterparts, users will find that their browser of choice really just comes down to personal preference. Overall, with loading times into consideration, Firefox seems to have an edge;it's fast, but admittedly not so fast that it blows others out of the water. The usual pinch to zoom performed well, as it should, and scrolling was smooth. As an aside, there's a really neat feature in Opera Mobile that lets users scroll to the top or bottom of a page really quickly by the press of an arrow. We'd love to see a small touch like that implemented in Firefox.
Chrome is already on its way to becoming Android's default browser, as we found out at I/O, so Firefox's timing may already see it get pushed out of the limelight. Right now, Firefox's performance is something Mozilla should certainly be proud of, and any fans of the desktop version should definitely give this one a go.
Because this was just a quick-fire impression, we haven't fully given Firefox its due. But with all the competition out there, we can already say that it's definitely on our radar.
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