Mozilla Firefox 4 for Android Review

Finally, Mozilla Firefox lovers who also have an Android phone can rejoice — Firefox Mobile is here with a full version of your favorite browser. The stock browser for Android is not bad, but, then again, the stock browser for Windows is not that bad either, yet most of us have moved on. There are alternatives for Android but many of us have been anticipating a full version of Firefox for some time, as it is one of the best browsers for the PC.

Let’s take a look at the features and performance of the newest Android browser to see if it is a download-worthy app for you.

Main Features

Firefox 4 for Android has been a long time coming, so we’d expect that they would try to replicate the great experience we get on our normal computers. It looks like they are headed in the right direction with features like Firefox Sync which allows you to sync your bookmarks, history, passwords, and even tabs from one device to another. So from day one, you get a bunch of the things you need right on your mobile device; the main thing for me was the bookmarks, as I love my bookmarks and find it hard to live without them.

Firefox Start Page, as seen in the browser

Another big selling point is the ability to download add-ons for Firefox, just as in the desktop version of the browser. There isn’t a ton of add-ons yet but with the huge community behind Firefox we can expect to see this change very quickly. Last but not least is the speed of Firefox, which was one of the first reasons people switched from MS Internet Explorer on the desktop, and Firefox 4 for Android is fast, no doubt about it.

Firefox Mobile Add-ons

The Firefox browser uses the same sort of side panels as Dolphin Browser HD. On the left you will see a tab preview list, where you will see thumbnails of your current tabs and you can open/close them. On the right are buttons for bookmarking, navigating back and forward, and opening the settings.

The tabs, to the left of the main viewport

The Awesome bar is one of the best features of Firefox as well giving you the ability to type into the what used to be the address bar to search through bookmarks, history, and send a query to search engines. The Awesome bar really is just that, saving you time and wear/tear on your fingers.

The "Awesome bar"

Add-ons

Though there aren’t many add-ons yet, some important ones are there already. Adblock Plus is available to block annoying advertisements, which is even more important on your mobile as it wastes precious data when you are on a capped data plan with your network carrier. Personas allows you to change the look of your browser, and was one of my personal favorite add-ons for the desktop version. Twitterbar lets you post directly to your Twitter account from the address bar, how cool is that? Reading List lets you save pages to read later offline, so you could download a page while you have Wifi to read later when you don’t have Wifi.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Firefox 4 for Android is fast, has nice features, and works nicely with most webpages out there. We know the developers behind Firefox will continue to move forward with the browser, making it better with each version. Add-ons and sync separate Firefox from other browsers available (Dolphin Browser HD has add-ons but a smaller community behind it, so I’d expect that Firefox will have many more).

Zooming in and out is very smooth on this browser and there was no waiting time when I flipped my phone from vertical to horizontal. The “Awesome bar” is really useful and a killer feature that the stock Android browser doesn’t have.

The Bad

Some of the reviews on the Android Market for Firefox are not good, so depending on the type of phone you have you might get a different experience than someone else.

  • It requires Android 2.0+ and a whopping 14MB of disk space (I say only say whopping because other browsers use much less – Dolphin Browser HD is 6.35mb, for example).
  • Other people have complained about Firefox using a lot of memory, which is not a surprise to me as this is why I switched to Google Chrome on my desktop, and it slows everything down.
  • I noticed sometimes the pictures/text were grainy or hard to read, which I noticed other people reported on the Android Market as well.

Also, when I tried to sync the phone, at first it didn’t work right away and I wasn’t sure what was happening. It said it would take a few minutes so I waited but still nothing. Here is what I did wrong: You must stay on the Preferences screen while Firefox syncs, or the process will stop and you’ll have to do it all over again. So just put the phone down and check on it in a few minutes. I tried to do some browsing while it was syncing then kept checking my bookmarks to see if they had synced but it failed several times to sync my bookmarks because of my mistake.

Settings

The Ugly

No Flash support is the biggest gripe right now and it is a glaring omission from such a highly touted desktop browser’s version of the Android browser. Checkerboard black and white boxes appear when pages are loading sometimes, which makes me wonder if something is wrong, and it just looks plain tacky. Several reviewers of the app on the Android Market claimed their phones locked up or crashed after they tried to load the app, which doesn’t enhance the browsing experience either.

Conclusion

Firefox for Android is a good, but not great mobile browser in its early stages. Hopefully some glaring weaknesses will be fixed and we will have a browsing experience similar to the desktop version. Until then, its deficiencies are severe enough (no Flash support, memory hungry, unstable) that it allows other browsers like Opera Mini or Dolphin Browser HD to stay a step ahead of it. Currently on the Android Market it has a 3.3/5 stars but a lot of low ratings came from people who had their phones crash or lock up. I had a pretty good experience with it, overall, and give it a 7/10.


Summary

Firefox 4 for Android is the mobile version of the popular desktop browser by Mozilla. It's a great start, but it's memory hungry and unstable enough to keep it from earning a top score.

7
  • dVyper

    I’ve seen no visible evidence that FF for android is fast. Even on the videos for FF on the mozilla sites you can see that the UI is ridiculously laggy.

    Yes, perhaps it does have some nice features but all of that is negated by the fact that the app is almost always laggy (and this is on a HTC Desire Z). It uninstalled it and went for an alternative after only a few days of use.

    On no phone have I seen FF give good performance. Never have I seen video evidence that FF has acceptable performance.

  • DanielR

    Erm clearly you haven’t used the stock browser! You can enter any text in the bar in that and it looks through your bookmarks, history and gives the option to search for the term.

    Almost all browsers do this as standard nowadays anyway, their is nothing “awesome” about it.

    • http://michaeljameswilliams.com/ Michael James Williams

      I’m not sure this is true on all ROMs, actually; I believe Sense on Froyo doesn’t do it (or didn’t used it).

      • DanielR

        I didn’t realise Sense changed the browser too? I have an i9000 and the features are available for it on the stock browser and on a lot of other phones I tried out.

        Maybe just a Sense thing . . . .

  • http://www.dazydude.net Rik de Vos

    “… then again, the stock browser for Windows is not that bad either”

    The stock browser for Windows IS bad :-)

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