Firefox for Android gets an update, which in our opinion puts it right up with there with the best mobile browsers in the world. Need more reason to download it?
It might have been one of the dominant third-party browsers on computers for a while now, but when it comes to mobile devices like tablets and handsets, Mozilla’s iconic Firefox browser has tended to underwhelm. Earlier versions were slow and laggy and came with a stack of interface eccentricities (toolbars which became visible when you slid the mainscreen to one side, for instance), which is why when it comes to mobile territory, the likes of Opera Mini and Dolphin or have held sway over relatively bigger browser brands. However, that could change, if the latest version of Firefox for Android is any indication.
At around 18 MB, the new version of Firefox is definitely on the heftier side for a mobile browser, although it runs on all versions of Android above and including 2.2. Installation was smooth both on our Sony Xperia S and Motorola Xoom tablets, both of which run Android 4.0 (ICS). Launching the browser takes you to what Mozilla terms the Awesome Screen, with a search and URL address box right on top, and a list of recently visited pages and bookmarks on the lower part of it. Speaking of bookmarks, you can now sync the bookmarks on the Firefox browser running on your computer with the one on your Android device - no, it is not revolutionary, but it definitely is a feature that we were missing. Also, in what is a very pleasant surprise, the browser now looks far more at home on tablets than its previous avatars that looked a tad “stretched.”
However, the real magic of Firefox comes to the fore when you actually start using it. The design is cleaner and get this - there are no toolbars on the mobile phone version. If you want to access navigation options or make bookmarks or do any of the usual stuff that one does on a browser, hit the Menu button on your device to see the options. Menu lovers will blanch, we honestly were not complaining, as it simply gave us more visual real estate for viewing websites, which is the main purpose of the browser anyway. Tablet users will have to put up with a toolbar with forward, back, refresh, favourite and menu options, but real estate is not as much as issue of them, is it? The Awesome Screen remains as handy as ever - typing in the URL/search box starts showing search and address options even as you type (even on an EDGE connection) - and there are tabs for Top Sites (based on what you browse), Bookmarks and History.
You will notice a small “ ” sign in the top right corner of the browser (left corner for tablet users) which opens a new tab. Once you open more than one tab for browsing multiple sites within the same instance of the browser, the “ ” turns into a number indicating the number of tabs open. To get an overview of all of them or just switch between them, tap the number. This will give you the open tabs arranged in panels in a single column and in a touch right out of Ice Cream Sandwich, you can close them either by hitting the “x” button next to them or just slide them in either direction to shut them. Pretty cool, we think, especially on tablets where reaching across for the “x” sign is a bit of a pain.
But even that is not half as cool as the sheer speed of the browser. Yes, Firefox for Android flies. It is easily one of the quickest browsers we have seen on the platform, laying siege to the likes of Opera Mini (when run with full image support). Support for Flash is there (so animations and drop down menus work a charm), and in what we really like, you can now switch between Desktop and Mobile views of a website through the menu. You can also share URLs across social networks and in another very neat touch, simply save a web page as a PDF - neat for those the non-Instapaper/Read It Later crowd. Videos played right within the browser with minimum fuss, provided the bandwidth was decent (something which applies to all videos, really). Text selection is a lot smoother using two handles to highlight the text you wish to copy, although for some reason, it is not available when you are viewing a website in desktop mode. And as a final touch, the add-on library of Firefox for Android is growing, letting you do a whole lot more with your browser.
There are a few wrinkles that need ironing out, though. There is still the odd tendency to crash, especially when you have too tabs windows open. And while the add-on library is growing, the add-ons themselves are moody - we found some that some refused to work and others worked on the phone but not the tablet, and vice versa. But hopefully that is a situation that will improve with the passage of time.
In sum, the latest version of Firefox for Android comes with a clean interface, elegant functions, more than enough features for someone browsing on a mobile device, and most important of all, one heck of a burst of speed. It is not our default browser on Android (Chrome still has that honour) but it is heading in that direction. Which is good news for us all. Definitely a download for all ye on Android.
Available from: Google Play