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Firefox for Android hands-on: Vastly better than Android’s default browser but weaknesses remain

Updated 4 years ago
Published Jun 26th, 2012 4:10PM EDT

One of the downsides of being an Android user is having to scrounge around for a mobile browser alternative since the Android default browser is so woefully lacking. I use MoboTap’s Dolphin browser on my Android device because it provides a nifty swipe-based approach to bringing up menus and bookmarks, it has a lot of terrific add-ons such as the “Browse Faster” extension that lets you close apps on your device, and it does tab-based browsing better than most other mobile browsers I’ve tried. The downside, though, is that Dolphin can be slow and is very prone to crashing. Mozilla’s newest version of Firefox for Android released Tuesday offers some significant improvements over Dolphin and the default Android browser but still has some areas that can be improved. Hit the jump for more.

First, the good: The new Firefox is a very fast mobile browser. Pages pop up very quickly and load times are significantly faster than the default Android browser and Dolphin. And while I had found previous versions of Android Firefox to be very clunky and difficult to handle, the latest version is much more tailored to the mobile experience with its improved tab implementation and its menu button that quickly brings up your bookmarks, add-ons, downloads, settings and other key features of any mobile browsing experience.

Syncing up your mobile Firefox browser to your desktop browser is snap, as you simply have to log into your desktop version Firefox, clicking the “sync” button on the Android Firefox start screen, enter in a simple three-line code into your desktop browser and you’re good to go. As long as you already have a Firefox Sync account set up, the entire process should take under a minute. Similarly, it’s very easy to download Firefox add-ons that are tailored specifically for Android devices, although Mozilla doesn’t have all that many Add-ons posted yet so don’t download Android for Firefox and expect to have all the customization options that desktop Firefox users have.

While all this is impressive, I did find Firefox’s tab system to be inferior to Dolphin’s, as opening up your tabs can take up most of your screen space if you have more than two open. Also, Mozilla could learn a thing or two from Dolphin’s swipe-based menu access that gives you more seamless access to all your favorite features without being intrusive. Even so, the new version of Firefox for Android is a big step forward for Mozilla and it should spur on other mobile browsers to up their game in terms of page loading time.

Prior to joining BGR as News Editor, Brad Reed spent five years covering the wireless industry for Network World. His first smartphone was a BlackBerry but he has since become a loyal Android user.