Although Mozilla is struggling to ship Firefox 4 for desktop operating systems, work on the mobile version seems to be going on at full throttle. Firefox 4 Beta 2 for Android and Maemo was released yesterday. I went hands-on with the Android version, and it’s definitely a significant improvement over past releases.
Start Page of Firefox for Android
No, the newest Firefox for Android won’t rock your world, but it is usable, and that alone makes it a significant improvement over its predecessors. One thing that I really like about Firefox Mobile (or Fennec) is its interface. It completely does away with the need of using hardware buttons. Instead, you can perform everything you wish to by simply swiping on the screen in different directions. Of course, this breaks the standard navigation model in Android, where you are supposed to press the ‘Menu’ button to bring up the application menu and tap the ‘Back’ button to go the previously open page. Some people might hate the change, but I wish that more applications followed this philosophy. Apps designed for the touchscreen should be completely controllable via the touchscreen alone.
TechieBuzz Rendered with Firefox for Android
Mozilla has tweaked the start page, which now displays tabs opened in the previous session, and can even fetch opened tabs from your computer, if you are using Firefox Sync. Other new features in this version include an extremely handy undo option for closed tabs, which allows you to recover accidentally closed tabs, and a context menu for links and webpages. You can now share any link or webpage by long pressing and choosing the sharing option that pops up. Mozilla has also slashed Firefox’s ROM space requirements from a ginormous 40 MB to about 17 MB. It’s still a lot more than what most apps require though.
Tab Management in Firefox for Android
While Firefox impresses with its interface and functionality, it lacks polish. I loved it at first glance, but things fell apart as soon as I started using it. I found the rendering to be choppy on occasions, and the browser takes way too long to load. The innovative interface also creates problems on websites that aren’t optimised for mobile phones. If the website has horizontal scrolling, you are going to find yourself accidentally triggering various UI (user interface) aspects quite frequently. Firefox only makes matters worse by not offering a text reflow mode. And finally, the one thing that really annoyed me, was the lack of copy-paste.
Opera is the king of the hill when it comes to mobile web browsers, and Opera Mobile for Android is slated to be released in a couple of days’ time. Mozilla has the advantage of a larger fan base and powerful extensions, but that might not matter much if they don’t hurry up.
Awesomebar in Firefox for Android