Mozilla Firefox might be a beloved desktop browser, but on Android its market share only looks like a rounding error. This is perhaps one of the many reasons why Mozilla decided to rewrite its mobile browser from scratch with a new rendering engine, a redesigned interface, better performance and more privacy features. Now that Mozilla has had a year and a half to polish the product, I decided to do a thorough test of this new Firefox on my Android phone to see how it stacks up against the standard most people stick with. , Google Chrome.
Interface and user experience
Firefox lets you choose between a bottom-based interface and a top-based interface. Depending on what you’re using, you’ll find the address bar, tab selector, and menu button at the bottom or top of your screen. Like on Chrome, you can switch between tabs by swiping your finger left and right on the address bar or instead of using the dedicated button.
I’m not the biggest fan of the switching tab UI that Firefox is installed on. Whichever toolbar position you choose, the tab selector button opens as a drop-down menu from the bottom of the screen, showing all of your tabs as a list with a small preview of their content on the left. Unlike a previous design with tabs on the new tab page, this feels like a last minute decision. Either way, open tabs can be swiped left or right. If you prefer a grid view, you can enable it in the settings.
The new tab page provides a quick overview of your most visited websites, collections (a place where you can group and save tabs), and a quick toggle to open incognito mode. It also offers options to return to your browsing session and will give you an overview of recent bookmarks, recent research, and interesting articles from Pocket, Mozilla’s later reading service for anything you find on the web. You can add and remove modules as you like, including Pocket articles.
The address bar has a handy built-in QR code reader, and you can select your favorite search engine on the fly – none of these features are available in Chrome. You can also enter your requests by voice. When you visit a website, you will see a shield icon next to its address. Tap it to toggle Firefox tracking protection on or off. There is also a link to the settings which allow you to adjust your level of protection in a granular way.
In the three-dot overflow menu, you’ll find quick access to your downloads, history, favorites, synced tabs, and add-ons, which we’ll expand on later. The application settings (also accessible from the overflow menu) give you access to the usual entries for data deletion, site permissions, data collections, notifications, activation of synchronization, storage of passwords, etc. You can customize Firefox to your liking here, and even switch the interface to another language.
Overall, Firefox’s interface is easy to navigate, so you are unlikely to encounter any issues if you access it from Chrome.
Chrome’s last decent UX overhaul was a long time ago (if we rule out the recent Material You update which only changed the colors a bit), and it still relies solely on a color bar. ‘superior tools that are getting harder and harder to reach as our phones grow older. Google experimented with a few other solutions like Chrome Duet, but the tests were ultimately scrapped.
I’m not a fan of the way Firefox integrates with other apps when you use it as your default browser. Like Chrome, it is able to display custom tabs, but when you choose to have the address at the bottom, you will also find the custom tab action bar at the bottom. I would like to have independent options. Then there’s a great little gripe: the animations for opening and closing custom tabs are either completely missing or just not as smooth as they are in Chrome.
Firefox has a few more features up its sleeve, like a reading mode. When the browser detects that you are reading an article, it will offer to provide you with a simplified version, without images and without distractions in the address bar.
Collections are a form of bookmark replacement that I don’t use too much (just like I don’t use bookmarks). You can add tabs to them from the tab selector. It’s probably good for saving something you’d like to read later and isn’t intended as a permanent storage solution like bookmarks, but it looks like the concept isn’t fully fleshed out. This is probably because the original idea has been watered down – collections were meant to be created automatically based on your last browsing sessions.
To sychronize allows you to transfer your browsing data from one device to another, just like Chrome does. The feature ensures that bookmarks, history, and passwords are shared between your Firefox installations on phones and desktops. The browser can also be used as a password manager that automatically fills in login data in other apps, a feature that was previously rolled out in the now discontinued Firefox Lockwise.
A Search Widget gives you quick access to the address bar right from your home screen, much like Chrome. Firefox also has a dark mode that respects your system-wide preferences.
Unlike Chrome, Firefox supports extensions. Unlike the legacy version of the Mozilla browser, only a handful are officially available right now, but the company is working to bring back the full suite of add-ons in a future update. You can already try any extension in the unstable Nightly version of Firefox, but if you want to stick with the stable version, you’re limited to that selection for now:
- Google Search Corrector
- Origin of uBlock
- Dark reader
- AdGuard AdBlocker
- HTTPS everywhere
- Privacy Badger
- NoScript Security Suite
- FoxyProxy Standard
- Search by image
- off-center eyes
- Tomato clock
- High definition youtube
- Possum Privacy
- LeechBlock NG
- Web Archives
- Fixed video playing in the background
Autofill password some third-party password managers seem wonky to me with the pop-up often not appearing, but this is also an issue I have with Chrome. If you are a Bitwarden user, you can alleviate the issues by installing the browser extension and using it for autofill.
I miss pull-to-refresh a lot, a gesture that’s available in almost every other Android app you can think of, but Mozilla is working on adding it. Firefox has yet to add a tablet interface to the redesigned app, so using the browser on a tablet or Chromebook (as an Android app) is a terrible experience.
The new Firefox is based on Mozilla’s rewritten Gecko renderer, and it’s much faster than the old app, especially when you enable the more stringent tracking blocking level. Even so, it’s still not as fast and consistent as Chrome. This is because Google Chrome and other Chromium browsers make up the vast majority of the browser market in the world and naturally developers are focused on optimizing their websites for them. Google itself is particularly to blame for this – the company specifically adjusts its websites for its own browser and rendering engine, and on top of that, it distributes an old search UI to Firefox. You can at least get the Chrome-like search UI with the Google Search Corrector extension, although this will not fix performance issues due to poor optimization.
Scrolling was another weak spot, but it got a lot better in the Firefox redesign. Compared to Chrome, scrolling inertia seemed wobbly on Android, with unexpected jumps as a result of small movements. But it is mostly a thing of the past. Scrolling still isn’t 100% Chrome compliant, but it’s predictable and smooth, and there’s no big barrier to entry anymore.
Mozilla says that “Firefox products are designed to protect your privacy” and its browser sticks to that motto. Firefox blocks online trackers and invasive ads by default, and you can even turn on a strict mode that completely blocks most third-party cookies and trackers. In Chrome, Google only allows you optionally to block third-party cookies, although it also blocks resource-intensive ads by default.
Firefox still has a few tricks up its sleeve. The app allows you to delete browsing data on exiting, which you can activate in the settings. There you can choose which data is supposed to be deleted each time you press “Exit” from the overflow menu.
Unfortunately, Mozilla collects some usage data by default to improve its product. You will need to turn this off manually in the settings under “Data Collection” if you don’t want the company to do this. There are “usage and technical data” and “marketing data”.
If you want to separate your life from Google a bit, Firefox for Android is a viable alternative to Chrome. The experience still isn’t as smooth as Chrome, but it’s pretty close – and you get a few features that aren’t available in Google’s mobile browser, like extensions, reading mode, and advanced protection from confidentiality.
You will have to ask yourself what do you like in a browser. The easiest choice is to use the preinstalled app without needing to configure anything else, and if you don’t care too much about blocking trackers or extra privacy, there probably isn’t any. reason for you to change. But if you’re interested in what Firefox allows in terms of features and privacy, it might be worth trying the latest iteration of Mozilla’s browser despite the occasional performance issue.
You can download Firefox from the Play Store, F-Droid (the Fennec version with the proprietary bits and telemetry removed) or APK Mirror.
Built-in crutch kicks butt
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