Firefox for Android Gets a Speed Boost, But Still Needs WorkS

Firefox, the ubiquitous browser for desktops, has been on Android for a while, but well, it was pretty slow. An update that just went live brings it some much needed speed, but there are still some nuts and bolts missing.

The biggest difference you'll notice is that the new Firefox is very fast indeed. In fact, it may well be the fastest mobile browser we've used (though we'll need hard testing numbers to say that for sure). The improvement can be traced back to Firefox's new JägerMonkey JavaScript engine (and yes, JägerMonkey is easily the best JIT compiler name ever). Pages load very quickly, and zooming in/out is astonishingly fluid.

When you open a new tab the new Awesome Screen pops up, which is basically a bunch of shortcuts to some of your most frequented sites, a tab from your last session, and a couple of add-ons. It's visually pleasant, but offers fairly limited functionality. Firefox Sync is supposed to sync you up seamlessly with your Firefox browser on your desktop. Bookmarks generally sync just fine, though tabs and browsing history didn't make the jump in my testing.

That's just one of the man problems still present in Firefox for Android. The most glaring one is that it just isn't as intuitive as Chrome or even the stock web browser (in Android 4.0). You have to root around get to what you want. There were also some stability issues; the app crashed on me a couple of times. Sometimes embedded videos will play in-line, and sometimes it'll download and save to your SD card. And unlike in Chrome and the stock browser, there is no button you can hit to view desktop versions of sites. If you get sent to a mobile site, you're stuck there. That's a deal-breaker for many. Also, there's no "Incognito Mode" (a deal-breaker for porn aficionados).

Overall, the new Firefox for Android makes major improvements from the previous version, and it's worth checking out for zippiness alone. It's also appealing if Firefox is your main computer's browser, and if your phone isn't running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) yet, then it's definitely a strong contender. Ultimately, though, Chrome is just easier to navigate, more intuitive, and syncing with the desktop version of Chrome works much better. Looking forward to seeing where Firefox goes from here, though. You should be able to download the new version from the Google Play store now. [Mozilla]

Update: Regarding missing features like Desktop Mode, Firefox reached out to us with this:

We will continue to make small modifications to improve the browser experience - one of them is a plan to build functionality for viewing the desktop version of sites within the browser. In the meantime, our Add-on ecosystem offers many ways to personalize your Firefox Web experience and to customize the look, features and functionality. One of them is Phony, which allows users to view sites using different user agents to switch between desktop and mobile versions of websites. We'd encourage you to check it out.

Would still be nice to see that built-in, but at least there's a way.