SOFTWARE DEVELOPER Mozilla has finally released a production version of its Firefox web browser for Android, including considerable changes to the user interface.
Mozilla's Firefox for Android has been in beta for some time now and managed to do very little but annoy those who wanted to continue using Firefox from the desktop on their Android devices. However Mozilla said the production release not only sports a new user interface but greatly improved rendering performance, to the point that it is faster than just about every other web browser on Android.
While Mozilla touts benchmarks for its Firefox for Android browser, the thing that most users will appreciate is the much revamped user interface. Mozilla has thankfully decided to ditch the clumsy sidebar interface that plagued beta versions, instead opting for a more conventional and well implemented menu driven interface.
Performance-wise, Firefox for Android on a Galaxy Nexus smartphone loads fast enough. There's no pointless splash screen and the poorly named 'Awesome screen' is pretty quick out of the blocks.
The real shame is that Mozilla's efforts on improving rendering time will almost certainly be obscured by shoddy network performance. In our limited tests, it was hard for us to discern any appreciable performance difference between the stock Android web browser and Firefox for Android, with network performance clearly having the largest bearing on overall performance.
Mozilla has included Firefox Sync support, which allows for synchronisation of tabs and bookmarks between Firefox instances of different machines. Firefox Sync goes one step beyond Google's Chrome to Phone and is on the whole implemented very well in Firefox for Android.
In our tests Mozilla's Firefox for Android production release is significantly better than the clunky beta versions that did little to inspire confidence in Mozilla's ability to compete in the important mobile web browser market. Mozilla's biggest problem will be persuading users to consider anything other than the stock Android web browser, and while Firefox for Android is a good browser it doesn't have a killer feature that will set it apart.
With Firefox for Android, Mozilla has finally produced a mobile web browser that can stand alongside rival offerings from Google and Opera. Long-term desktop Firefox users should find the web browser good enough, and while Firefox for Android might not offer any killer features, history tells us that having a choice of web browsers is always a good thing.
Mozilla can point to its growing Firefox for Android add-ons library but it isn't particularly big, and with Google already iterating through development cycles for Chrome for Android, Mozilla's Firefox for Android might have improved a lot but it is really at the mercy of Google and how it intends to polish and promote Chrome. µ