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Inside Firefox for Android

While there's a certain appeal to having structured simplicity in a web browser — something that "just works" and doesn't have option and settings coming at you from every direction — the tradeoff is almost always the sacrifice of choice. You do things the way the app says, with little in the way of options or flexibility. The folks at Mozilla have been opposed to this method of software development for as long as most folks can remember, and their Firefox browser exists as an open, flexible, and powerful way to enjoy browsing the web.

Like many other popular desktop browsers, Firefox has a mobile counterpart. Firefox for Android exists to bring the same standards and principles that guide the desktop version on to Android, and while standards and principles are cool it turns out this is also a great mobile browser. Lets take a look.

Firefox for Android

Firefox for Android offers all of the basics for a modern browser, with a seemingly endless list of extra features and options. Multi-tab interfaces, data-conscious browsing, private browsing mode, and the ability to sync with Firefox on your desktop are just the start. You've also got granular control over the kind of information Mozilla is allowed to collect from your browsing habits, the ability to create a Guest session for a friend using your phone, and privacy tools for controlling how you are tracked and whether you're able to store passwords for every site. It's a massive list of features for creating the exact browsing experience you want, and Mozilla is constantly adding and tweaking this list.

Outside of normal browser functionality, Mozilla offers developers a place to offer add-ons and web apps for Firefox, which are available through the homescreen. Mozilla's add-on store gives users access to features that can be bolted on to the browser itself and used whenever you choose, like the Ghostery tracking tool and a tap to translate function for text in other languages. The Firefox marketplace, however, is all about web apps. You'll find everything from location tracking apps and Bing maps to games and ebook readers, all of which install through Firefox and require Unknown Sources checked on your phone to install. It's not totally clear why these web apps are better than native Android apps, but Firefox fancies themselves an app store, so you have another source to get apps from.

Firefox add-on

If you're into tweaking settings and controlling how you are tracked, or if you're interested in using third party software to expand your experience, or even if you want to start using Firefox like it's a separate operating system, those tools exist. When you put all of those things together, however, you get an experience full of options that are easy to get lost in.

Starting Firefox for the first time on an Android device is overwhelming when compared to some of the other experiences out there, due largely to the decision to introduce the user to as many of these features as possible, losing the basics of actually using the browser for browsing in the process. For technical users, this is a nonissue. Browsers are fairly self explanatory and poking around in the settings is half the fun. For brand new users who have never considered Firefox before, the learning curve is a little on the high side.

That, in a nutshell, is the only real "flaw" with Firefox for Android. As a standalone browser, you get a great overall experience that gets you to and from websites fast and largely without issue. As a desktop/mobile shared experience, making it so you can effortlessly go from one to the other and not lose the task at hand, Firefox is one of the best out there. If you're looking to try something new, Firefox is high on the list of browsers worth replacing your current setup with.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

31 Comments
  • I love Firefox. But sometimes it just lags compared to Chrome on Android. Posted via Android Central App from my BlackBerryQ10 via the power of "Q"
  • This! I love firefox but there are a lot of times when it will lag behind Posted via the Android Central App
  • Chrome is well known as a resource hog with laggy or stuttering scrolling. If Firefox is worse I will never use it.
  • For me it's always been the opposite. Chrome always lags a ton while Firefox keeps running smooth as butter. Maybe it's because I have 400+ apps installed. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I think the hard wear has a lot to do with which 1 performs better. Chrome REALLY need a reader mode. 1 of the main reasons that I'm still a FireFox user a lot of the time. Posted via Android Central App from my BlackBerryQ10 via the power of "Q"
  • If Firefox is installed, it intercepts all NFC URL tags. There's no way to disable it that I've found. Since I want another browser to handle NFC URLs, I can't have Firefox installed. Just to be clear, this is not a default application setting; there are no defaults. As soon as you install Firefox, when you scan an NFC tag with a URL it immediately opens Firefox. When Firefox is removed, I get the dialog to select the browser to use to open the URL.
  • Weird, haven't had this problem. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I do. But I don't really care that much. It's not like it's a bad browser. If it was you wouldn't be using it. That said, it's still stupid and the user should still be prompted for the choice. Posted via Android Central App from my BlackBerryQ10 via the power of "Q"
  • Two words why I use this a wee bit more often than Chrome Beta (even if Chrome is fairly smoother) - AdBlock Plus. Do not worry, I instructed it to not block ads on this site, though. But there are similar websites that have ads so bad it slows everything down...
  • Funny, on my PC I specifically had to switch to Firefox with AdBlock Edge just for this site - so many ads here that IE 11 would slow to a crawl trying to load the page. (Strange, since the sister site, WindowsCentral, works fine.) Ghostery shows 14 (!) trackers on this site: ChartBeat, Facebook Connect, Google Analytics, Google+ Platform, New Relic, Optimisely, Parse.ly, Purch, Quantcast, Scorecard Research Beacon, trueAnthem and Twitter Beacon. I don't mind ads - they're easy to ignore - but this is ridiculous.
  • Uc browser blocks ads too and it's faster. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Consider uBlock instead.
    It uses the same blocklists, but uses a fraction of the memory & CPU - especially makes a difference on the heavier sites.
  • If it gives me an option to open websites in desktop mode by default I'll keep it. I hate the mobile version of most websites and hate having to go into a menu all the time to change it.
  • Firefox has a "Request Desktop" switch, but if that isn't powerful enough for you, you can install the "Phoney" addon for more robust Useragent options. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Firefox is all I use. It hasn't let me down yet. Posted via the Android Central HTC One M9 App
  • Is Firefox not bulky and slow anymore?
  • It's been faster than Chrome for me on my Nexus 5 and OnePlus One. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I used firefox many years, but on android it lagging very much. Therefore I use chrome. If you know why firefox lagging let me know Posted via the Android Central App
  • firefox has really laggy scrolling on my note 4, so i don't use it. i do really like its interface though. hopefully they can get the scrolling figured out, i otherwise like it more than chrome.
  • I've been trying out the new Ghostery Privacy Browser for Android.
  • Firefox is my favorite browser for Android because it syncs all my desktop bookmarks and has Adblock extensions without root. Posted via the Android Central App
  • There is a huge difference in speed of Firefox when used on PC and Android
  • The only real issue I have with Firefox is the inability to get it to open a native app instead of a website. It's much nicer to use than Chrome and AdBlock is worth its weight in gold.
  • Long-pressing a link gives you an "Open with App" option. Posted via the Android Central App
  • That only works with an HTML link, not a javascript based button.
  • I'm not sure how current those complaining FF is slow are, but I've used it recently and found it easily a match for Chrome at loading pages and scrolling. And as others just said, you browse far more privately on FF than you can on Chrome
  • Posted via the Android Central App
    Posted via the Android Central App
    Posted via the Android Central App
    this is annoying...
    Posted via the Android Central App
    Posted via the Android Central App
    Posted via the Android Central App
    nobody cares, only android central.
  • I have to say, I tried Firefox on my Nexus 7 today and it's just awful. Scrolling around is painful, it's like the portion of the page being displayed is cached and displayed the same way Google maps used to be when it was tiled. If I scroll then the new portion of the page now displayed is blurry and has to finish rendering before I can actually see what it is. This is a terrible experience. Chrome on the other hand runs very smoothly. I guess I'm the minority though.
  • Firefox all the way. I have "https everywhere" from the Electronic Frontier Foundation,(EFF) you have to get it from their site. Then I have tried four blockers and found Ghostery to be the easiest to use. Self destructing cookies,from add-on store. Then a restart button along with a quit button that clears cookies,history and restores tabs that were being used. Lots more could be added,or swapped out,so if you want,or like setting up your apps,then this one will be loads of fun. Posted via the Android Central App, HTC Evo 4g LTE ,on Sprint
  • For me the main reason to use Firefox on my android is because syncs perfectly with my desktops from work and home, I can get my history, passwords, etc. etc. synced, I cannot change to other browser because at work cannot use anything different than FF or IE, but for me FF is working fine in all my platforms and it runs great on my android.
  • I'm not sure about anyone else--but Firefox on my M8 was excruciatingly slow to render. It might be because I used the Adblock Plus add-on--I just hate advertisements. I now use CM Browser--no ad blocking, but geezus is it ever fast.