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We took a look at Firefox for Android 15 to consider whether it could finally be the browser of choice on an Android device.
Prior versions of Firefox for Android were bogged down by an interface that never felt intuitive or efficient enough to use on a touchscreen mobile device. With the release of Version 15, Mozilla appears to be revamping things. We took a look at Firefox for Android 15 to consider whether it could finally be the browser of choice on an Android device.
Clean minimalist UI
The main browsing screen consists of nothing more than a URL box, and a “+” button to its right, dressed in a contrasting light-and-dark gray scheme with a rounded upper right-corner design. You click the “+” to open a new tab. In browsing mode, the URL box shows the title of the page that’s loaded in the browser window, and its favicon. Tapping the URL box will make the page’s address appear, highlighted, and summon your Android phone’s virtual keyboard to let you enter a new URL. The browser will also switch to a screen that lists three list categories: Top Sites, Bookmarks and History. The look of this UI is clean and sufficient for the minimalist approach Mozilla seems to be going for now.
The home page
There is no “home” button. Instead, the about:home page is listed as a bookmark, and loads by default when you run Firefox. The home page shows thumbnails of the six sites you visit the most, each of which you can tap to go to that URL. This can’t be customized -- you can’t change the top six, which would turn this into a useful “dialer” interface to help you get to your favorite sites faster.
In Version 15, you open a new tab by tapping the “1” on the upper-right corner of the main browsing window, and then the “+” on the upper-right corner. The app switches to the screen that lists Top Sites, Bookmarks and History. Along the top is the URL entry box, and your Android phone’s virtual keyboard pulls up. Type the URL of the page you want to visit, or find and tap its link listed under one of the three categories. The page will load, and on the main browsing screen, the “1” is replaced with a “2.” Tap this number and you’ll be presented with thumbnails representing the two tabs that are active on Firefox.
We viewed pages through Firefox and the Android 2.3.7 (Gingerbread) stock browser. The stock browser simply displayed the pages as they would look on a regular desktop browser, but on the much smaller screen of a smartphone (ours measured 4.1-inches diagonally). Text was too tiny to be legible. Double-tapping on paragraphs to trigger auto-zooming and auto-reformatting, or pinch-and-zooming was required to read things. Firefox re-sizes and re-formats the alignment of most of the main text in a page so that it’s a little larger. Words are still small, but they are clearly more legible without needing to zoom in on sections of text. Firefox’s text reflow tried to do the job but struggled.
Scrolling through a long page can be smoother on the Gingerbread stock browser than on Firefox. It appears Firefox re-sizes and re-formats text in a page on-the-fly. This is probably why fast-scrolling through a long page can stutter slightly on phones with underpowered processors. Fortunately, we didn’t find this to be too distracting to the browsing experience on the phone we tested Firefox on, which ran a 1GHz single-core CPU.
On the right track
Though it’s bereft of fancy features, Mozilla’s improvements and back-to-the-basics approach to its UI are things we like. Version 15 of Firefox for Android is, like the previous releases, still a work in progress, but now appears to be heading in a better direction that’s worthy of its name.