June 26, 2012 at 2:42 PM ET
Mozilla has released a new version of Firefox for Android phones with a redesigned interface, Flash support, and various speed improvements. It's the latest maneuver in what is sure to be a seriously competitive space over the next few years: mobile browsers.
As the web becomes more accessible to mobile devices, people will want to do with their phones what they do already with their desktops and notebooks. That means add-ons for personalization, options for how things are displayed, and the same level of security and usability we have on our full-size browsers.
Mozilla's Firefox was the gold standard on desktop OSes for the PC explosion over the last decade, though it has seen stiff competition lately from Google Chrome and (on mobile) Apple's Safari. Without delving too far into the features and shortcomings of these browsers, it can be said that they are only just beginning to battle on the mobile front as smartphones and tablets become mainstream -- and more than that, become as powerful and usable as our PCs.
Firefox on Android has a number of handy add-ons and supports Flash, and the new UI is definitely superior to the built-in browser in Android 4.0. Columns were detected better, text was more readable, and sites were generally rendered as a happy medium between the original layout and a slightly more mobile-friendly one. Interestingly, Flash loaded and ran properly on my HTC One V, a mid-range device with extra software on it, while on a brand-new Galaxy Nexus, it had trouble.
It also supports newer web functions like Do Not Track and various security protocols, and while doing your banking with a web app on your mobile probably still isn't a good idea, it's good to see the new standards being put into practice.
Google will reportedly be bringing Chrome to Android in a big way soon, perhaps even this week at their I/O conference, but until they make that move, Firefox is looking like a no-brainer to install on your Android phone. It's free on the Play Store.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. His personal website is coldewey.cc