The stock Internet browsers that come with smartphones are usually barebones apps with limited functionality. That's why many fans of the Mozilla Firefox browser have eagerly anticipated the release of Firefox 4 for Android phones. We took a look at Mozilla's latest version of the Firefox mobile browser to see how it stands up to the stock Android browser.
The good: Speed and plug-ins
There are a lot of things to praise in the Firefox 4 mobile browser. It has a nice minimalist interface that is definitely more useful than the stock browser experience. Swiping to the right reveals a vertical panel with all the open tabs. Switching or closing them is simple and fast. Swiping to the left reveals a different panel with options to go forward or back, favorite a page and change the settings. The interface is intuitive and easy to remember.
The Firefox 4 browser for Android also seems to load pages just a bit faster. Everything feels a little speedier with it. Panning and zooming is smoother, and the entire interface is responsive.
But none of these things are the biggest reason to use Firefox 4 for Android. The single most attractive thing for us was the ability to install plug-ins and add-ons that increase the functionality of the browser. Add-ons are one of the single best things about the full Firefox browser on computers so it's only appropriate that they should be included in the mobile version.
To be fair, the mobile add-ons are far fewer in number than those found for the full browser, but many of the same important functions are still available, including ad blockers and interface customization. The stock Android browser can't compete with these options.
The Bad: No Flash yet
However, things aren't perfect with this little browser, either. For instance, some of the most important plug-ins aren't yet compatible with Firefox 4. The most egregious example is the Adobe Flash plug-in. For good or ill, Flash is still a requirement for normal browsing, so the lack of it is pretty jarring, especially when there's a Flash option for the standard Android browser.
Other major plug-ins aren't yet compatible with Firefox 4 mobile, either. This will change with time, but for now it's a huge hole in Firefox 4 for Android functionality.
Mozilla Firefox 4 for Android has many improvements to bring to the browser market, unfortunately some of the best ones aren't fully formed yet – it’s still a diamond in the rough. It's good, but with some time and better support, it could be great.