back to article Firefox Preview for Android: Mozilla has another go at a mobile browser

Mozilla has announced what is currently called Firefox Preview (codename Firefox Fenix), a new mobile web browser for Android. Firefox Preview brings together two Mozilla projects. GeckoView is a browser engine and an alternative to WebView for Android, a built-in component based on Chromium’s “Blink” engine. Mozilla Android …

  1. Chris Hills

    Thank you Mozilla!

    Even though it is only a preview, it is already my default browser on Android now. It is great to have an alternative that is not backed by a for-profit company and actually has the users' interests at heart.

  2. Allonymous Coward

    I'm genuinely surprised usage is so low

    Firefox has been the go-to browser on my Android phone for a number of years (unlike my Linux desktop I'm sad to say, though that may change the way Chrome/Chromium's going).

    Firefox on Android mostly Just Works and has some useful privacy features. I'm surprised it sees so little adoption, even considering the usual inertia problem.

    1. Captain Hogwash

      Re: I'm genuinely surprised usage is so low

      When did you last try it on your desktop? I find it's better than Chrome/Chromium.

      1. Allonymous Coward

        Re: I'm genuinely surprised usage is so low

        I periodically use Firefox on my desktop, and while it's mostly fine there are enough niggles that it's not a seamless experience.

        Mainly it's tracking down extensions that do the same thing as in Chromium, configuring settings etc etc. All do-able, but probably like most people on El Reg I've got years of muscle memory built up in getting $BROWSER how I like it with dev tools and so on. And I don't find playing with new software inherently interesting any more, I mostly want it to get off my lawn.

        Basically it's inertia. Until Chromium gives me a really good reason to switch I've got better things to do. I find that's less of an issue on mobile, where there's no customisation going on beyond a couple of privacy-related extensions.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Firefox

          With NoScript and UBlock Origin. It's the only way to be sure.

          That said, I learned today in another article that Brave is a browser with ad blocking that is actually integrated into the browser itself, and it's pretty damn fast. I tried it on my smartphone and I'm quite happy about it.

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      Firefox on Android...

      ... runs the usual privacy/blocking extensions. That's all I need to know.

    3. JohnFen

      Re: I'm genuinely surprised usage is so low

      I don't use the existing Android Firefox because it's literally unusably slow on my machine. As in, rendering a simple static web page can take more than 5 minutes.

      I'm looking forward to Fenix's release, hoping that it will at least be fast enough to be tolerable. I'd love to stop using the Android browser I currently use (which is not Chrome).

      1. Baldrickk

        Re: I'm genuinely surprised usage is so low

        What are you running it on?

        Mine is instant - well, close to it. running adblockers really help with both quota and speed. Even without that, it's a FAR cry from even one minute. single digit seconds at most for heavy pages.

        1. JohnFen

          Re: I'm genuinely surprised usage is so low

          I run it on a Galaxy S4. I am led to believe that how bad the performance is depends heavily on the device you're using. The older the device, the more likely it is to be unusable. I'm not likely to be replacing the S4 within the next couple of years (and when I do, it won't be with an Android device at all), so how well it runs on newer devices isn't relevant to me.

  3. Graham 32

    The address bar is at the bottom. That's enough to put me off. Stop trying to be "cool", just be functional and boring. The cool stuff should be the web pages. Hope they fix that before it becomes the main Firefox.

    1. mdava

      Funny that, having the address bar at the bottom of a phone that most people use with their thumb seems entirely logical and sensible to me. Far more so than leaving it at the top where I have to move my hand to reach it.

      1. ivan5

        That may work for phones and younger people but not for us older people without 20:20 vision. I use a 10.1" tablet for that very reason, it is much easier to see without squinting.

      2. Graham 32

        But then how do you click (press) a link that's at the top of a page, often where menus go?

        I just meant it's an issue in having it in an unconventional place. Seems like being different for the sake of being different. If you have trouble reaching a part of the screen I think you'll have that problem with every app, not just the browser.

      3. Baldrickk

        My hand lives near the bottom. I want the content I'm interacting with to be down there.

      4. Ken 16 Bronze badge

        I got used to having it there on BB10 and look for the option with all browsers since.

    2. JohnFen

      Yes, having the address bar (and other controls) on the bottom is a VERY serious minus in my book. The rest of the browser better be outstanding to make me willing to put up with the bar location, or (better) the location of the bar should be configurable.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        "or (better) the location of the bar should be configurable"

        This.

        It's 2019, and the average (decent) smartphone or tablet has a spec that counts multiple core processors and gigabytes of memory. The "Browser Wars" and the initial explosion of the internet took place on hardware much less capable than that which you shove in a pocket.

        So, really, there's utterly no excuse for being able to stick the damn bar at the top where it belongs, or down the bottom where trendy "let's reinvent the UI, yet again" people want to put it.

  4. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Firefox's market share may change round about now

    Mozilla’s biggest problem is not the technology but rather how to wrest users away from Chrome. Firefox is at just 0.48 per cent for May 2019, according to Netmarketshare, while Chrome grabs 88.19 per cent. Operating system defaults are hard to overcome. ®

    Google Play seems to be pushing a browser choice screen due to the EU investigation.

    There were, however two screens. The first one was competitors which Google doesn't have anything to fear in terms of numbers (Ecosia, DDG) and secondly were Google's traditional competitors (Bing, Yahoo, Firefox). Almost as if they wanted you to hit the Android back button before getting to the second screen...

    1. lybad

      Re: Firefox's market share may change round about now

      That doesn't sound quite right - one of the pages is to do with browsers, and the other page was to do with search engines. So for example, on my phone, I had a choice of Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Puffin(?). Then for search engines I got Google, Duck Duck Go, Bing and Yahoo.

      Other people in the office got other mixes, but your example seems to mix browsers and engines together.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Firefox's market share may change round about now

        Remembered it, Edge was on the second page, Bing was on the first one with the search engines.

        I dunno if I should be worried about my memory or pleased about the effective filtering.

  5. mickaroo

    Firefox Forever?

    Firefox has always been my go-to browser, even back in the day when my desktop was OS/2.

    I disabled Chrome and I was running Firefox for Android on my not-so-smart phone. However, my phone is a little memory constrained so I switched to Firefox Focus, which has a slightly smaller footprint. (Oh, how I wish that ALL apps allowed you to move them to the SD card)

    I guess my next big adventure will be to become a beta-tester for Firefox Preview...

    1. JohnFen

      Re: Firefox Forever?

      "Firefox has always been my go-to browser"

      Mine too, until the shift to Quantum (which eliminated a lot of what made Firefox a great browser for me).

      On Android the situation is different, though, because Android has no browsers that are actually great. Firefox on Android has a much lower bar to meet in order to be the best option.

  6. jelabarre59

    MS

    See, Microsoft? Had you not been in such a hurry to switch to the "Blink" engine you could have switched to a USABLE and less obnoxious rendering engine. But no one ever accused Microsoft of being smart, just corrupt.

    Somehow it seems "Blink" is the appropriate name, if you consider the Dr. Who reference. Use it and it will set you back quite a number of years.

    1. Morten Bjoernsvik

      Re: MS

      M$ rationale was giving up playing catch up with chrome on experimental features not yet accepted by the W3C, while being used on sites like youtube.

      A single renderer now having close to 100%. This is like we all should use the same compiler.

      We should all back Firefox: https://donate.mozilla.org

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: MS

        "features not yet accepted by the W3C, while being used on sites like youtube"

        Oh, my heart bleeds. Microsoft getting screwed by somebody inventing and using illegitimate markup extensions. Who'd have imagined it?

        At a guess, I'd say none of the current developers are old enough to remember the mid '90s. We've been through this shit before. If I recall, it didn't turn out quite the way the behemoth thought that it would...

  7. Gene Cash Silver badge
    FAIL

    Ah ha

    I wondered why Firefox for Android stopped working with the last release.

    It doesn't even get far enough to fetch the page now.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Ah ha

      Works here. Clear cache/clear data/uninstall-reinstall/usual Android voodoo?

    2. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Ah ha

      Still Works For Me(TM)!

  8. fnusnu

    Still doesn't do zoom and reflow. What a waste of space... If you want to see a mobile browser done properly look at Opera.

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      FAIL

      I have no idea what "zoom and reflow" is. On the flip side, Firefox is fast, customizable, and has a rich ecosystem of extensions, unlike Opera which is just a rebadged version of Chrome these days. Props to the Opera team for their persistence over the years, but at this point, why bother?

    2. ThatOne Silver badge

      > doesn't do zoom and reflow

      If by "zoom" you meant the standard Android two-finger zoom, Android Firefox does it, both on my phone and on my tablet.

      1. fnusnu

        It doesn't then reflow the text leaving to scroll left and right to read it.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Of course not. It zooms like you asked, instead of second guessing the user and dicking around with the layout in what is invariably weird and wrong ways.

          There's a reason I hate Chrome. That fact that it's stupid enough to "cleverly" resize and reflow different pieces of text on top of other (literally, on top) and that there's still no Off switch to this insanity...

          1. Updraft102

            Overlapping text just means Google messed it up, not that reflow on zoom is a bad idea. Even if that was not the case, reflow should be user-selectable on or off, like everything else. Google's not big on user-selectable anything... last I tried mobile Chrome, they had just decided that disappearing UI (the tool/URL bar) on scroll was now mandatory, and it didn't have reflow, and both of those traits were instant rule-outs for me.

            Google also decided at about that time (when Jelly Bean was current) that tablets, usually held and used in landscape orientation, had to have the phone UI (oriented towards portrait orientation) so people would not become "confused" by the familiar icons and clock being in a slightly different (and less vertical space-wasting) location onscreen.

            Apparently, Google would think that if you moved my coffee cup one foot over on my desk, I would become confused and would no longer be able to recognize it as a coffee cup. I would have to randomly pick up items like my stapler, computer mouse, potted plant, pencil holder, etc., and try to drink from each one to rediscover which one was the coffee cup-- and I would have to do this every time I went to pick up the cup once again. It would be imperative that everyone in the world keep their coffee cup in the exact same position on every desk (with no option to change it to something that might suit a given individual better) to avoid this baffling and bewildering situation.

            Google continues to fail to meet the lowest expectations I have for software. They really do seem to think that their users are really, really stupid.

            With that said... reflow on resize/zoom is normal and expected behavior on desktop browsers, including that Google one, and I haven't heard anyone complain about them trying to second-guess anyone in doing so. The text is flowed into the container (the available space) upon the initial page load anyway, and the way that flow happens is highly dependent on the default zoom level. Reflowing on zoom just shows what the page would have looked like had you initially loaded it with that zoom level.

            I use custom zoom settings on pretty much every site I visit, and the text reflow on my desktop (Waterfox, but it's the same in all the others I've tried) browser is just transparent and seamless, as it should be. If I (the visitor of a given web page) have to think about things like how the text flows into the available space, something has gone wrong. If I have to scroll left and right as many times as there are lines on the page to read all of the text, something has gone terribly wrong. Reflow on zoom should "just work" on mobile browsers, as it does with all of the desktop browsers. Sadly, the only mobile browser I tried all those years ago that got it right was Opera Classic.

        2. Updraft102

          Upvoted!

          A mobile browser without reflow (which can be switched off, for those of you who don't want it) is not fit for purpose, IMO. Firefox used to have that feature years ago, but it worked so poorly that they removed it (as Mozilla loves nothing more than to delete features) rather than fix it.

          I concur with Opera as browser UI done right, if you mean Opera classic. The best reflow of any browser (keeps you anchored where you wanted to be in the document), and the best UI on top of that. Unfortunately, that old classic with Presto was showing its age, often failing to finish loading pages.

          The new Opera... meh. It wasn't Presto that made Opera great, but the one without Presto was just inferior in all the other ways on either Android or on the desktop, to me at least.

          I must say it's been several years since I tried an Android browser, but last I tried, there were no decent Android browsers. None. I tried every one I could find, including a lot of really weak "me too" Chromium reskins. If not for Waterfox, there wouldn't be any decent browsers on desktop PCs either, and that's a really strange place to be.

  9. Zog_but_not_the_first
    Unhappy

    Huh!

    I wish the hadn't abandoned the Moz' interface on my telly. It was nice while it lasted.

  10. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Meh

    Doesn't Really Matter

    I'm not much of a smartphone person --- you must take my mouse from my cold dead hand --- but must say, partly due to the beloved Fat Slab Style, and generally due to clean, flat, tedious, fugly minimalist puritanism, all these mobile browsers look exactly the same.

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