Firefox Mobile: Don't hold your breath (...yet)

Summary:It's depressing to say after the massive online revolution we have basked in with the Firefox movement, the long awaited mobile version is nothing to get excited about -- as my first hand experience with the browser is nothing short of awful.Firefox Mobile, codename "Fennec", is still in the confusing alpha/beta stage (I'm currently running 1.

It's depressing to say after the massive online revolution we have basked in with the Firefox movement, the long awaited mobile version is nothing to get excited about -- as my first hand experience with the browser is nothing short of awful.

Firefox Mobile, codename "Fennec", is still in the confusing alpha/beta stage (I'm currently running 1.0 beta 6 which is compatible with Weave) and is due to be released in "the next few days", probably just after New Year at this rate even though the BBC reckon it will be during 2009 still.

Though, Jay Sullivan, vice-president of mobile at Mozilla, said that provided things went smoothly, the goal was to have a release candidate next week (which has been and gone and still nothing), and a final version out essentially before the year is through.

My guess is that we'll see wider availability in January 2010.

But two things to stress: this is only the experience of one person using one device - the Nokia N900, and the browser is still in beta at this point, so things could change. Yet, with the principles in functionality in this browser, I doubt anything will particularly change at least for the N900 edition.

Once the browser is further developed to other non-touch devices, maybe we will see a browsing revolution, yet again I doubt it. Those who are using a non in-built browser will no doubt be using Opera, and to sway these already happy users will be a task and a half at least.

Gallery To see a full screenshot gallery of Firefox Mobile from the first hand experience using the Nokia N900, head over this way.

If I'm frank and honest, the application is slow and sluggish, it takes ages to respond to the touch commands you put to it, it causes the entire phone to slow down to a grind - which is saying something as this is one of the most powerful devices for its size I have ever seen - and the menu's; don't get me started on the menus.

Imagine that the page you are viewing is on rails. You should be able to slide down and slide up, even if you touch-flick it diagonally upwards or downwards. Yet in Firefox Mobile, the user interface is such that there are no rails and there are buffers each side. You need to carefully drag the page up and down as to not show the menus each side (which contain bookmarks and your tabs) which becomes rather annoying very quickly.

However there is one gimmick to Firefox Mobile which is interesting, don't get me wrong, but hardly groundbreaking. Weave enables you to take your desktop Firefox session with you, by synchronising your open tabs, bookmarks and passwords to your mobile device, so you can pick up where you left off.

Besides this, all it offers is a standard browser which works across multiple platforms - something rival Opera managed a long time ago. I suspect the vast majority of people who are sick of their in-built phone browser who turned to Opera, won't be swayed by Mozilla's new offering because after all, most people don't like change.

CNET seem to question why the browser requires the horsepower of the N900, including a powerful processor and 3D graphics hardware support. The reason being is so that it can support memory-intensive applications and plug-ins such as Flash. Yet funnily enough when running say, FarmVille - a very complicated and CPU-intensive application on the phone, it runs better in the in-built Mozilla based browser than the Firefox Mobile browser. It'll run on less powerful devices, but based on what I've seen already, these devices may well suffer in comparison to the extremely powerful N900.

In the end, maybe most phones have an awful web browser with basic functions, a lack of standards and poor rendering. Yet comparing Firefox Mobile to its first venture to a mobile phone, the Nokia N900, the in-built browser is far better, quicker and better integrated than Firefox Mobile.

Matt Miller, the smartphone and cell phone guru, posted his long and exhaustive review of the N900 which I can safely say, I completely agree with every word he says. The phone is brilliant, but as we both agreed, we prefer the in-built browser and Firefox Mobile just drags the phone down.

I would say don't hold your breath yet. Opera Mobile users will probably stick with Opera, and N900 users will probably find the in-built Mozilla browser far easier to use in the long term. The pro's feature of Weave synchronicity don't seem to outweigh the con's, and for this I suspect many may be disappointed by not feeling the true baton passing between the desktop and the mobile versions of the browser.

We shall see.

Topics: Mobility, Browser, Software

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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