Hands on: Firefox 4 for Android; good browser for tablets

I have taken Firefox 4 beta 5 for Android for a test spin on my Galaxy Tab, and am happy to report the browser handles the tablet screen with ease.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

The mobile browser war has been cranked up a notch with Mozilla's release of Firefox 4 beta 5 for Android. This new version is available in the Android Market and brings desktop quality browsing to the small screen. Firefox Sync keeps the Android device in sync with a configured desktop Firefox environment, from bookmarks to browsing history. I have taken Firefox for Android for a test spin on my Galaxy Tab, and am happy to report the browser handles the tablet screen with ease.

Once installed Firefox is ready to browse the web, but you will probably want to set up the syncing to get bookmarks (and optionally tabs and browsing history) on the mobile device. This only takes a few minutes once Firefox Sync is set up on the desktop, and it places desktop bookmarks in an appropriately named section under the bookmarks.

Check out screen shots of Firefox 4 on an Android tablet.

Image Gallery: Check out Firefox for Android on a Galaxy Tab.
Image Gallery: Samsung Focus
Image Gallery: Samsung Focus browser

The interface of Firefox has been designed to maximize screen real estate, while taking advantage of the Android touch screen. Swiping to the left exposes the tab bar, which shows open tabs with a preview, and swiping to the right exposes a star for adding bookmarks, along with front/back arrows for navigation. Once a web page is completely loaded, it takes over the entire screen.

Page rendering is fast and I haven't run into any web sites that don't display properly. Text reflows when zooming on the page and the standard double-tap to zoom in on a column of text is properly supported. Sadly, embedded YouTube videos won't play in Firefox, when you run across one you get instructions in the video window to download the plug-in, but nothing happens. There is no Flash plug-in available yet.

Firefox 4 for Android is not quite ready for prime time, but it is pretty darn close. It yields a good browsing experience and is fun to use on the Galaxy Tab.  It's good enough now to use it all the time, and with just a little bit of work Mozilla will have a solid browser in Firefox for Android.

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