Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Firefox Mobile - Review

The N900 is my handheld of choice and as I've stated before it is by far the web browsing phone currently on the market. The most wonderful thing about FOSS is choice, just like a desktop computer the N900 provides you with a variety of web browsers to choose from and the Mozilla cooperation choose Maemo as the first platform to release their mobile browser for. I've been using firefox as the primary browser on my N900 since just prior to it's 1.0 release, the following are my summations of what I think of Mozilla's mobile browser.

Firefox Mobile navigates the web wonderfully, what few pages MicroB (the default N900 browser) Firefox handles like a dream. I have yet to find a website it fails to render properly.

Zooming in and out in firefox mobile works well. Double tapping on a section of the screen zooms to that portion for you. If this zoom scopes in too far or not enough for you holding control and pressing your plus/minus keys will allow you to have a more controlled zoom in the browser. In general I find the double tap zoom more than gets the job done and I rarely manually scope in/out.

Another nifty feature is that when you select an entry box on a website firefox auto zooms so the entry box fills the screen (width wise). It also provides you with next/previous buttons to jump between entry fields (for instance from a username box to a password box):

Speaking of password fields - firefox mobile displays the character you have entered for a moment when typing in a password instead of just displaying a star by default. This way you can be sure you have entered the proper character (always nice when you are dealing with function and shift keys on a tiny keyboard). Also present in firefox mobile is the non-intrusive offer to "remember", "not now", or "never" store a username/password combination when it is entered:

Then there is one of the things firefox was famous for first bringing to the masses on desktop browsers: tabs. The setup of firefox mobile is designed to keep the navigation features out of the user's way except for when they want to use them. By default when you are viewing a page it is full screen on the device:

To access the various navigation features swipe right, to see your open tabs:

Swipe left, to access back and forward buttons, plus your options:

or do either of the before mentioned motions to access your URL bar, application switcher, and exit button. I like the placement of the back and forward buttons, they are quickly accessible but as I stated out of the way when you do not need them.

Another firefox staple is of course addons. Firefox mobile is packed full of addons you can choose from, customization is the spice of life:

Right below plugins in firefox mobile is your download manager, nicely laid out the download manager lists all files you have downloaded in chronological order:

It also gives you a small notification in your browsing window when a download completes.

We all know you cannot have the good without the bad, there are a few things I would like to see added to firefox mobile. Firstly, there is no option of choosing where downloaded files are saved to - something that greatly irks me. Secondly, there is no way (at least that I have found) to select text on a page you are viewing (for instance for copy and pasting). Finally, the greatest trouble with firefox mobile I must say (and this may be a deal break for some) is the startup time. My N900 is over clocked to 800mhz and with no other applications running it takes firefox on average elven seconds to fully load.

All in all I think firefox mobile is the best browser currently available for the Maemo platform and thanks to the browser-switchboard it is the default browser on my device.

Did I miss any key points about firefox mobile? Is there another reason you use it or perhaps do not use it that I don't list here? Let me know by dropping a comment below.

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. Nice overview. Thanks.

  2. Opera introduced tabs, not Firefox.

  3. Opera mobile/mini has offered the best mobile browsing experience for several years but, as it's not FOSS, I suppose it will fail to get due recognition (like it's desktop relative).

  4. @Anonymous I have used Opera Mobile on Android and yes it is nice, however they do not make an N900 installer or I would have done a compare and contrast instead of just a straight FireFox mobile review :)

  5. Ah, Anonymous here!

    Good point, well made.....

  6. Is there a way to save an image from a web page?

  7. "Then there is one of the things firefox was famous for first innovating on desktop browsers: tabs."

    Firefox did NOT invent or innovate tabs. Browsers like Opera had tabs ages before Firefox.

    "Speaking of password fields - firefox mobile displays the character you have entered for a moment when typing in a password instead of just displaying a star by default."

    ALL mobile phones do that.

  8. @Anonymous Read up, I was already corrected on this mistake, I'll update the post to reflect that.

    As for the password fields - none of the other browsers on the N900 currently do this. So yes, it is worth noting that FF mobile does it.

  9. Opera and Chrome for mobiles already do it. And Safari AFAIK.

  10. And do any of those install on the N900 I ask again?

  11. MicroB asks the same questions regarding passwords, so that is not unique to Firfox for mobile.

    And yes, you can easily install Opera by just adding the Opera repo, and you can install Chromium via Extras-Devel repo.

  12. @Dr. W Look at the dates of my comments and this post. None of those browsers where released when this review was done.

    On top of that the Opera release is still very pre-beta (tanks my battery at least) so it would not make for a fair review yet. And Chromium has 0 optimizations for a mobile/touchscreen device.