Firefox 4 for Android greeted with cheers and jeers

Mozilla's release of Firefox 4 Beta 1 for Android (and Maemo) phones brought with it some cheers and some jeers

Mozilla's release of Firefox 4 Beta 1 for Android (and Maemo) phones brought with it some cheers -- and some jeers. Though Firefox 4 Beta 1 showed improvements in some areas, it stumbled in others, leaving users yearning for speedy future enhancements. Here's a rundown of what's new with Firefox and what requires more of Mozilla's attention.

New Features with Firefox 4 Beta 1

* Sync: synchronizes a user's tabs, history, bookmarks and passwords between a desktop PC and the smartphone.

* The Awesome Screen: gives user access to recent browsing history, bookmarks and tabs by tapping on the browser's address bar.

* Add-ons: just like the desktop version of Firefox, the mobile version let's you change or add features, functionality and the look of your Firefox. The Add-ons Manager is located in your browser tools.

Firefox 4 Beta 1 also claims to have enhanced responsiveness and performance. The alpha version had "Electrolysis, which allowed the browser interface to run in a separate process from the one rendering Web content, resulting in a much more responsive browser," Mozilla wrote on its blog. Beta 1 also brings "Layers pieces which improve overall performance and in graphics areas such as scrolling, zooming and animations."

Other upgrades include:

* Tabbed browsing in thumbnail view

* Location-Aware Browsing

* Find in Page

* Share Page links with email, Facebook, Twitter and Google Reader

* Forget Password tells a Web site to forget your private data

* Add Search Engine lets you add a new search engine to your Awesome Screen

* Smart Tapping provides more tapping accuracy

* Password Manager

What Still Needs Fixing

Though Mozilla touted Firefox 4 Beta 1's sped-up performance, some tests said otherwise. Download Squad experienced significant lag times loading even mobile-rendered sites, and also noted that "scrolling a zoomed-in page seemed awkwardly slow" and that, try as they might, they couldn't scroll diagonally. Download Squad also had problems with text rendering.

On the other hand, Ars Technica said the general responsiveness of Firefox 4 Beta 1 were "particularly dramatic improvements over previous versions." Ars, too, had difficulty with text rendering.

When trying to run Gmail with eight other pages open at the same time, Firefox crashed for CNET's tester.

The size of the download was also a problem. Installation uses roughly 40MB of storage space (though Mozilla plans on reducing this to 20MB or less), and the first time it starts, it unpacks another 14MB, which makes the initial load time 15 seconds. Subsequent launches were between 2 and 4 seconds. The space issue might be a problem for Android phones without a lot of internal storage to spare.

Softpedia noted that Flash support is also a "known issue," as well as other plug-ins and broken add-ons. These issues are outlined on Mozilla's release notes page. Speaking of crashing, Media Bistro called Beta 1 "very slow, and prone to crashing not only itself but the entire phone."

Does Firefox 4 Beta Solve Previous Issues?

Since Beta 1 was just released, it's uncertain as to whether it solves the issues inbuilt with previous versions of Firefox mobile. PCWorld tests had troubles with having to install the DEV kit on a PC in order to sync a smartphone; Flash's shoddy or non-functioning performance; and needing to use Android's default browser after upgrading to Android 2.2.

Keep in mind that this is the very first beta for Firefox 4 mobile, and Mozilla was quick to add: "The Firefox 4 Beta software will update regularly so you can test new features or changes, and it will eventually update to the final release."

What are your experiences with the latest version of Firefox on Android? Has the update solved previous problems? Are you having the same difficulties as mentioned above? And, despite its flaws, is it overall better than other Android Web browsers?

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Brennon Slattery

PC World (US online)

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