Firefox Preview for Android - Interesting

Updated: February 29, 2020

After I've published my recent series of Firefox articles, mostly the review of versions 71 & 72, and the important essay on why you should be using it as your primary browser, I got a bunch of emails from readers suggesting I take Firefox Preview for a spin. This seems to be the next-gen edition of Firefox for Android, designed to be faster, lighter and more appealing, and hopefully endear a bunch of hearts to Mozilla's effort.

While I'm not too keen on anything touch, I still want to be able to have a hassle-free, stupidity-free browsing experience anywhere, including the mobile, so I set about testing Firefox Preview. As the test device, I used my Motorola Moto G6 phone, which ought to be fairly representative of the kind of results we should be seeing. Let us begin, then.

Firefox Preview setup

This was quite simple. Open Play, install, check permissions. The browser had no permissions set at all, which is nice. A good start. Once you launch Firefox Preview, there will be a very short setup step, where you can configure your theme and a few other tidbits. BTW, I so hate the whole dark theme sloganeering. Battery life savings depend on many factors, including the type of technology used in your phone screen, and if you have problems with your eyes, go see a doctor. In the age of fake news, let's not go with any naturist feel-good nonsense.

Install Firefox Preview Firefox Preview installed

The browsing experience & speed

Firefox Preview has a perceptibly more fluid, responsive interface than Firefox. This does not make your pages load any faster - the extra blocked content sure helps - but every bit counts toward creating a sense of sprightly revival. So this is a good thing, because you feel you have a sleek thing in your hands, even though the technical magic behind the scenes is less impressive. There's only so much optimization in HTML and Javascript possible, and in most cases, you will benefit more from browsing less-moron-optimized content than any actual underlying browser scripting engine changes.

The user interface is somewhat inconsistent. By default, the address bar is positioned at the bottom. But once you start typing, it goes up to the top of the screen, and the visual effect is noticeable, i.e. not smooth. If you switch to the top position, this is better, but even then, the address bar still shows at the bottom on the new tab page.

Address, bottom Address, top

Enhanced privacy

This is the main selling point of Firefox Preview - and Mozilla's offerings lately, in general. Indeed, the focus of your first-run setup and any subsequent tweaks will mostly likely revolve around the Enhanced Tracking Protection. From what I'm able to discern, this is similar to what you get on the desktop, but with some extra strictness. On the desktop, you have the more relaxed, standard setting - but Firefox Preview aims for a more stringent stance on the mobile - which is where most of the nonsense takes place anyway.

Privacy setup Strict protection

Enhanced Privacy ... in action!

Works fine, and you get notifications when it brings down the hammer. Now, the best part is, with Strict protection in place, I didn't see any ads on any page at all. This is very important, because for now, Firefox Preview does not support extensions. So you can't have them installed as you'd normally do it in the stock version of the browser, ergo block low-IQ stuff from polluting your browsing experience and draining your battery. Without this functionality, Firefox Preview would (and could) lose its chief value, so this is an absolute must going forward.

Browsing New tab

Customization

This is the one aspect where Firefox Preview lags behind stock Firefox, big time. The interface feels a bit unfinished, nude, and when you do make changes, you realize some options are missing - or haven't been added just yet, because, remember, this is still an experimental version of the browser, something to help Mozilla figure out what they want to do in the future.

Search settings Sync options

The sync functionality is featured - and promoted - prominently, but you can go about happily using Firefox Preview without any sign-in. The actual interruptions are nil - it's all under the hood, and you have to actively access the settings and change things. No passive-aggressive nonsense, no aggressive nonsense, this is quite all right.

But there was one thing I just couldn't fix - the new tab page. In stock Firefox, my new tab page is blank, and that's how I like it. Since the dawn of eternity, I've hated thumbnail preview dial pads whatnot - and I still hate them - Chrome has it, Opera has it, Vivaldi has it, Edge has it (can be turned off but not on mobile), and now seems like it, Firefox Preview is in the same silly boat.

New tab page

And this absolutely annoys me - I don't need an interface where the icon takes 33%, and then the remaining two thirds are taken by the list of open tabs - this only interests me if I want to access tabs, or collections, which again, do not resonate with any need I have. If anything, bookmarks and/or configurable top sites make more sense, the latter only barely so. But the best option is a blank page that could potentially be tweaked, like you get in the standard version of Firefox, desktop or mobile.

I did fire up standard Firefox and did some checks and comparisons, and the old, trusted version comes with a lot of options. Customization has always been the golden advantage of Firefox over all other browsers, and it must not be lost. Adblocking is fine, but there needs to be more, because there are many other useful extensions that go beyond neutering low-IQ stuff.

Firefox settings Firefox, top sites

The standard browser gives you more control; notice theming differences, btw.

Conclusion

Firefox Preview looks like a nice application. It's responsive, elegant, and it managed to block ads even without any extension installed. The question remains whether ETP can substitute a proper adblocker, and my technical sense says no. Which is why getting extensions enabled in Firefox Preview should be a top priority.

Overall, the browser behaved fine. But the interface is a bit simplistic, some settings are missing, and I'm not happy with the new tab page customization. I'd like to be able to control what I see - after all, Firefox Preview is all about control, content control, and giving it to the users. So the lack of functionality is a contradiction of its core mission. But then, all of this experimental, and could change. I do hope we get more, not less, because that's what Firefox needs. A fiery revival. For the time being, Firefox Preview is a step in the right direction, but the old 'fox still rules supreme. To be continued.

Cheers.

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