Mozilla recently released the beta version of Firefox 5.0, and with it they’ve added the option to install a beta channel of the Android app to the Android Market. The beta channel will be used to debug new features to come at the price of a potentially buggier version of the mobile version of Firefox. This first beta version, now that Firefox 4.0 is officially a stable release on Android, introduces several of the new features also introduced in the 5.0 beta for desktop.
The main features, as advertised in the changelog, are a “Do Not Track Me” mode, a smoother UI experience, and compatibility with the SwiftKey custom keyboard. “Do Not Track Me” is exactly what it sounds like. Enabling this option in the preferences automatically declines to offer location info to any website which would request it. This is a handy feature for the more pre-cautious users out there, especially given the recent scandals with Apple and Google and smartphone tracking (likely an inspiration for this feature).
Most of the other major changes were all performance based (but no, Flash is still not supported). I compared both apps on my Galaxy Tab 10.1. While they were both passable, it’s clear that the app is not meant for tablets, actually resulting in lower resolution web pages being displayed. With this in mind, Both versions performed admirably. In a cruel move, I put both channels of Firefox and the native Honeycomb browser head to head by loading the Android Market Website.
While the lower resolution means on a tablet, I’d still choose the native browser. Both Firefoxes seemed to load the actual page a bit slower, with only a second or two separating the fastest (Browser) and slowest (Firefox stable). Where firefox did shine through though was animation of the sliding panels that highlight popular apps. While still slower than a desktop experience, firefox didn’t quite choke on the animation the way the native browser did.
I don’t have a phone capable of running Firefox on to test it, but I imagine it would only shine all the brighter on a smaller screen as it was obviously designed for. To wrap things up, while some may be scared off by memories of the original “Firefox beta” for Android, when there was no stable option, this beta is performs very similarly, and in many cases better than the stable option. If you’re a fan of the current Firefox Android app, definitely give this one a try.[Link Android Market]