I tried moving back to Firefox, but it’s simply hampered on Android

3 min read

Firefox used to be the king of the hill when it came to web browsers. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was the dominant choice for PC users to surf the web. Unfortunately, that all changed when Chrome hit the market. Firefox had become this loaded mess that wasn’t too far off from the browser it tried to replace: Internet Explorer. When Google first released Chrome it was a minimalistic browser with no frills and it was blazing fast. Chrome shot up in the market share with users adopting it at an impressive rate until it was at the top of the browser game.

Recently, Firefox has attempted to change this and make another run at being your favorite browser. With a few changes, it’s been fairly successful. The latest builds have really come a long way in increasing speed and stripping it back down to the essentials. Even the mobile app is much better these days. Long story short, I wanted to see how Firefox could handle being my default browser on desktop and my Pixel 2 XL. What I found is that the results were a mixed bag but were held back by Android itself, not the capabilities of Firefox.

On the desktop, I had practically no issues. It feels fluid but actually takes up slightly more resources than Chrome for Linux. All of my favorite extensions are there and there’s even the slick Pocket integration which makes the “read it later” service feel like it’s just a click away. So, the desktop was a pleasant experience that I could easily get used to again. Mobile, on the other hand, was very different.

Here’s the main issue with using Firefox on Android: Google wants you to use Chrome. Period. By doing so, the OS has hooks available and designed for Chrome, that other browsers simply don’t get access to. Search drops you into a custom Chrome tab for results that will never take you to an external source like Firefox. This is a big part of my frustration with this experiment. Google has made Chrome such a cornerstone of all their developer tools that it’s hard to avoid it, both as an app maker and a consumer.

Certain apps will recognize that you have Firefox set as the default browser, but they won’t auto launch it. Instead, you get this weird pop-up that the tab was loaded in the background and you are forced to tap this prompt to actually launch the browser. I’m not sure whether this is a Firefox thing or limited to some independent developers, but I saw it on multiple apps. It’s not a deal-breaker but it is an annoying extra step that’s required to get to the desired content.

Overall, I’m really impressed with Firefox. As a Pocket user, the integration there is a huge positive. The overall “feel” on the desktop is better to me, even though I can’t put my figure on what that means. The Linux nerd in me has always appreciated their open source roots that continue through today. However, if you plan to use it on Android, just be aware that there will be oddities and bumps along the way. Chrome is the default for many actions inside the OS that can never be replicated. Can you function and do everything you need with Firefox? Sure. Is it simply easier to use Chrome? You bet.