There is, officially, no shortage of third-party browsers available for Honeycomb, each of which seems to have carved out a niche for itself with unique features and services. Heck, even the stock Honeycomb browser is pretty damn good.
The thing is, though, that none of them offer up a really unique way of doing things. Each browser leans on one of two sides: they either follow the PC (stock Honeycomb browser, Dolphin Browser HD) or they go the way of the iPad – pre iOS 5 of course (Opera Mobile).
But then along comes Firefox, offering something fresh, something new. Firefox, as I’m sure you all know (if not, why are you even here?), is a major contender in the PC market, offering one of the most robust browsers out there. Their Android app, however, has failed to gain the same traction. Their Honeycomb app will most definitely change that.
The browser has two features that set it apart from the competition. One is the Awesomebar which uses “the same tabbed menu to allow quick access to bookmarks, history and your synced desktop activity.” Pretty cool, no? Essentially this is bring together the kind of synchronisation we so desperately need, which a direct link between your PC and your tablet that goes beyond shared bookmarks but into shared web apps, open tabs and even themes. Yes, you can theme Firefox on your Honeycomb tablet same as you can theme Firefox on your PC.
The second feature is, on paper, insubstantial. In practice, it is the epitome of awesome. While in landscape orientation the tabs are always visible to the left of the device on a scrollable carousel. No swiping to the side to reveal a small menu that you scroll through. No pressing a button to reveal a list of tabs. They’re always there. And their thumbnail shows you exactly where you left of there. Now, for obvious reasons, this feature hasn’t been extended to the app’s portrait orientation, where you press a button on the top left hand corner to reveal a list of tabs with the option to open more and close existing ones.
In terms of design Mozilla has decided, and rightly so, to follow Honeycomb’s UI and keep it minimal. The address bar isn’t a box up top, it’s underlined text. You then have, to the left of the address bar, a big Back button and another Forward button, as well as the Tabs icon if you’re in portrait. To the right, and forming part of the address bar (or Awesomebar, as Mozilla call it) there is the refresh icon, next to which is a star you press to bookmark the page you’re on. At the top right corner is the customary Honeycomb contextual menu with a grid of icons for Site Options, Share Page, Find In Page and Save As PDF, as well as Preferences, Add-ons, Downloads, and Quit in a list.
Does it all work out? The simple answer is yes. It works VERY well and even in beta form is perfectly capable of replacing your stock launcher for daily use. It just works. The text reflow system is spot on, the search options are brilliant and the Awesomebar does live up to its name. There are some changes happening under the hood that don’t seem to have been taken up by other developers. One thing we’ve noticed is that we found it easy enough to type up the first half of this article in our WordPress site. On our tablet. In Firefox. That is a feat that no other browser we have tried has managed to achieve, with the result being a cacophony of lag, frustration, swearing and anger. Selecting items from a menu was painful enough, with each selection taking a couple of seconds to register. We found the same delay whilst entering text, even on Facebook, again – in a Honeycomb browser.
What doesn’t work? Sometimes features decided to turn themselves off and on again, seemingly on a whim. One second you can not select text, then when you leave the app and come back it works like a charm. Also text is not very clear at some zoom levels and appears a teeny weeny bit pixelated. This seems to be a problem with the text reflow system, but hey! we’re not developers.
The essence of this post is that one of the greatest browsers on this planet is coming to what we think is one of the greatest tablet OS’ on this planet (but that might be just us). It works well, but is still in beta and you can treat this as a bit of a preview. A full review will come later once the app has been released. Click through the gallery below for some official press shots. Oh, and don’t forget to hit up the download link to get it in on the action!