Review of Firefox Fenix
While Android has a default browser (Chrome), its still great to know the alternative. There are a lot of them that you can even try all of them until you’re old :) Apparently almost all of them is Chromium based. The engine diversity situation is a lot worse than on Windows (you have IE with Trident engine and other). Still, there are some with different engine, like Firefox. But how does this browser compare to other Chromium based? And why the new Firefox (codenamed Fenix) is trying to be the same as Chrome?
For a long time, Android use the AOSP browser, which is based on old SystemWebView. This was changed in Android 5.0 Lollipop, where the default stock browser is changed to Google Chrome. For novice users, this doesn’t matter because they don’t care, although they may get annoyed because sometimes vendor (Samsung, Xiaomi etc) will bundle their own browser.
Let’s go into the main topic. Firefox on Android used to be using System Webview, which is slow for today standards. The only upside Firefox has was the ability to install all addons from Mozilla addons site. The devs realized this issues, and after working for years, they release Fenix, which is Gecko on Android.
There is a lot of issues with Fenix that still exist to this day. The devs get a lot of backlash when it was first introduced in 2020, citing the lack of customization & addons. I tried it back then, and yeah, it sucks. The worst thing about the browser (from my POV) is the memory management. Fenix is too aggressive about the amount of memory on device, so whenever your device is running low on memory (or even just a bit below the ‘middle’) then it will unload tabs in background.
This is a good idea, if only the previously unloaded tabs would come back 100% the same as they were before. If you’re filling form, then you were going to look at your 2FA code apps, then you go back to the form, it would reload the form, and reset all those fields that we’re already filling before. Its so frustrating, even when we only leave the browser about 5 seconds, then Fenix will start unloading those tabs.
From the old users perspective, the release of Fenix = addons nightmare. In Fennec (the codename for old Firefox), we can have almost (if not all) add-ons from AMO. In Fenix, we only have a very few ‘recommended’ extension by Mozilla that we can install freely. If you want to use other addons beside those that are listed, good luck with adding custom addons collection in debug mode😜
Even those simple features that is in all browser since Netscape era aren’t even included, like searching history & bookmarks. This is added via update, but still, it give a bad taste in my mouth. The UI are– to be honest they want to look as same as Chrome as possible.
The simplicity syndrome has plagued Firefox, and they’ve taken it too far.
In the other side we have Google Chrome, with its built in feature like dark mode, private DNS, a proper tab management, a media control that work, and so on.
What can we do about this (as user)? Nothing. Firefox dev has a bad record of managing suggestions in UI/UX improvement, and they keep getting worse & worse. They want to obey the future internet without maintaining its old users. In future years lets see what happens to Mozilla as a whole foundation, can they keep the competition, or not.
So what’s the point of using Fenix? Well, for me it is 1 reason: UBlock Origin. They work optimal in Gecko, but not optimal in Chromium (desktop). Don't get me started on the android Chromium (webview), as they don't have any extension support (except Kiwi). That’s why I still use Fenix, although it is not the best engine, but it function as I expected.