Mozilla's Firefox-like browser for mobile phones, code-named Fennec, has been released as a free alpha preview for Windows, Mac, and Linux systems (and Nokia N810 Internet Tablets). As you would expect with an alpha preview, it's a bit buggy, and not all the features are in place, but it's intriguing to see how Mozilla plans to smoosh Firefox 3's features onto the tiniest screens. If you want to know what Firefox on your phone might look like, read on for detailed screenshots and a rundown of Fennec's features.
The AwesomeBar in action
The best mobile browsing is the kind that doesn't require too much typing or screen-tapping, and Mozilla seems to inherently grasp this. They've brought the best features of Firefox 3's "AwesomeBar" over to Fennec, so that typing in the first few letters of a bookmark or web site you've already been to brings it up in an auto-loading short list. Typing in terms and web site names without an address seems to bring up an "I'm Feeling Lucky"-esque result with fairly good consistency. Finally, user-chosen search engines are one click away—type a term into the address bar and press "Google," and you're off and searching.
When you're browsing, Fennec removes everything but the address/AwesomeBar (with integrated favicon/info and reload/stop buttons) and a bookmark button from the screen. There's a mode that eliminates browser chrome entirely, according to the developers, but I couldn't find a way to get there in my Windows-based emulation preview.
How you'll scroll and zoom in on a page will depend on the phone setup, of course, but Fennec seems geared toward touch-screen-based devices. That's because the other features you might need, like back and forward buttons, are tucked away on the sides. Swipe to the left, and you'll open up the right-hand panel of goodies:
Click the star icon to bookmark, and you get to place the site in your chosen folder and tag it with easy-recall terms for later:
At the bottom of the right-hand options, there's Fennec's fairly basic preferences dialog. Here are the standard content and privacy settings (note the wry Jaded Developer Speak under "Enable Plugins"):
Click the jigsaw icon at the top of the preferences pane, and there's an eerily familiar extensions menu. Nothing available at the moment in this alpha, other than some standard plug-ins (is anyone else seeing a "Picasa" plug-in?):
Tabbed & thumnailed browsing
Tucked away in the left-hand margin is one of Fennec's seemingly greatest strengths—instant access to multiple tabs, with thumbnailed images of each site:
I find this style of tabbed browsing far more convenient than the iPhone's slideshow row of sites, and I'd probably like it more than the Android's Speed-Dial-style page (although Gina's the only one around here who can say for certain). But the number of held pages, and speed with which Fennec can call them up, will of course depend on the phone it's running on.
And that's pretty much true for most of Fennec's features—we won't really know how it all flies until we see it on a physical phone. From the outset, though, it looks like the Mozilla team has put a priority on simplicity and speed, which bodes well for everyone who isn't rocking an iPhone or Android, but wants a modern browser experience.
For those who like their pictures moving, and their details straight from the source, check out this walkthrough of Fennec's features by Mozilla user-experience designer Madhava Enros.
Found something else cool or hidden away in Fennec's preview? Hoping to see something more in the final release? Share your screens, and reviews, in the comments.