Mozilla has released the latest iteration of the Firefox OS software, Firefox OS 2.5. The software is designed to be an Android-killer, and to help push the operating system, the company has released a version of the software that essentially acts as an Android launcher. This version is a developer preview, and can run on most Android devices today without any trouble.
But how does the software stand up to Android itself, the undisputed mobile champion of today? I installed the Firefox OS 2.5 developer preview on my Google Nexus 6 to find out.
The first thing to note about the software is the home screen, which is a little more like iOS than Android because of the fact that apps are listed, and can be moved around to suit the user’s preference as far as things like app order goes. By default, there are three app icon columns, however users can change this to four if they choose, something that suited me much better. With three columns, apps icons are a little too large for me, and there aren’t as many apps on the display as I like. Even with four columns the icons seem a little large, however it’s a lot more bearable.
One of the main things to get used to when using Firefox OS is the fact that it, like iOS, uses one single home button, and has other ways to allow users to go “back.” On a phone with Firefox OS installed that is a little more obvious, however considering the fact that I’m using a developer preview, which acts more like a launcher, the back button and the recent apps button still appear on the screen, they just don’t do anything. This is fine considering the fact that the launcher is meant as a way to allow users to test out Firefox OS rather than use it permanently, however it did lead to some confusion.
The ability to pin websites as app is meant to have a much bigger role in Firefox OS compared to Android. Using the browser, users can pin websites (not web pages, like before) to the home page, with icons looking like any other app. This further blurs the line between an app and a website, however it’s not totally new as a feature and is something users can do on Android through Chrome.
It’s important to note that the developer preview, as a developer preview, is rather buggy. One time, Chrome and Gmail disappeared until I tapped on the blank space where they were meant to be. Another time, the developer preview crashed simply while searching for an app on the Marketplace. This is something that users should be aware of going in, but not totally unexpected.
Something that I really appreciated about Firefox OS is the ability to search from any stock Firefox app. When a user is in the app, they simply need to tap on the top search bar, which will be displaying the name of the app, and a search bar will appear.
Apart from the basic user interface, the Firefox OS developer preview also comes with a number of apps built by Mozilla. These include the following:
Most of these apps are self-explanatory, which is something that I liked about the operating system. Most of the apps, however, did not have as many features as their Android counterparts. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially for those who want simplicity and just want to make a call using “Phone” or go to a website using “Browser.” For those that like to tinker, however, which is likely to be many people who use Android, Android might be a better choice.
It’s important to note that for this review I used the developer preview of Firefox OS 2.5, and did not take things like add-ons into consideration. Despite this, add-ons are an important part of Firefox OS. Add-ons are an important feature for many web browsers, however they don’t normally play as important of a role in operating systems. That being said, the Firefox Marketplace is where apps for the operating system are found, and the service is nothing compared to Google Play.
Google need not be worried. While I haven’t played around with previous versions of Firefox OS very much, it seems as though the operating system is a lot better than previous iterations. It’s still, however, not an Android killer. For almost everyone, Android is still the better choice. For those that want simplicity that “just works,” it’s possible that Firefox OS might be the right choice, however that remains to be seen on phones that actually have the operating system installed rather than the developer preview. From what I could tell, if you want an operating system that “just works,” get an iPhone. Firefox OS is an interesting start, but it has a long way to go.