The Google Chrome web browser has become so common around the world that you may not give a second thought to just using that and not thinking much about your alternatives. And to be fair, Google works hard to maintain its edge. But the stalwart Mozilla Firefox (download for iOS or Android) has greatly improved since its Quantum overhaul began in 2017, and its maker continues to push envelopes of its own.
Is it time to reconsider Chrome as your default web browser? Let's put them both through the gauntlet and find out who comes through in one piece.
First: Has Mozilla Firefox actually reached "It just works" status?
This is an issue that dogged Firefox for so long that a sizeable chunk of internet users appear to have written the browser off. But in our experience, it now rarely produces the sluggishness, jerkiness, stability issues or appetite for RAM that caused a lot of folks to turn to Chrome, Safari or Opera over the last few years. With the Quantum overhaul, Firefox is now lean and mean on Windows, Macs, and Android.
Note that on iOS, all web browsers must use Safari's WebKit programming code under the hood, for security reasons. So for iPhone and iPad users, the differences between Chrome (download for iOS or Android) and Firefox are more about the cosmetics and the feature list, rather than performance. On that platform, you can just choose whichever interface and feature set you prefer, and WebKit takes care of loading pages and managing system resources.
But the bottom line is that you can now put Firefox on the same level as Chrome and Safari, when it comes to basic usability and reliability.
The advantage of Firefox's Reader View
Both browsers can load web pages quickly, regardless of how much media is on them, but there are specific uses where one may be a better choice than the other.
For example, Firefox has a "Reader View" that you can toggle when you want to read an article without being distracted by elements around the body text. For example, Google's blog has "header" and "footer" sections on the top and bottom of the page that slide in and out of view as you scroll up and down. At lower resolutions, this can block much of the actual blog entry from view, because the header and footer do not scale and default to being fully visible.
With Firefox's Reader View, enabled by pressing the F9 key or clicking on the Reader View icon in the address bar when you've loaded a compatible page, this clutter is completely wiped away, and you're left with a cleanly readable column of text -- even if you're using a laptop with a screen size of 1366x768 pixels, which is still very common in developing countries.
The desktop version of Chrome is slated for a reader mode of its own, but Google hasn't announced an ETA. In the meantime, you can use third-party Chrome addons like Mercury Reader, but it doesn't have as many features as the Reader View that's been baked into Firefox for some time.
Chrome gets the edge for video streaming
On the other hand, if streaming video through your browser is something that you like to do a lot, desktop Chrome arguably remains the better choice if you're watching at 1080p or higher. As the owner of YouTube (download for iOS or Android), Google apparently has an inside track on how to optimize for video streaming, and the desktop Chrome browser will be slightly better at smoothly delivering all the frames of a high-def video while requiring less CPU power.
This CPU power issue can matter on a laptop because Chrome has a better chance of playing your video without the device's cooling fan kicking in, which can otherwise create potentially distracting background noise.
In addition, Chrome has full-fledged support for casting, a feature that lets you send a video on a page, or the entire page, to a Chromecast-enabled TV. For example, when you visit YouTube in the desktop version of Chrome, there will be a casting button within the video frame labeled "Play on TV" when you hover your mouse pointer over it. To cast an entire page, choose that display option from the three-dot menu in the upper right.
Chrome's search autocompletion
Gone are the days when you actually had to visit Google.com to perform a web search. You can now search directly from the address bar -- and in our experience, Chrome does a slightly but consistently better job of intelligently suggesting words and phrases to complete your search query. Basically, Chrome's address bar is Google.com, and Firefox hasn't quite been able to match Chrome's suggestion AI.
On the other hand, the desktop version of Firefox does optionally provide a separate search box that appears to the right of the address bar by default, and this box has a handy drop-down menu system that lets you quickly choose between different search engines. Chrome can let you use engines other than Google.com, but you have to dig around in the browser's settings to find that customization.
Mobile Firefox provides a streamlined navigation layer
When you tap the address bar in the Android version of Chrome, you get a drop-down list of related recommendations. But when you do this in Firefox on Android, you get something quite different, and it's arguably more useful because of its versatility.
By default, this action in mobile Firefox sends you a custom page labeled Top Sites, which provides a shortlist of the pages you visit the most. You also get a "Recommend by Pocket" section below that ("Trending on Pocket" on iOS), which contains trending news from sources that Mozilla has vetted for overall quality.
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The Android version of this page also has a tab to quickly access your bookmarks, and another for your browser history. In both of these other two tabs, long-pressing on an entry opens up a sizeable menu where you can share, remove, open a link in a tab, copy the URL to your clipboard, or add a shortcut that will appear on your device's home screen.
At the bottom of the History tab is a button labeled "Clear Browsing History," which will wipe your digital footprints after asking you to confirm. However, while the same function in mobile Chrome is a little trickier to reach, it also gives you granular control over exactly what you want to delete and what you want to keep. With Firefox, it's all-or-nothing unless you're willing to dig around in the mobile app's settings.
Chrome offers a section with curated news and commonly visited sites, but it's accessed by tapping on the house icon in the lower left. In fact, there's a whole status bar with several buttons on it, at the bottom of the screen, while Firefox integrates similar buttons into a three-dot menu that comes down from the upper right.
This menu behavior can make Firefox feel less cluttered and more dynamic, even though Chrome's status bar will slide away when you scroll. But on the other hand, Chrome's approach may be friendlier towards newer users.
What's the bottom line?
Perhaps a better question: Do Chrome loyalists have more reasons to check out Firefox, or do Firefox loyalists have more reasons to check out Chrome? Given how much Firefox has improved on both mobile and desktop over the last couple years or so, there's a lot of utility and polish here that habitual Chrome users may not even be aware of. Right now, Mozilla may be making the best web browser it's ever had, and that makes Firefox worth a download to us.
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