Use Firefox Preview to make browsing on Android fast and distraction-free

Firefox for Android just got much better. Mozilla did a complete rewrite and has created a new generation of Firefox (Preview) that’s much more consistent with Firefox desktop experience.

This post is a detailed look at Firefox Preview which when fully matured will replace the Firefox Android mobile app. A faster and more pleasant, distraction-free browsing experience awaits you on mobile too.

You can install Firefox Preview on Google Play Store today. There’s a Firefox Preview Nightly too for those who want newer features faster. Let’s take a look at the browsing experience on Firefox Preview for Android.

  1. Welcome screen and settings
  2. The toolbar at the bottom of the screen near your thumb
  3. Collections for keeping your favorite sites organized
  4. Changing the default search engine
  5. Enhanced Tracking Protection as a built-in adblocker
  6. Deleting browsing data
  7. Clutter-free browsing and reading
  8. Firefox Preview add-ons and uBlock Origin
  9. It’s a “preview” of things to come to the regular app

Welcome screen and settings

Firefox Preview comes with a very straightforward welcome screen as seen in the image at the top of this post:

  • It asks you to sign in to your Firefox account to sync your bookmarks, history and passwords. This is optional.
  • It lets you choose a theme from light, dark and automatic. The automatic one adapts to your device settings.
  • It also makes it clear that the Enhanced Tracking Protection is on by default. You can switch it off if you wish to do so but I see no reason to do that. It’s one of the unique selling propositions of Firefox.

The toolbar at the bottom of the screen near your thumb

Next up you see the home page which has the toolbar at the bottom of the screen. The toolbar being at the bottom is a great and more natural placement on mobile phones. It’s so much easier and quicker to reach it there.

You can switch the toolbar position back to the top in the “Toolbar” section in “Settings” if you wish to do so. The main benefit is that when on top it automatically hides when scrolling down a page.

When at the bottom, it is always present. The option to automatically hide it when at the bottom is being worked on.

Collections for keeping your favorite sites organized

Firefox Preview introduces the feature called “Collections“. It’s a way to save and categorize sites. It has prominent placement on the home page just under the open tabs.

Traditional bookmarks are available too. They have no prominent spot on the home page, but they’re available in the main menu (the three dots in the toolbar) and are searchable using the address bar too. In Firefox Preview, I use collections for saving my most visited sites so I have quick access to them.

Changing the default search engine

You can choose your default search engine in the “Search” section of “Settings”. DuckDuckGo is one of the default choices.

There are also Ecosia (a search engine that plants trees) and StartPage as more ethical Google alternatives. They’re listed in the “Add search engine” section where you can also add any other search that you wish.

To add a new search engine, visit the site you want to search and make a search query. Then copy the URL of the search result page and paste it into the “Custom” area of the “Add search engine” section. Replace the phrase you searched for with %s, remove everything that follows it and save it.

Here’s an example of me searching for the show Atypical on TheMovieDB:

https://www.themoviedb.org/search?query=atypical
https://www.themoviedb.org/search?query=%s

All the options that you choose to keep in the default search engines list show up as part of the search shortcuts when using the address bar. This makes it simple to search directly at different sites such as Wikipedia and Reddit. Kind of like DuckDuckGo Bangs but built-into Firefox.

Enhanced Tracking Protection as a built-in adblocker

Enhanced Tracking Protection experience is pretty consistent with the one on the desktop version. It’s set to “strict” by default. All social media trackers, cross-site tracking, cryptominers, fingerprinters and all the other trackers are blocked by default.

Firefox Preview performance improvements and the Enhanced Tracking Protection make browsing speedy and calm. It’s a great native ad-blocker out of the box.

Just like on Firefox for desktop, the mobile version blocks all the intrusive advertising as the side effect of blocking all the tracking. There are no banners, no pop-ups and any of the other distractions as you browse the web.

Note that some contextual and mostly text-based ads that have no third-party tracking still do show up on sites such as YouTube and Twitter. It’s a simple switch to turn off the tracking protection for a particular site. Just like on the desktop.

Deleting browsing data

Firefox Preview makes it easy to delete all the data. You have these options in “Settings”:

  • Delete browsing data on quit“. Enable this for Firefox to clear all the data you wish such as cookies and history every time you quit the browser.
  • You can also choose to delete the data at any time using the “Delete browsing data” section. History, cookies, cache and more can all be deleted at any time that you wish.
  • In the “Set as default browser” section, you can enable Firefox to “Open links in a private tab” by default. This way, all the data is erased immediately and nothing is kept in the browser. It’s also easy to open a private tab at any time using the shortcut on the home page.
  • Telemetry is on by default but you can go into the “Data collection” section to turn it off if you wish to do so.
  • Firefox containers are not built-into Firefox Preview yet but first party isolation is. Turn on “privacy.firstparty.isolate” in about:config. Switch it to “true” so all the data is isolated to the domain you navigated to. Every site has its own container with this feature on.

Clutter-free browsing and reading

Browsing and reading on the web is a pleasure on Firefox Preview:

  • Reader View” option shows up in the main menu on pages it’s available for. Simply switch it on to enter the reader mode. It’s also easy to customize the “appearance” of the reader view by switching the font, font size and colors. A little blue dot will show on the menu button so it’s easier to recognize sites that the reader view is available for.
  • You can block all the distractions such as sites asking for access to the camera and microphone, location, web notifications and auto-play of audio and video in the “Site permissions” section in “Settings”.
  • You can use the “Open in app” option in the menu to open links in a relevant app for sites where it is relevant. For instance, if I’m on a Reddit thread in Firefox, by clicking on “Open in app”, that thread opens in a dedicated Reddit app I have on my phone.
  • In the “Accessibility” section of “Settings”, you can manage the font sizes in general and you can enable pinch and zoom on all sites.
  • The main feature I miss in Firefox Preview that’s available on the regular Firefox for mobile is the “tab queue“. It opens links in the background for later viewing without leaving the app you’re currently in. It saves them until the next time you open Firefox. Currently, as soon as you tap on a link in any app, Firefox Preview comes in focus.

Firefox Preview add-ons and uBlock Origin

Firefox Preview now has support for add-ons. Mozilla people know what’s the priority of many users so the first add-on supported is uBlock Origin ad-blocker. The idea is to support all the other add-ons too.

To enable uBlock Origin in Firefox Preview you need to use the Firefox Preview Nightly. Go into “Settings” and under “Advanced” click on “Add-ons”. Click on the “+” sign on the right of uBlock Origin to install it.

The next screen shows you the permissions needed to run it and you need to approve those by click on “Add”. You will get the confirmation message that you’ve “successfully installed uBlock Origin”. uBlock Origin starts working immediately and you can see the full details in the menu.

It’s a fully-featured uBlock Origin version. Everything you can do on the desktop version you can do on the Firefox Preview version too. Filters, rules, element picker, disable JavaScript, block web fonts and so on.

It’s a “preview” of things to come to the regular app

Remember that this is a brand new browser and it’s still just a “preview” of what’s going to be the next default Firefox for mobile.

Some things still need to be worked out but Firefox Preview is already a great mobile browser. Perhaps also the best browser there is on Android. You can now enjoy a faster, calmer and distraction-free browsing experience on your phone too.

By Marko Saric

Marko Saric

I help startups reach more people using content, search and social media marketing. If you have a marketing problem you’d like my help with, write me an email or find me on Twitter.

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