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Fenix is not a rebirth but a regression

This will be a rant. Couple days ago, I upgraded the apps on my phone. Firefox for Android, my phone browser of choice, got a major upgrade. It went from the old codebase Fennec, to the new codebase Fenix, built on GeckoView, which had been on testing for a while in Firefox Preview, Firefox Nightly and Firefox Beta.

The first obvious change is that the URL bar is now at the bottom. But fear not, this is configurable. When starting the new browser for the first time, it will ask a bunch of things, one of which is “where do you want the bar, top or bottom”? Issue is, having the bar on top is buggy. It has not received enough testing, neither from a technical Point of View nor from a usability point of view.

The first problem is serious: websites break with the URL bar on top. There’s an issue open for twitter already, but other websites break in similar ways due to the viewport height changes. When the URL bar is on top and you scroll down, it hides to leave more room to read. This happens too with the bar at the bottom though, so I don’t know. Hope it can get fixed soon.

Second problem: tabs

screenshot of the tab display

First, how many tabs do I have open? 6? No, 7, look at that tiny piece of a tab showing its foot at the very top. Second, how come only one of the thumbnails works? No idea. Fallback to favicons? Or are those out of fashion? What’s the point of the foldable thing that comes from below? I can just click back at my tab if I want to go back to it. Fennec’s square tabs made much better use of my space.

Third problem: navigating to a new website on a new tab. Which is, like, the #1 thing you want to optimize UI for. On fennec, you would click twice on the “tabs” button, and then again on the same spot, because that button just became the new tab “+” button. Two taps on the same spot to go to the empty tab screen, then either:

  • click on one of your (automatic or pinned) top sites;
  • easily and obviously reach for bookmarks or history; or
  • tap just left of where you just tapped to pop out the keyboard and start typing.

Now, if you have your URL bar at the top (which I would very much prefer) you have to tap up at the tabs button, then on the round blue button at the other end of the screen to open the tab. If you have the bar at the bottom, it’s more or less two taps at the same spot still.

The new tab screen is an empty landscape. Bookmarks? History? No, just manually pinned top sites or “collections”. But hey, at least we don’t have to hunting in settings for the option to disable Pocket. So we just tap on the URL bar… or is it a google bar? Anyway, no suggestions under it yet: let’s type.

I tend to open twitter often, on my phone. I type a t. I get autocompleted, with the rest selected so that I may keep typing. I don’t usually go to translate on my phone (I use the app), but hey it’s all on firefox sync so whatever. Below the bar are suggestions for the Transmission Web Interface (starts with a t), and then… Presura? How in hell? Ok, “Revista” has a t, but seriously?

Ok let’s keep typing: w for tw. Autocompletion for Suggestions for, and The Pirate Bay, which has software somewhere in the <title>. Then actually twitter. Seriously, how is this sorted? Only after typing twitt does it give up on twitch. It’s not sorted on time since the last visit, it doesn’t prioritize text being at the start of words.

Oh, and the preselected text means that if you mistype a letter you will have to press backspace twice, once for the selection of something you don’t want, and once for the letter you mistyped. Same as on desktop firefox really, but typos are a lot more common on mobile.

Fourth problem: downloads. Can’t find them. Starting to worry this version of firefox actually doesn’t have a downloads screen. Am I supposed to go look for an android file manager that isn’t shit and find the downloads folder?

And this is it for now. I guess I will edit this post with links to bug reports or workarounds I find. Now I’m just sad and frustrated. Maybe I should have cried and filed reports about all of this back when I tried Firefox Preview and found many of these same issues, but back at the time I just went back to stable and went on with my life.


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