Battle of the Browsers: Android Browser vs. Firefox 4.0b5

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With Firefox Mobile for Android hitting another beta milestone, it’s time to start looking at which is better, the built-in Browser, or Firefox Mobile 4.0b5.

But how do you measure “better”? Is a browser “better” if it scores higher in various web-standards tests? Of if it’s “better” at rendering javascript? Or faster at loading pages? Or at loading pages that are easier to use? Let’s go take a look in this in-depth video!

Before you jump in, we’ll run through some history and background, including a section on why web-standards are important, then through several tests and benchmarking utilities, and we’ll finish up with perceived speeds and how much space each app takes up. Because it’s an in depth video, here’s a table-of-contents for you, so you can jump right to the segment that you’re most interested in:

0:56 Web-Standards

3:51 Browsers

4:46 Why Speed Matters

6:07 On to the tests!

7:10 App Launch Speed

7:50 Acid 2 Test

8:37 Acid 3 Test

9:10 HTML5 Test

10:00 Vulnerability Test

11:21 SunSpider Test

14:47 Perceived Speed

16:57 Installed Size

Web-Standards: What are they, where did they come from, and why are they important?

Web-standards are the set of rules developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that all web pages should abide by to make sure that the code a web developer writes shows up the same in all browsers. Not all browsers support the same set of standards, and some support the same standard in different ways.

This is most apparent when looking at the desktop version of Microsoft Internet Explorer compared to just about every other browser out there. Developers have to jump through hoops to make their pages look “right” in MSIE, for example. (If you’re interested in web-standards you can read more at JoeTheWebGuy.net)

Browsers: What browsers are out there?

On Android-powered devices there are several browsers for you to choose from, but most people are going to stick with the built-in Browser app. Other browsers for Android include Dolphin, Opera, and SkyFire. On the desktop, you may be familiar with the Firefox browser. The muscle behind Firefox is the Mozilla Foundation, and they’ve been trying to get a version of Firefox onto mobile devices for quite some time. Originally called Fennec, Firefox Mobile for Android is nearing completion, though still in beta.

Why Speed Matters

When we talk about speeds most of us think about how fast the Internet connection is: GPRS, EDGE, 3G, 4G, Wi-Max, LTE, Wi-Fi, etc. While that certainly has a lot to do with how fast web pages load, the browser’s rendering and javascript engines have a lot to do with speed as well. Couple this with smartphones being restricted on processor speed and RAM, and add to it the need to intelligently scale pages to fit on a much smaller screen, and you can see where a fast browser is even more important in your hand than on your desk.

On to the tests!

To make sure we’re comparing Apples to Apples (if you’ll pardon the pun) I’m running the same custom ROM on my Nexus One and on my G2, they’re both connected to the same Wi-Fi access point, and I’ve set the CPU clock speed to the same on both devices. Doing all this will hopefully equalize the platforms such that the results of our tests are based on the only remaining variable: the apps.

App Launch Speed

You may take it for granted, but launching an app for the first time after you’ve rebooted takes some time. Most of the time this is very fast, but check out the video and you’ll see that Firefox Mobile takes significantly longer to load and bring up the homepage than does Browser.

Acid 2 Test: www.webstandards.org/files/acid2/test.html

Back to web-standards. To determine how good a browser is at correctly interpreting what a web developer wants their page to look like, the Web Standards Project (WaSP) has put together some tests. The first is the Acid 2 test where a simple “hello world” and smiley face are supposed to be rendered.

In this test Firefox Mobile did just fine, Browser didn’t even render it.

Acid 3 Test: www.webstandards.org/action/acid3/

Acid 3 is a much more in depth test by the WaSP that goes beyond a simple display (as we saw in the Acid 2 test), and actually shows you a percentage score of how well your browser did (or didn’t) do.

In this test a higher score is better. Browser scored 93/100, Firefox Mobile scored 97/100.

HTML5 Test: HTML5Test.com

HTML5 is the latest HTML specification (and recently renamed to just “HTML”, but we’ll use the term “HTML5” just so everyone knows what we’re referring to). HTML5 brings a lot of new markup and technologies to the table.

In this test a higher score is better. Browser scored 176/300 +1 bonus point, Firefox Mobile scored 207/300 +9 bonus points.

Vulnerability Test

The web is like the Old West, if you don’t look where you’re going you can get into trouble — fast. That trouble can come in the form of a malicious web page (or a malicious ad on an otherwise benign web page) that attempts to attack your computer or smartphone though a vulnerability in the web browser.

A word of caution: this site will attempt to crash your browser and possibly your computer. Use it at your own risk! If you still want to give it a shot, type this into your address bar: bcheck.scanit.be

Neither browser failed this test.

SunSpider Test: www.webkit.org/perf/sunspider/sunspider.html

SunSpider is a javascript benchmarking tool that tests the core javascript language. It’s designed to run real-world tests that are balanced across different areas of the language, and should be statistically sound and unbiased. It’s not exciting to watch but spits out a pretty detailed report.

In this test faster is better. Browser took 4710.4ms to run, Firefox Mobile took 2778.9ms to run, but didn’t display the tests as they were running.

Installed Size

According to the Manage Apps section in Android Settings, Browser uses 344KB in application storage, Firefox Mobile uses 13.51MB.

Generally speaking, apps that do essentially the same thing should be essentially the same size. If one is particularly bigger than the other it either includes features the other doesn’t, or is using inefficient code. In this case the former likely explains the size discrepancy.

Perceived Speed

Of course what it all comes down to is perceived speed: how fast does each browser appear to work to the user.

When visiting various pages Browser generally presented usable pages faster than did Firefox Mobile, and resulting pages seemed to look more like their respective developers intended.

Those are our results and impressions. We’re interested to hear about yours! Please let us know in the comments below!

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy".By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video.Read more about Joe Levi here.