Mozilla Firefox Quantum Review: More Fox, Less Fire
New Bottle, Old Wine
When Mozilla originally made the Quantum update for its Firefox browser official, I was one of the few early testers to jump onboard. In a hope to be finally free of the Chrome monarchy, I had high expectations for what Firefox’s new platform had to offer. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out well. Eventually, in a couple of days, I moved back to Chrome.
Firefox Quantum, however, is no longer in beta. A few weeks ago, Mozilla publicly rolled out the update. And in the original launch post, it made no bones about dethroning Chrome. I downloaded Firefox again to check if those initial hiccups have been squashed off and whether the company’s claims had any real-life veracity. It’s been more than a week since then and here’s what I think of it.
Note: This review was conducted on a late-2014 MacBook Pro running MacOS High Sierra.
The 57.0 update for Firefox almost revamps every bit of the browser you can think of. Design plays a major role and without a doubt, Firefox Quantum is the most aesthetically pleasing and modern browser you can install right now. It’s built using the company’s own design language called “Photon” which abandons the rusty old rounded interface in favor of a snazzy and more flat approach. Photon brings dramatic changes to each element of the browser including new playful animations, separate accents for differentiating the active tab, fresh themes, and subtle shadows to highlight layers.
Photon is also not only about how Firefox looks. It’s relatively more pragmatic than previous versions. Apart from placing components precisely where they would be the most helpful, it also allows you to customize a lot more than before. You can cherry-pick which elements should be on the toolbar by merely dragging and dropping them, how much space should be in between them and more.
Firefox Quantum’s refreshing new design represents the ethos of Mozilla’s redefined path and I have to say, I’m impressed. This is especially more apparent when you look at how little has changed with Chrome over the last years. Except for a new material design coat (which was delayed by a couple of years), Google seems to have forgotten about the front-end of its desktop browser.
However, if you’re anything like me, the design alone won’t convince you to switch. And that’s exactly where Firefox still falls a little short. Before that, let’s talk about how Mozilla has updated its browser for better performance. Firefox Quantum is loaded to the brim with under-the-hood upgrades. For starters, it features the company’s new in-house CSS engine — Stylo that takes better advantage of computers with multiple cores. In addition to that, the browser now prioritizes the tab you’re currently browsing by allocating more system resources to it. This essentially allows it to put the rest of the inactive tabs to sleep until you fire them up again and improve the rendering experience of the current one. Put together, Mozilla claims Firefox now consumes 30% less memory than Chrome.
Quantum Speeds… At a Cost
While all that sounds monumental on paper, real-life situations were significantly different during my week using it as my primary browser. First, the good stuff — The Firefox Quantum is quicker than Chrome at loading pages. It’s not a noticeable difference but it is indeed superior in certain scenarios. Unfortunately, that speed comes at a hefty cost. In my experience, Firefox Quantum was consuming way more memory and CPU than it should be. Twice that of Chrome in most cases. Believe it or not, this is the only program I’ve used because of which my computer (MacBook Pro, mid-2014) had to kick off the fans. Now, this could be easily a bug considering what Mozilla is claiming but for now, Chrome is still the most efficient browser.
Another drawback of Firefox right now is its inability to handle videos. The browser usually has troubles streaming HD content on websites such as YouTube. The situation is so severe that it just becomes unusable if there are other tabs opened as well. In the above image, both the browsers are playing the same 1080p videos on YouTube. Firefox is exhausting more than 1.5GB of RAM, while Chrome less than 500MB. That’s a massive difference and just not acceptable. Certainly worse than what Mozilla has been stating on its website. These differences won’t be obviously an issue if your computer has more than 8GB of RAM but for the rest, it’s an obvious dealbreaker.
Optimization bottlenecks like these are, in fact, reminiscent of Firefox’s previous versions. Now, with Quantum, all that’s changed is just the browser is considerably snappier. Since the company has integrated a bunch of homebrewed frameworks to make it all possible, critical bugs are bound to exist. I’ll be certainly interested to check on it again after a few months.
Moreover, it suffers from this weird bug which doesn’t render minor graphic elements in a page along with the entire website. For instance, profile pictures on Twitter will load a couple of seconds after I begin scrolling through the feed. Furthermore, I was not able to control web players like Google Play Music with the keyboard’s playback keys. This problem could have been resolved with a third-party add-on but a substantial number of plugins have not been updated to be compatible with Firefox 57. Transitions between switching tabs also take an extra second which could be because of the new animations.[pullquote]You might think I’m nitpicking here but all of these together fabricate an unbearable experience, at least for me.[/pullquote]
So, yes, Firefox Quantum isn’t as powerful as Mozilla says. But it can be. If the team manages to polish out even half of these shortcomings, it can certainly leave Chrome behind in the dust. It took years for Google to fix the performance inconsistencies its browser was always criticized for. Hence, we never know how long before Firefox becomes the platform Mozilla is promising at the moment. These hiccups could have been easily overlooked in a world where competing browsers like Chrome didn’t exist. But, not in this one.
I’m also not the only one facing these issues. Mozilla’s forums are swamped with posts discussing similar performance topics. Therefore I hope the company addresses them before people move on (again).
Firefox Quantum currently also fails to one-up Chrome as far as battery life is concerned. While with Chrome my computer is normally able to churn out almost six hours, Firefox hardly lets me browse for four on a single charge. These numbers, of course, will vary depending on your computer’s specifications and operating system.
Moving away from the performance, Firefox’s other cornerstone lies in the privacy department. There is a slew of privacy filters and options you can look into such as tracking protection, blocking deceptive content and more. Although Firefox is known to be generally better at handling its user’s privacy, most of these features are available in Chrome as well now.
There are a bunch of nifty utilities the new Firefox Quantum packs. One of these is a built-in screenshot tool that automatically detects various sections of a website such as paragraphs, headings and lets you capture them without fiddling around with the crop function. There’s also a reader mode on both the desktop and mobile apps. Moreover, you can send tabs across these platforms if you’re signed in. Collections like Bookmarks, Downloads are now tucked away in a unified section called “Library” which yields a more clean interface.
The mobile app also went through a similar makeover. It’s fine for the most part but like its desktop counterpart, it has a range of issues as well. The most prominent one of them is the fact that it sometimes loads desktop versions of websites even if you have the option disabled. Again, needs a few updates before I can recommend it to everyone.
With Firefox Quantum, Mozilla is certainly headed the right way. But is it too late? Google Chrome is no longer the RAM-hungry browser it used to be. As I said, it now uses even less memory than its counterparts. In addition to that, it’s also a lot more consistent in terms of performance than others. The only thing I feel Google now needs to do is overhaul the archaic design which, even after the Material Design refresh, didn’t quite become the looker I was expecting it to be.[pullquote]Mozilla’s new Firefox Quantum browser tries too hard to dethrone Chrome and fails[/pullquote]
Truth be told, I genuinely want Firefox to come on top because I’ve been fed up with Chrome. And it’s not because Chrome is impeding my computer’s performance or draining too much battery, I’m just … bored. Chrome has been my primary browser since I can remember and I’ve tried every other platform from Safari to Opera but none of them are coherent enough to replace the oh-so-mighty Chrome. Firefox Quantum has the potential, it has the speed, now all it needs to figure out is how to bring to them all together without messing up the essentials.