Web

Firefox Quantum review

Fast, clean and private, Firefox Quantum makes Chrome look old

Firefox has been playing catch-up ever since Google Chrome captured the desktop and mobile markets with its blend of functionality and speed. Now, Mozilla is aiming to leapfrog its competitor with Firefox Quantum, an update to the bones of Firefox that makes it far faster and more privacy-focused, helping to deliver a leaner, swifter-loading web browsing experience.

Now that the full release is out and available for download, we took it for a spin to see how it holds up.

A modern browser for a modern web

One of the first things you might notice when you fire up Firefox Quantum is the new logo. It’s livelier than it used to be, a bit more colorful, and a lot more modern, like the browser itself.

Sleeker and cleaner, with crisp lines and a minimalist aesthetic, Quantum feels like a modern browser should.

Firefox Quantum looks and feels like a modern browser. It’s sleeker and cleaner, with crisp lines and a minimalist aesthetic. It even puts Chrome’s brand of minimalism to shame — by comparison, Chrome looks a bit dated. It can feel it at times too. Mozilla boasts faster page load times than Chrome by a noticeable margin.

If you take advantage of its new anti-tracker technology, Mozilla claims it can cut Chrome’s page load times in half.

While we didn’t always notice such a dramatic effect in our time using the latest version of Firefox Quantum, it does feel snappy, and pages that are packed with (blocked) trackers will certainly finish loading far faster than if you let everything load. Modern web browsing is plagued by this tracker tax, and it’s something a number or organizations are actively working to fix. Sometimes that means missing out on certain ads or website features, but you can always whitelist those.

It certainly doesn’t make Firefox Quantum feel alien or hard to wrap your head around. Thanks to Mozilla’s internal project “Photon,” Firefox Quantum feels a bit more intuitive than other browsers. Even if you haven’t used Firefox for years, jumping into Quantum feels just familiar enough that you know where everything is, but different enough that you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised by little design flourishes here and there.

Alongside all of the usual privacy options, Firefox Quantum also has built-in anti-tracker protection for users.

You’ll find some quality of life changes too. With Pocket fully integrated into the browser, you don’t need to set up an external add-on to save pages to read for later. This feature is one shared by Microsoft Edge, but it’s not common. Menus are easier to navigate, and the search bar offers helpful suggestions, without getting in your way or digging deep into your personal data.

While the default URL-bar search engine is Yahoo, you can change that to any of a wide variety of options and even click the logo of any you select at the base of the URL bar to decide which you want to use. Great for those who occasionally want the additional privacy protections offered by something like DuckDuckGo, or just want to limit their search to Amazon or Wikipedia.

Mozilla also recently made it easier to jump back into a past browsing experience, even after a restart or shut down. In the August 61.02 release of Firefox Quantum, it introduced an option to automatically restore your Firefox session after Windows boots back up.

Privacy first

Although the Mozilla Foundation has always been keen on championing privacy, the latest version of Firefox Quantum has a number of neat features to improve that further. When eyebrows are regularly raised over Google’s user tracking, that may be something that is worth switching browsers for.

Firefox Quantum is the first web browser that actively taps into the power of your computer’s multi-core processor.

Alongside all of the usual cookie options and “Do Not Track” request possibilities, Firefox Quantum also has built-in anti-tracker protection. This is something that Firefox first offered as part of its private browsing mode, but you can now enjoy its enhancements during everyday browsing too. It does mean that the odd web-service or advert doesn’t load properly as they require more information from you to function, but it also results in a faster web browsing experience. Better yet, the websites you visit won’t be able to harvest as much information about you.

That sort of functionality is only available in other browsers with add-ons and extensions, making Firefox Quantum arguably the most privacy-focused of the main browser options.

Streamlined for speed

Web browsing, and its perceived speed, is bottlenecked by three factors — your internet connection, your computer, and your browser. The Mozilla Corporation can’t roll out gigabit fiber to everyone’s doorstep any more than it can buy everyone a new computer every year, but it can make sure Firefox leverages every possible advantage. The tracker-stripped browsing experience of the latest Firefox Quantum release is just the latest example of that focus on speed.

But Firefox Quantum was built to be fast from its first release in 2018. It’s the first web browser that actively taps into the power of your computer’s multi-core processor. Most browsers, like Chrome, aren’t coded with attention to multi-core chips. Given the speed of modern multi-core processors, that isn’t a problem you typically run into unless you’re using lots of tabs. But if you do, and if you are, having some extra headroom due to clever browser optimization is of great importance. Firefox Quantum does just that.

This smart resource allocation means Firefox Quantum is technically the quickest browser on the market, depending on your benchmark. For instance, on the Kraken 1.1 JavaScript test, Chrome 68 finished the test in an average of 1051 milliseconds after three runs. Firefox Quantum 61 finished the same test in an average of 885 milliseconds after three runs.

Firefox Quantum offers the most secure online browsing experience of the big options right now.

Beating Chrome on speed tests is great for advertising, but shaving a few milliseconds off of how long it takes to load up Reddit isn’t that important, and Mozilla knows that. It’s playing the long game now, building a browser that will perform great today, yet also scales with the speed of future hardware.

By offering robust anti-tracker technology built in to the browser, Mozilla is also focusing on what’s important about the web browsing experience: The content you want to see.

Because of Quantum’s careful allocation of resources, it also typically uses less of your RAM than the competition — this is the resource browsers like Chrome rely on heavily for their speed. This innovation, paired with the ubiquity of multi-core processors, means Firefox Quantum isn’t just faster today. It’s likely to maintain speedier over time, without having to horde your PC’s resources.

Multi-core processors are already common, and as chips like AMD’s ludicrous Threadripper 2000-series (with up to 32 cores!) shows, they’re going to become even more common and reach even higher core counts, at lower price points in the future. By rebuilding the engine at the heart of Firefox, Mozilla clearly hopes to take advantage of that. After all, what use is a 16-core processor if you’re only using one core for web browsing?

Other speed innovations are always coming down the pipeline too. The June 2018 Firefox release offered faster tab switching thanks to improvements to the Quantum CSS.

Is it worth switching to Firefox Quantum?

As much as Quantum is a new and improved version of Firefox, it is still, at its heart, the classic Firefox. That means you’re never going to have quite the same level of Google integration you get from Chrome, though you can import your Chrome settings and bookmarks flawlessly. For some people, that alone is what matters.

If that doesn’t bother you or you’re more interested in a private browsing experience, Firefox Quantum offers the most secure online browsing experience of the big options right now. It feels fast and performs well in simple benchmarks and with its own robust set of add-ons, there’s nothing we’ve come across that other browsers can do that Firefox Quantum can’t.

With that in mind, we think Firefox Quantum is definitely worth a look if you’re a little tired of Chrome, Edge, or Safari. It’s certainly a comparable experience to any of them, and is noticeably better in some areas. If you still aren’t convinced, here’s one last benefit of choosing Quantum: There is always an inherent advantage of less popular browsers since malware authors tend to write viruses for the most common software. That’s an added level of security that Firefox probably won’t be advertising anytime soon.

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