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Firefox 4 Mobile beta browser for Android available for download

Firefox has taken its next step in creating a proper mobile browser, with the release of a beta version of Fennec for Android and Maemo.

A full version of Firefox for mobile is a step closer to reality, as Mozilla has made a beta release of Fennec available to download for Android and Maemo.

Firefox 4 Mobile is compatible with Android 2.0 and above, as well as Maemo on the Nokia N900. An alpha version of the Firefox mobile browser -- named after an incredibly cute African fox -- has been available since the end of August. Built on the same technology platform as Firefox for the desktop, Fennec comes with advanced features such as Firefox Sync, add-ons and the awesome bar.

Firefox Sync is particularly important if you use Firefox on the desktop, as it allows you import your browsing history, bookmarks, tabs, passwords and form-fill data to your mobile phone.

Veteran Firefox users will be familiar with the awesome bar, which lets you use the URL field of your browser to do a keyword search of your history, bookmarks and Google. They'll also know about add-ons, with which you can customise your browser by downloading extra pieces of software.

The beta release has new features, such as the ability to pinch to zoom on multitouch-capable handsets. For the Maemo N900, you use the volume rocker to zoom in and out. The Fennec beta should also be more speedy and responsive than the alpha version, with improvements in scrolling, zooming and animations.

Mozilla mobile engineer Matt Brubeck, in a blog post, said the ability to sync data was one of the reasons Fennec was unique as an Android browser. He added Fennec runs JavaScript much faster than the Android 2.1 browser, and was starting to overtake the Android 2.2 browser on particular benchmarks.

Firefox for Android also uses the same Gecko engine as the desktop Firefox 4. The other browsers on Android use the WebKit rendering engine, and Mozilla moving away from this allows it to support a number of different features. Brubeck said Fennec still needed a lot of work, with future releases having changes such as a new Android skin, reduced installation size and more speed improvements.

Just don't expect an iPhone version, as Mozilla would have to completely rewrite its code, which it isn't willing to do. If you need to sync your Firefox data to your iPhone, Firefox Home is an option. It's free to download and shouldn't eat up your phone, so why not have a go? Let us know what you think of it in the comments.