- James Thornton |
- May 20, 2010
If you're still using the default web browser built into your Android phone then you could be missing out. Granted, it's fast and functional, but it's not the easiest way to look at the web on your phone, and it lacks the features of some of the other browsers that are available. Here are some alternatives that you should try out if you want a faster and more comfortable way to browse the web on your Google-powered phone.
One of the first web browsers to hit the Android market, Opera Mini is already a popular, trusted name on many other mobile platforms. I recommend you check out version 5 Beta of the app, which borrows a lot from the excellent desktop version of Opera.
I reckon the user interface in Opera Mini is much more usable than Android's rather clunky browser. The speed dial feature lets you set up on-click shortcuts to up-to nine of your favorite sites. Mini supports tabbed browsing, meaning you can switch between the different pages you have open very quickly and easily.
Other navigational aids have also been added, such as an auto-complete feature in the address bar, and a built-in search bar. Unfortunately this search bar only supports Google and is not customizable with other search engines.
Page load times are very impressive, thanks to Opera's server-side rendering technology. Before being served to the browser, sites are run through a compression test on the Opera server's making them load super quickly.
Opera Mini is rammed with options and settings, too. You can alter image quality, font size, and screen orientation, and there is a wealth of privacy settings too. As you'd expect, there's support for bookmarks and browser history, too. Pros: Fast performance, speed dial, tabbed browsing, lots of options, address auto-complete Cons: Search bar not customizable, some minor bugs
Skyfire is an interesting alternative, notably because it's the only Android browser that supports Flash video. You can use the browser to watch clips on YouTube, Google Video, Vimeo, and more. The FLV support isn't perfect though, and some sites such as Hulu, CBS and Fox block Skyfire from accessing their video content. Skyfire supports other web standards such as Ajax, Java, and HTML 5.
Skyfire has a menu bar at the top of the screen where you can quickly access all the features for bookmarking pages, accessing settings and managing open tabs. Interestingly, cycling through the tabs you have open in Skyfire is a very similar experience to Safari on the iPhone, allowing you to quickly flick through pages and launch new ones with the tap of a button.
There are some other innovative features in Skyfire that you might find useful. There's a Load As function that lets you view pages as if you were looking on a desktop browser or an iPhone. The Explore button at the bottom of the screen displays latest content related to the page you're viewing, from Facebook, Twitter, Digg and StumbleUpon.
Thanks to its slick rendering engine, the Skyfire browser is pretty fast, although that doesn't mean it's perfect. It can sometimes behave strangely and force closes at times. The buttons are quite unresponsive at times, and the zoom feature is a bit jerky. Pros: Flash video support, quick page rendering, Explore feature, Smooth tab management tool Cons: Unstable and unresponsive at times, doesn't support all Flash content
Fennec, or Firefox Mobile as its familiarly known, is primed to be an exceptional Android browser. Currently in pre-alpha release, Fennec is very unstable and almost unusable at times, but when it works, it's very, very good.
The browser bears very little resemblance to the desktop version of Firefox, but it does adopt some of the great features made famous by the browser. For instance, pages can be opened simultaneously in the form of tabs, which you access by sliding the screen across to reveal a panel on the left-hand side. Fennec tabs can be opened, closed and switched around as easily as they can in Firefox.
The most interesting thing about Fennec is its support for extensions, or Mobile Add-ons, as their called in the app. As in Firefox these allow you to power up the Android browser with more functionality. Some of the cool tools already on offer include YouTube Enabler, which turns on Flash video for Android; TwitterBar, which lets you tweet from the Fennec address bar; and AdBlock Plus, which removes adverts from your browsing experience.
Other useful tools built into Fennec include a slick bookmarks manager, address auto-complete, and a customizable start page. However, Firefox Mobile is still lagging behind Opera Mini and Skyfire when it comes to features. Also, the zoom feature in Fennec is much more cumbersome than in these other two browsers.
Given time though, and once all the bugs have been weaseled out by Mozilla's crack team of developers, Fennec has the potential to be the greatest browser on the Android platform. Pros: Supports add-ons, user-friendly interface, powerful bookmark management, address auto-complete Cons: Very unstable, poor zoom function
For the moment, I would choose Opera Mini over anything else, but feel free to disagree with me and argue the case for a different Android web browser.