Your Android’s default browser is fine, but if it’s your only option, 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 if you want a faster and more comfortable way to browse the web on your Google phone.
One of the first web browsers to hit the Android market, Opera Mini is already a trusted name on many other mobile platforms.
Opera Mini is much more usable than Android’s rather clunky browser. The speed dial feature lets you set up on-click shortcuts to your favorite sites. Other navigational aids have also been added, such as an auto-complete feature in the address bar, and a built-in search bar.
Page load times are very impressive, too. Before being served to the browser, sites are run through a compression test on the Opera servers, 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 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.
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
Firefox on Android is designed to provide a smoother web browsing experience. The Firefox for Android app has gone through a huge number of changes, but seems to be gradually coming to a more stable resting point.
How does Firefox look on a mobile? The browser looks a lot like Firefox for Windows. For instance, pages can be opened simultaneously in the form of tabs, which you access by tapping the number icon next to the address bar. It’s an intuitive way to control multiple tabs without filling the screen.
Another neat feature of Firefox for Android is its support for Firefox Sync. This grants you access to all the bookmarks, history and running tabs of the desktop version of Firefox, so you don’t have to worry about entering addresses manually.
Pros: Add-ons, nice interface, sync support
Cons: Some minor bugs, bad reputation
Dolphin Browser is a fast and easy-to-use web browser for Android phones. There aren’t a huge amount of advanced features built into Dolphin Browser, which may be part of the reason for its streamlined performance. The ones that are there, however, are very useful, and you can beef up its capabilities by installing add-ons. Among the downloadable extras are a password manager, YouTube search, ad blocker and Google Translate.
The latest version of Dolphin Browser adds even more support for touch gestures. This allows you to draw a letter or a symbol on the screen to access a particular site or perform a function. For example, writing an ‘f’ will open Facebook; or drawing left and right arrows will move you back or forward through pages. You can even create your own custom gestures!
Pros: speedy, good tab options, multi-touch support, lots of add-ons
Cons: Some small visual bugs
Much like its partner for desktops, Chrome is dedicated to loading websites and allowing you to browse quickly. If you’ve used Chrome before, Chrome on Android will be familiar. The interface is optimized for small screens and most websites load in their native versions, meaning you are not going to be looking at mobile versions of sites.
As always with Chrome, it looks good and loads fast. It’s got all the benefit of Chrome sync and bookmarks, meaning that if you also use the browser on other platforms, browsing the web on your mobile device is a seamless experience. That said, many users complain about more recent versions, lamenting the fact that it seems buggy and has an irritating tendency to crash. Give it a try and see if you’ve got the same issues.
Pros: speedy, Chrome sync, excellent bookmark management
Cons: Some users report frequent crashes
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.
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[Original article published May 20, 2010]