The Best Mobile Phone Web Browser?
I use both Firefox and the Google Chrome browser on my desktop computer, so I miss some of the features they offer when I'm using my tablet or smartphone. We have both iPhone and Android devices in our home, and would love to have the same browser across all of them. What do you recommend?
Alternative Browsers for Smartphones and Tablets
I understand where you're coming from, and I agree that a common web browser experience across all devices would be a good thing. The good news is that you're not stuck with the web browser that comes standard on your mobile phone, iPad or Android tablet.
The iPhone comes with a mobile version of Apple's Safari browser, which should be familiar to folks who have an Apple Mac or MacBook. Android phones have a browser that's cleverly named "Browser". It's not Google Chrome, as you might expect. The real surprise here is that both iPhone's Safari and the Android mobile browser are based on the same open-source WebKit code. These no-frills default browsers get the job done, but there are alternatives for those who prefer something different, and for those who seek a mobile browser that affords some of the comforts of the familiar desktop browser.
The Dolphin Browser HD is probably the most popular alternative browser for Android phones. It offers a lot of bells and whistles in the basic package, and it is extensible with a large number of addons. Add-ons let you view PDFs, adjust the theme, manage passwords, and more. The Mini version of Dolphin is a stripped-down browser optimized for speed. There is also a version for tablets although it's still in beta testing.
Firefox for Android has many of the features that desktop Firefox users love: tabs, an extensive addon library, and the ability to sync your bookmarks and passwords so they're available wherever you go. It also has geolocation built in, so you'll get more relevant search results when you're out and about. Firefox can share pages with other apps and even use desktop add-ons. One feature you might like is the ability to swipe to the left and bookmark a website with one touch.
On the downside, it needs a powerful processor so it may not be suitable for lower-end Android phones. Also, some users find that with Firefox mobile, it's difficult to tap a link and open it. I confirmed this on my new dual-processor Droid Bionic. Sometimes tapping a link did nothing at all, even when the screen was magnified. Sometimes it just highlighted the link, but didn't open it. Usually, repeated tapping would open the link. I found this annoying enough to rule out using Firefox on my smartphone, even though it offered the feature I wanted most - syncing my bookmarks and passwords across the desktop and mobile divide. To be fair, lots of people seem to love Firefox for Android, so this may be a hardware issue that affects only certain devices.
Opera Mobile and Mini are also bandwidth savers. Web pages can be routed through Opera's servers where they are compressed before being delivered to your phone. The mobile versions of Opera include desktop amenities such as Speed Dial.
SkyFire uses a compression scheme similar to Opera's. It also includes social features such as the ability to "like" a Web page with a single click on the SkyFire menu bar. Its Popular Pages tab shows you at a glance what content is most read within your social circles. There is also a feed reader that consolidates feeds from Facebook and other social networks.
The Miren browser for Android is a lean, mean app built for speed and simplicity. A handy bandwidth saving feature loads only the text from Web pages, something you'll appreciate if you are paying by the megabyte, or your connection is very slow due to a weak signal. Another feature allows downloading of files only when on WiFi. This can save your bacon if your cellular data plan is metered.
Web Browsers for iOS Devices
You might assume that since Firefox is available for Mac OS X desktops and laptops, that there would be "an app for that" on your iPhone or iPad. Unfortunately, there is no Firefox browser for iOS devices. There is an app called Firefox Home, but it's not a web browser. Firefox Home is a convenience app that may still be useful for iOS users, because it gives convenient access to your desktop Firefox bookmarks, history and tabs. This can save you time when typing (or trying to remember) the URLs for websites that you've visited on your desktop.
Alternative browsers for the iOS platform (iPhone and iPad) include iCab Mobile. It features tabbed browsing, a download manager that helps you transfer downloaded files to your computer, Dropbox online storage integration, full-screen browsing mode, lots of extensions, private browsing, and more.
Opera Mini runs very well on iPhones and iPads. In fact, in the App Store description for this app, they call it "the fastest, most cost-efficient web-browsing experience for your iOS device". Interesting features include a data usage meter, predictive typing, domain suggestions, auto-correct and instant bookmarking by tapping the star in the address box.
Mercury includes many of iCab Mobile's features, including Dropbox integration, plus more. Ad blocking is in there, along with the ability to fool Web sites into delivering the desktop versions of pages if you don't like the formatting of mobile versions.
There's a SkyFire browser for iPhones and it's one of the few ways in which you can view Flash movies on an iPhone. Not all Flash-dispensing Web sites are supported by SkyFire, but many are. This browser also supports sharing on Facebook and Twitter.
One Browser to Rule Them All?
So when it comes to mobile browsers, you do have choices. But there's still no perfect solution to the "same browser across all platforms" wish. If you're a PC or Mac desktop user with an Android device, the Firefox browser comes close. The caveats here are sluggish performance and the "tap to open links" problem I mentioned above. For Apple-only users, I'd recommend sticking with the standard Safari browser on both desktop and mobile. The downside is that Safari on the iPhone lacks tabs, but tabs are present on the iPad.
Opera actually seems to come closest to providing a seamless browser experience across desktop, Android and iOS mobile devices. It is available for both Windows and Mac, but it has such a small market share, that I wonder about its long-term viability.
What's your opinion about the best browser for mobile phones and/or tablets? Post your comment or question below...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 6 Feb 2012
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