A smartphone’s usefulness is very dependent upon its web browser. In the prehistoric ages (all of five years ago), you were lucky if your smartphone could render images on a webpage, but now it’s possible to use your phone to view the internet in all of its glory – well, most of its glory. In the case of Android devices, there are a lot of browsers to choose from, and some are definitely better than others. We’ve decided to take Android’s most popular browsers and pit them against each other in an all out battle. We’ll be judging them based on rendering performance, web compatibility, viewing performance, features, and general ease of use. Here are the contenders:
The Default Browser
Android devices all come bundled with a browser of some sort, but manufacturers often add their own skins or mods, making the “default” browser a bit of an ambiguous term. By default, we mean stock, completely stock. This is the latest version, straight from Google itself, version 2.3.6 running atop Android Gingerbread version 2.3.6.
The popular desktop browser is available on Android, too. Opera Mobile offers many of the same features you find in a desktop browser with an emphasis on speed and ease of use. Those who use Opera on their PC will love Opera Mobile’s streamlined integration and effortless syncing features.
Don’t be fooled by the name; Opera Mini isn’t a lightweight version of Opera Mobile (like Dolphin Mini is for Dolphin HD). Opera Mini is actually an entirely different kind of browser, highly optimized for web browsing on a mobile connection. All of the heavy lifting, such as page processing and images, are handled by Opera’s servers, highly compressed, and then sent onward to your smartphone. The result is a consistently fast browser, regardless of your connection speed or device hardware.
Firefox 7 just hit the Android scene, bringing with it speed upgrades and even more features. As one of the most loved browsers for desktop users, Firefox has the experience and resources to create one of the best mobile browsing environments possible.
Dolphin Browser HD
Despite its lack of a desktop driven following, Dolphin HD is the most downloaded full-feature browser on the Android platform. It offers a comprehensive interface as well as many features you won’t find in any other browsers.
Dolphin Browser Mini
For those who are just looking to browse the web without all of the bells and whistles, Dolphin Mini is a great place to start. Its minimalist design allows it to perform well even on older hardware. It also manages to retain many of the unique features available in the HD version.
Skyfire Web Browser 4.0
Like Opera Mini, Skyfire also processes web pages on its own servers first. While Opera Mini is very barebones, Skyfire attempts to blend together the features of a full-fledged browser with the speed of server-processed web pages; however, unlike all of our other browsers, Skyfire does charge a small fee (currently $2.99) to unlock all of its features.
All of the browsers were tested on a Samsung Nexus S with a “factory fresh” install of Android version 2.3.6. The browser settings were all left untouched, with the sole exception of tests that required certain features to be temporarily enabled. Although referenced for some browsers, no add-ons were installed during any of our tests.