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The Great Android Browser Face-Off

The Great Android Browser Face-Off
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You might be satisfied with the stock Android browser, but what if we told you there was a better way to surf the web on your phone? Here are six other web browsers for Android, tested and examined.

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.

Opera Mobile

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.

Opera Mini

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

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.

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  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , November 4, 2011 4:30 AM
    You said stock browser, how about the hardware accelerated browser on the Samsung Galaxy S II?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 4, 2011 10:05 AM
    Nexus S has a single-core A8 processor ... which probably is the most widespread platform. But I don't think that the browsers' performance on it is representative for the dual-core A9 platforms that are all the rage this days. Not to mention that the customizations to the default browsers that are made by Samsung or for the Tegra2+Honeycomb platforms. I think there are both dual-core rendering optimizations, and specific GPU optimizations in the default browser for Honeycomb+Tegra2.

    I think you should mention that you were testing on a popular platform, but a slightly older one.
  • 1 Hide
    darkchazz , November 4, 2011 12:45 PM
    KeyboardWarrirorYou said stock browser, how about the hardware accelerated browser on the Samsung Galaxy S II?

    Agreed, I have the S2 and the stock browser is silky smooth there's not a single hint of lag even when viewing hd flash video on youtube.

    Also I wonder why toms keeps praising firefox, it's very laggy even on the simplest websites , half baked, and crashes alot.

    Opera mobile is my alternative browser of choice, it's very smooth with excellent text reflow..
    I like Dolphin hd as well but there's a bit of lag when scrolling especially on complicated websites.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , November 4, 2011 1:38 PM
    I wonder why Miren Browser wasn't mentioned. I have been using it for quite a while and am very happy with it...
  • 2 Hide
    andywork78 , November 4, 2011 1:41 PM
    Tom's you forgot xScope and Boat. Does are good Browser too~ ^^
    Next time if you have a chance please test does browser too please
  • 1 Hide
    neve , November 4, 2011 3:39 PM
    I've tried most of these and I keep returning to xScope
  • 1 Hide
    gstar42 , November 4, 2011 5:25 PM
    I would like to know which browsers route all page requests through their own servers rather than directly from the specified URL. This is a security issue.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , November 4, 2011 8:45 PM
    I think you have to take into account the installed size and startup times for these packages. According to the market Firefox takes over 14 MB while Dolphin HD is around 3.25 MB. On an HTC Desire Firefox takes up 20% of the total available app space, is incredibly slow to start, shows a splash screen and does some strange font rendering where they blur into view as if they were bitmapped images. If I'm trying to hit a website while out and about on 3G, that's insta-fail. Dolphin starts instantly and does none of that stuff. I'm counting that as a solid win for Dolphin.
  • 1 Hide
    gnfishin , November 6, 2011 12:58 AM
    I assume the mobile page load speed tests were on 3g, however, I would like to have had the comparison made on LTE mobile (Verizon), as well. It is possible that the variations between browser page load speeds might be closer on the substantially faster Verizon 4g LTE network. While not available everywhere, yet, it is available in all major cities and all major airports and is expanding rapidly.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , November 6, 2011 9:27 AM
    As for the comparisons, it is very hard to do them, as none of the contenders are perfect but take very different approaches (see Mini for example), and you try to display pages that are meant to be for PCs. And for example in scrolling tests did you disable Flash? Because other way comparison to non-Flash supporting Firefox is not fair. In my experience, Opera Mobile's scrolling performance is superior to every other browser, and has the only scrolling experience without checkerboard. Opera Mobile also has Websocket support disabled by default (for security reasons).

    juliantz: I see your point but comparing Dolphin to Firefox/Opera for size is not valid, as Dolphin uses the default browser's engine (see HTML5 results for example), hence it saves some space as - the main - parts of it are already there in the Android system. Opera Mobile has a ARMv5 version available, which cuts down size significantly, see here: http://my.opera.com/operamobile/blog/the-components-of-opera-mobile-11-on-android
  • 1 Hide
    yonith , November 7, 2011 11:24 AM
    Great job on the article Paul, I very much enjoyed reading this.
  • -1 Hide
    Khimera2000 , November 7, 2011 2:01 PM
    Interesting, but there is a flaw. I have a Dual-Core Phone, and my brother has just moved over to a dual core phone. The flaw is the use of a single core phone. It makes this article non applicable to all tablets being released, all new dual-core phones being released, and the use of a single core phone makes an assumption that Toms Hardware holds the belief that Single Core will be the future, where we all know it wont.

    I think this article was written in a way to insure obsolescence a lot faster then most others simply because they chose a single core. Without the presence of Dual core phones how can we trust these conclusions, when we don't even know if they will hold up on hardware that was already released to the main stream? How can we declare which browser is better when we don't even know how they will perform on a new device? (like a PHONE UPGRADE)

    Until this review takes into account Multi-Core devices its conclusions are absolutely useless for my purposes, and the article should be re-titled to reflect the lack of hardware diversity in the testing. It is safe to assume that there are browsers out there that are going towards multi core, and GPU accelerated rendering. We all know that Flash is already accelerated on Android, and there are already plenty of articles talking about the benefits of multiple cores, to assume that a single core phone is the best representation of the norm feels short sighted, especially when that assumption falls flat when we look at near any other industry.
  • 1 Hide
    dconnors , November 7, 2011 4:08 PM
    Khimera2000and the use of a single core phone makes an assumption that Toms Hardware holds the belief that Single Core will be the future


    ...it does? Can you pass along whatever you're smoking, please?

    Using a single-core phone in this test does not mean we believe single-core phones are the future. What it DOES mean is that the majority of smartphones currently in circulation are single-core devices. Dual-core devices are coming out in droves now...but if you've had a phone for over six months now, it's probably a single-core device.

    -Devin Connors, Tom's Guide
  • 0 Hide
    quantumrand , November 7, 2011 10:34 PM
    KeyboardWarrirorYou said stock browser, how about the hardware accelerated browser on the Samsung Galaxy S II?


    The Nexus S is (until later this month) the latest pure Android device as Google intended. With Android, each manufacturer makes their own modifications. For instance, the Galaxy S II uses Samsung's TouchWiz interface with its own modified browser. The Nexus S with Android 2.3.6 is the latest truly stock Android browser.

    In the choice of using the Nexus S (rather than a more recent dual core devices), it was decided partly because the Nexus S features the latest version of Android and also because its performance represents a good average among other Android devices.

    Once more devices come out with Android version 4.0 (with system-wide hardware acceleration and many other features), perhaps an updated browser app comparison article will be in order.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 8, 2011 9:36 PM
    +1 for adding xScope Browser
    Also, please add Miren Browser to this testing
    Awesome information and summary, otherwise! Thanks!
  • 0 Hide
    Khimera2000 , November 9, 2011 2:09 AM
    dconnors...it does? Can you pass along whatever you're smoking, please?Using a single-core phone in this test does not mean we believe single-core phones are the future. What it DOES mean is that the majority of smartphones currently in circulation are single-core devices. Dual-core devices are coming out in droves now...but if you've had a phone for over six months now, it's probably a single-core device.-Devin Connors, Tom's Guide


    The title is still "The Great Android Browser Face-Off" hearing that title tells me the article should meet some goals. First it needs to reflect the software base... No complaint there that's a nice spread. It should reflect hardware that are popular, or reflect likely upgrade options. This is the point that's lacking. Sure a lot of phones 6 months and older are single core, however I know of at least 4 people around me that have upgraded to a dual core phone, I count at least 5 Tablets, all multicore, in some fashion in each of my classes, meaning there are at least 5 different people with tablets, and a mix of android phones and Ipads floating all over college campuses right now. There are people with dual core in hand, or upgrading right now.
    Yes there are plenty of single cores out there I am not going to deny that, however there are multi-core android users out there, and the number is growing at least in my experience. In my mind if it is not included in the benchmark, then the people making the bench don't consider it a significant factor for the future. Its that easy, if its not reflected then how are we to know if its significant?
    If it where a review about the performance of android hardware within a constrained category I would be OK with that, however it is not about the hardware performance, it is a comparison of which browser is the best for Android, a reflection of software performance. This to me means that the software side is limited to browsers only, but the hardware side must reflect all available hardware within reason, and its reasonable to believe that people especially in a sight like this will not be looking at the single core option as there first choice for upgrading (even though they might buy a single core in the end)
    I do like what the article provides, even might test a couple of alternatives, but I don't see it as The Great Android Browser Face-Off that the title implies. It leaves questions unanswered, and at least in my neck of the woods, does not reflect the currant hardware trends and availability.
  • 0 Hide
    Scanlia , November 21, 2011 4:39 AM
    Great article!
    I found more of a comparison here too:
    http://everythingeeki.blogspot.com/2011/11/whats-best-browser-for-android.html
  • 0 Hide
    virthddman , December 1, 2011 6:46 PM
    I like Firefox and Opera out of the bunch, maybe because I use them on desktop too!
    Where is Chrome for Android?


    Access your home PC from your Android device by using the 2X client App from
    http://www.2x.com
    also has client for iOS. Voted 20th overall best Android App!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 10, 2011 1:19 PM
    ///i used to use ucbrowser and opera mobile on my g1 w/gingerbread cm7, i thought those two were the best there were until i got my xperia arc s, fixed its dpi from 240 to 180 and realised that neither of my used to be favorite browsers scale properly. my new favorite browser is "boat browser"////
  • 0 Hide
    azzoth , July 19, 2012 4:45 PM
    You can rank your favorite Android Web Browsers in this ranking:
    http://android.zranks.com/ranking/web-browsers
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