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The Great Android Browser Face-Off

Meet the Browsers

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.

  • You said stock browser, how about the hardware accelerated browser on the Samsung Galaxy S II?
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  • 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.
    Reply
  • darkchazz
    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.
    Reply
  • I wonder why Miren Browser wasn't mentioned. I have been using it for quite a while and am very happy with it...
    Reply
  • andywork78
    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
    Reply
  • neve
    I've tried most of these and I keep returning to xScope
    Reply
  • gstar42
    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.
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  • 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.
    Reply
  • gnfishin
    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.
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  • 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
    Reply