Update: Dolphin Browser is still our pick for the best web browser for Android, but it’s been a while since we reviewed its features and explained why it’s our favourite, especially considering Chrome’s massive popularity (and our love for it) and the many other alternatives for Android. We’ve updated our App Directory post with more detail, more browser alternatives and some comparisons between browsers that will help you decide which one is best for you. Check out the updated post.
- Tabbed browsing
- Multitouch and double-tap zoom
- Import bookmarks from your current browser
- Organise bookmarks into folders
- Customisable gestures that let you access bookmarks, jump to the top of a page, and tons more
- A library of over 50 add-ons like LastPass, Read It Later and ad blockers
- “Webzine” mode, that puts bookmarks into a magazine-like layout, stripping the pages of extra formatting and making them readable
- Switch user agents to force the desktop or iPhone version of a web site
- Smart address bar that autocompletes bookmarked results and browsing history as you type
Dolphin is about as powerful as they come, given its add-on capabilities. Just like Firefox and Chrome on the desktop, you can add a number of features to the browser to fit it to your specific needs, whether that be automatically filling in passwords, blocking ads, adjusting the brightness of the page, full screen the browser, add a speed dial page, and more. The gestures feature is also really convenient, letting you perform a number of different actions with just a tap and a swipe or two, which really speeds things up (after all, no one likes sifting through all of Android’s menus). The bookmarks sidebar is also just a quick swipe away, which is nice and easy, and the Flipboard-like Webzine feature is very, very cool.
Dolphin, like other powerful, extensible browsers, isn’t necessarily the best performing app on the block. It’ll handle pretty well on newer phones, but if you have an older device — or if you install too many extensions — it can start to feel a little bloated. In addition, its interface is a little cluttered, albeit cluttered with great features. If you use them, it can make your browsing really fast, despite the slower page load times — but if you’re looking at straight performance, it falls behind many of the alternatives.
If you like some of Dolphin’s features but find it to be a bit too bloated and complicated, Dolphin has released a slimmed down version called Dolphin Mini. It still has a lot of great features like gestures, tabs, and bookmark syncing, but the interface is a little easier to use and it isn’t quite as customisable.
Skyfire is an extremely popular option that puts an emphasis on watching web videos. Many videos are hard or impossible to watch on Android, and Skyfire fixes this problem by transcoding them to an Android-compatible format and serving them back to you. It doesn’t work with every video, but it works with a lot of them, and it’s great if you’d rather not run Flash. It’s also one of the fastest browsers on the Android platform. It isn’t quite as feature-filled as Dolphin HD, but if you have a need for speed or like to watch web videos, it’s a great option.
Opera Mini has a great feature that compresses web sites before it serves them to you, meaning you load pages super-fast (and save on data charges). It’s got a simple, albeit somewhat cramped, interface, and has a speed dial page in addition to bookmark syncing. It can’t play any video, but it works great as a secondary browser for when you’ve only got a few bars.
Miren is another great choice if you want a super-fast browser with a simple, minimalistic interface. Not only is it fast and easy to use, but it also has some really nice small, convenience features like swiping to go back and forward, built-in brightness controls, scrolling with the volume buttons, and full screen mode. If the more popular browsers aren’t doing it for you, give Miren a shot.
Firefox‘s Android browser is a great browser if you use Firefox on the desktop, as it can automatically sync bookmarks, open tabs, history, and passwords with you, and it also has a pretty good library of add-ons. The interface is very clean and easy to use without being useless (most of the buttons are just hidden in a sidebar that you can swipe to). Firefox’s big downfall is that it’s slow — really slow. Once you’ve used the browser once, it’ll launch a little faster, but the first time you open it up after rebooting it seems to take forever to start up, even on new, powerful phones. Still, you can’t beat the awesome syncing features if you’re a Firefox user on the desktop, and definitely worth a try.
The default Android browser that comes with your phone is not as powerful as any of the above, but is simple to use and very fast. If you need features, grab a third-party browser, but the default browser is a good choice if all you want is speed, stability and simplicity.
Lifehacker’s App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.
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