Lifehacker Faceoff: The Best Web Browsers For iPhone And iPad

With the arrival of Chrome on iPhone and iPad, the browser wars for iOS have become a little more interesting. Here's a rundown of our favourites.

Before we get into the best features of each browser, we have to address the factor of speed. Mobile Safari will almost always be faster than other browsers because it uses a special Javascript engine called Nitro (you can find a full explanation of it over on Daring Fireball). Other apps, browsers included, are not allowed to use this built-in function. Because of that, Safari will always be faster, so we're not going to take that into consideration here.

Speed isn't everything, however, and the other top browsers bring more than enough to the table to make them relevant. We took a look at Safari, Chrome, Dolphin and Atomic Browser.


Safari

As the default, Safari is obviously the most-used browser on the iPhone. Since it's built into every function of iOS, it's also the most convenient.

The Good: Easy To Use, Ready Out Of The Box, Speedy

Safari's strengths are pretty obvious. It's your default browser, so it's integrated well into every other app straight out of the box. As we mentioned above, it's also the fastest of all your options.

If you're a Safari desktop user you can sync bookmarks between the devices (and across your iPhone and iPad). It doesn't transfer your history or anything else, but it keeps everything in line on all of your devices.

Safari is also integrated into everything you do. If you want to open a link in an email, on Twitter or anywhere else, the default place for that to happen is Safari. As a functioning web browser, Safari does just fine, even though it doesn't have a lot of special features.

The Bad: It's Boring And Doesn't Have A Lot Of Options

Safari is fine for most things, and you won't find anything terribly wrong with it. That said, the syncing features are a moot point since Safari isn't that popular as a desktop browser. It also has a lot of limitations on the amount of tabs you can use, and the fact it forces you into the mobile version of websites can be a bit annoying.

More than anything, it's just a simple, somewhat boring browser. It doesn't have many features for power users, and you can't add any functionality or change how it works. It also buries a lot of its most useful features — such as Private Browsing, cache clearing and password info — in the Settings app instead of inside Safari itself. This means you have to take extra and unnecessary steps just to change simple settings. For most people, this is fine, but if you're looking for a bit more from your web browser, Safari is a bit bland.

Who's It Good For: People Who Don't Want To Play Around With Settings

If you're a Safari user on desktop, then Mobile Safari is great because of the bookmark syncing. It's also the easiest and most accessible option to use. If you open up a lot of links in other apps, or you just don't want to futz around with settings, Safari is the go-to choice.


Chrome

Chrome is the newest player on the field, but since the desktop version is already one of the most popular browsers, the new iOS versions already have a leg up on the competition. I've been using the mobile version of Chrome since it was released and have been mostly happy with the results.

The Good: Syncing, Incognito Mode, Speed Dial

Chrome on iOS isn't as fast as Safari, but it's not slow by any means. The best feature of mobile Chrome is that it syncs across all your computers. Bookmarks, open tabs and recently opened tabs on your computer can all be pulled up on the mobile version in an instant. You also get Incognito mode for browsing privately and an unlimited amount of tabs.

Chrome has a few subtle but handy features as well. You get a speed dial page when you create a new tab, and you can open up the desktop version of any mobile site by selecting "Request Desktop Site" from the options menu. You also get some simple gesture browsing with the ability to swipe to the right to change out tabs.

The Bad: Interface Takes Some Getting Used To, Crashes

The iPhone version of Chrome is smooth and responsive, but it takes a little while to get used to how the tabs and everything else works. Once you do, it works like a charm, but unlike Safari you might not be able to hand it to a friend with the expectation they'll know how to use it instantly.

Chrome has its share of annoyances as well. For instance, the swipe gesture to change tabs (pull to the right) is easy to trigger on accident. The tabs work well on iPad, but they're easy to lose track on the iPhone's smaller screen, and the card-stack layout of the tabs is a bit tricky at first.

Who's It Good For: Desktop Chrome Browser Users

If you use Chrome as your primary desktop browser and you're synced up with your Google account, then Chrome for iOS is a fantastic option. It's reasonably fast, has lots of great features (seriously, the Desktop View is fantastic), and syncs everything across all of your devices immediately.


Dolphin

As the name suggests, Dolphin is the most playful of the bunch. Its core principle is gesture-based control and it offers a very different way to browse the web. It's our pick for the best web browser on Android, and the iPhone version is just as strong.

The Good: Sidebars, Fun Browsing Experience, Webzine Feature

Dolphin is easily the odd man out amongst browsers and it's the only one trying to do something new. For the most part, this comes in the form of using gestures to quickly load web pages (draw a "T" to go to Twitter, for instance) and browse the app. While that's Dolphin's main selling point, it still has a lot of other solid features.

One of the best is the webzine format that works in a similar way to Flipboard and makes browsing your favourite sites a little more fun. It also has a sidebar function where you can quickly glance at your bookmarks and history without fumbling around.

The Bad: No Add-Ons, Confusing At First

One of the best things about the Android version of Dolphin is the add-ons. These mini-extensions can do the same sorts of things you do with extensions on your desktop on your mobile browser. Unfortunately, the iPhone version doesn't get these.

Dolphin is also a different-looking browser that takes a little getting used to. Hand your phone over to a friend and they'll probably be a bit confused if you give them Dolphin instead of Safari. Still, it doesn't take long to get the hang of it, and once you do, it's a fun way to browse the web.

Who's It Good For: Anyone Looking For A Different Way To Browse

Dolphin has a lot of fun features and the gestures make it an enjoyable browser to use for pretty much anybody. That said, it doesn't have a lot of really powerful features or options. It can do a lot of the things the other browsers can, and it's certainly the most original on this list. If you want a new way to browse the web and interact with your web browser, Dolphin is for you.


Atomic Browser

Atomic Browser has been our pick for the best web browser on iPhone for a while. It's easily the most feature-rich browser on the iPhone, although it doesn't come with a lot of design flair.

The Good: Lots Of Options, Settings, Browsing Modes

Atomic has heaps of options and settings (more than we can list here). Our favourites include Ad Block, Dropbox support, and the handy ability to press and hold to open links in a new tab. You can customise Atomic in a lot of ways as well. You can set up themes, turn features on or off, and even configure your own gestures.

It's also a less weighty browser that doesn't keep junk that you don't want around. You can automatically delete cookies, clear history and clear out autofill directly from the app itself. Basically, you can make Atomic into your favourite browser if you're willing to play around with the settings a bit.

The Bad: A Little Ugly

We didn't have a lot of complaints when we picked Atomic for our favourite iPhone browser and we still don't. It certainly isn't the prettiest to look at of all the options, but the interface is functional and works well. It can be a little overwhelming to use at first because of all the various settings, but once you get used to Atomic, it's a terrific browser.

Who's It Good For: Power Users Who Like Options

Atomic is all about options. You can easily change just about any setting, drop into private browsing, run in full screen, and even block ads. If you don't care about syncing to your desktop browser, Atomic is a good bet.


One last thing we should note is if you're jailbroken, you can set any of the above browsers as your default browser with the Browser Changer tweak available in the ModMyi repository. Once you set it up, every link you open from any app will be your browser of choice.

We couldn't cover every single browser on the iPhone, so if you have an opinion about one we didn't cover, tell us what you love (and hate) about it.


Comments

    If you want to have flash on your iPad, may I suggest Puffin.

    The number one feature of the Safari browser is the Reader. I use it every session, and pages that don't support viewing this way are a pain when you are used to it. I simply would not use a browser that did not have this feature. It's what you are on the net for, reading. All the other stuff is for kit car builders.

      Agree wholeheartedly. Completely transforms the reading experience on iDevices, a must have, essential feature.

    The reason I keep going back to dolphin is that I love the pull menu that brings up the favorites as I use a lot of bookmarks for phone browsing.

    Two features I would love, is a button at the base to be able to go straight into full screen mode, and if you scrolled up to the top while in full screen mode you could see the currently open tabs.

    I tried chrome on the iPad and while it looked gorgeous, it was difficult to access bookmarks, (two button presses just to access) and it seemed to me like it reloaded the pages far more often than dolphin did, which as someone with a tiny data plan is a deal breaker.

    Chrome gets my vote. It is the same reason why I love it on my PC . Its interface is simple, fast and does not get in the way of the web pages you are looking at.

    iCab Mobile (http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/icab-mobile-web-browser/id308111628?mt=8) is a great browser - I went to it from Atomic. It is another 'power user' browser with tons of options. It also has a semi functional Firefox sync built in (though I use Chrome desktop now).

    I was excited when IOS Chrome was released but tremendously underwhelmed by the result. Standout dissapointments are the lack of a bookmark toolbar, inability to download files to the device that the program doesn't recognise (such as a torrent file), and overall lack of options/customisation. If it continues to be developed with more features it will likely become my default browser simply due to Chrome sync.

    Anyone tried Mercury browser? It has a nice Firefox sync with a pretty interface and multitouch gestures. Gets my vote.

    I only use Chrome on my Desktop, I need bookmarks bar before I convert on the iPad, to frustrating at the moment

      Agreed - The bookmarks bar is the ONLY thing stopping me from ditching Safari. I will not use this browser until they update with bookmarks bar.

    As of iOS 6, Safari support tab syncing. Very handy

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