There’s no shortage of great web browsers for Android, and which one you use is largely up to personal preference. If we had to pick one however, we still think Dolphin Browser is your best bet for speed, features, gestures and add-ons.
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 below for more info.
- Tabbed browsing and a good-looking UI
- Multitouch and double-tap zoom
- A customisable home screen with shortcuts to common sites, apps, customisable wallpaper, and more
- Flash support (if Flash is installed)
- Dolphin Connect, which allows you to sync tabs, passwords, bookmarks and history across devices or even to your desktop
- Customisable gestures that let you access bookmarks, jump to the top of a page, go to specific websites and lots more
- Dolphin Sonar, which allows you to navigate to web pages, open bookmarks, search, share and bookmark new pages using voice commands
- A built in “web store” including plugins designed for Dolphin specifically for use with popular sites like Wikipedia, Gmail, Facebook, YouTube, Google Translate
- Rich bookmark import and organisation tools, including nested folders and one-tap access to your browsing history
- A library of over 50 add-ons like Evernote, LastPass, XMarks, Pocket, Jetpack and ad blockers
- Ability to switch user agents to force the desktop, iPhone or iPad versions of a web site to load
- Smart address bar that autocompletes bookmarked results and browsing history as you type
- One-swipe access (left to right) for bookmarks and (right to left) add-ons and installed apps
- A space-saving full screen mode that only shows tabs and other UI elements when you need them, opening up more room for the actual site you’re trying to read
- The Dolphin “key”, or a persistent, translucent button at the bottom of the screen that brings up settings, Sonar and tabs with one press
- Wi-Fi Broadcast, which allows you to send any site you’re viewing to other Dolphin users on the same network
- Built-in support for one-tap sharing to popular web services, including Box, Evernote and social networks without having to go through the Share Menu
Where It Excels
Dolphin is about as powerful as they come, what with 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 or adding a speed dial page. Dolphin Connect gives you all of the features of Chrome or Firefox sync, without restricting you to a single browser, and the add-in store is packed with special plug-ins and modules for the web’s most popular sites. The webzine add-on brings back Dolphin’s old streamlined “reading view” of web pages, perfect for reading articles without ads, widgets or other clutter.
Dolphin’s built-in gestures are 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 menus). It’s really nice to be able to draw an “F” on a page and instantly go to Facebook, or draw left and right brackets to navigate forward and back even in full-screen view. Dolphin Sonar is also another nice touch — if you like talking to your phone, Sonar makes performing almost all of your common tasks as simple as tapping the microphone, or shaking your phone to bring up the voice prompt. The bookmarks sidebar is also just a quick swipe away, which is nice and easy.
The other thing worth noting about Dolphin is its speed. It’s already fast, and fast on virtually every type of device, which is more than can be said for some of its competition. I’ve seen Dolphin scream on devices where Chrome was sluggish, and beyond that Dolphin still supports every version of Android from 2.0+. Even though pre ICS devices are rarer these days, those of us with Kindles, rooted Nooks, or older devices we want to repurpose can appreciate that. If you want an even bigger speed boost, install Dolphin Jetpack, a replacement (and optional) browsing engine that makes Dolphin really, really fast. It’s more resource intensive (which is why it’s optional), but we’re not joking about the speed improvement.
However, if Dolphin is sluggish on your device, they still maintain the Dolphin Mini browser, which is designed to be super-fast and lightweight. It’s specifically designed for older and less powerful phones, and while the Dolphin team doesn’t mention it on their site, it’s still available to people who have problems with the full version.
Where It Falls Short
Dolphin can be touch and go performance-wise, and while we’ve never seen it sluggish or crashy, if you start to load it up with add-ons, it can suffer like any browser can suffer. A prime example of is Jetpack, which really improves Dolphin’s browsing performance, but it comes at the cost of system resources and battery life. It’s not running all the time, of course, just when you’re using Dolphin, and you can turn it on and off whenever you want, but the reason it’s not a core part of Dolphin is because of the toll it would take on your phone. All of Dolphin’s add-ons are great, but the more you use them, the more the returns begin to diminish and the less you’ll want to.
Also, Dolphin has an attractive interface, and definitely does a good job of pushing the clutter out of the way to focus on the site you’re reading, but its design does feel a little out of place on Android, focusing instead on its own green and white colour scheme than fitting in with the rest of the OS. Of course, it’s customisable and there are themes available, but that just adds more on top of it that you may or may not want.
Chrome (Free, 4.0+) is Dolphin’s biggest competition (or rather, Dolphin is probably Chrome’s competition). On new handsets, Chrome is the stock browser, and make no mistake, it’s fast, flexible, and packed with great features that make it a worthy pick. It includes Chrome Sync, which lets you sync passwords, tabs, searches, and more across devices, and access tabs in the cloud anywhere you go. It’s constantly updated by Google, and fits in smoothly as the default browser on your Android phone. Incognito mode is available for all your private browsing needs. It also plays nicely with all of the Google apps, services, and tools you likely use regularly, like Google Now, Google Maps, Search, and more. Most people will probably fire up Chrome on their phone and stick with it, either because it’s all they need, or all they ever experience. That’s fine. The only reason Chrome isn’t our top pick is because Dolphin can be faster (almost always on older devices but even on newer ones), has tons of third-party add-ons and extensions to extend its features, and includes voice support and gestures — all features Chrome doesn’t have. If you don’t need any of those features though, Chrome is your best alternative, and you probably already have it.
Firefox for Android (Free, 2.2+) 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. If you can find it for the desktop, it’s probably available for Android, including AdBlock Plus, LastPass, Readability, and more. 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 used to be really slow, and it’s still a little behind its competition in the speed department, but it’s a strong, open-source, and good-looking browser, even if you don’t use Firefox on the desktop. Firefox’s “Reader Mode” and its night-viewing mode both make reading the web without clutter, ads or extra fluff a joy. Firefox for Android plays video seamlessly, and may be better at that than it is at loading pages.
Opera (Free, 3.0+) has come a long way from its older versions, and that’s saying a good bit. It’s always been good, fast, and focused on making sure pages load quickly on any device or any connection. Opera’s layout seems to have grown up a bit, and it’s less cluttered and bulky than it used to be — instead you get a streamlined experience, a full speed dialler, a Flipboard-like home screen with your favourite sites waiting for you, and more. There’s a private browsing mode and a built-in download manager built in. Also, as always, Opera can compress sites before they load, which saves you data, and speeds up page loads.
If you have an older device, a mid-range phone, or just don’t want all of the features that the full Opera browser brings to the table, consider Opera Mini, a lightweight version of the browser with a focus on speed and loading pages quickly.
Skyfire (Free, Version varies) is still around, but it’s star has definitely fallen, as recent updates have actually pulled some features users loved out of the app, and other users are finding their phones are no longer supported. Still, Skyfire’s focus used to be on web video, and got around tricky video formats (including Flash) by transcoding them to an Android-compatible format and serving them back to you. Skyfire’s abandoned that focus now, instead opting to become a “social browser,” packed with add-ons for shopping and sharing instead. Unfortunately, that also makes it much less useful.
Of course, this isn’t the bottom of the barrel, just a selection of the Android browsers we think are the best. Other notable browsers include Maxthon for Android (Free, 2.2+) which boasts great speed and tablet views, as well as a packed in RSS reader and options to switch site views quickly, and UC Browser (Free, 2.1+) which has a pretty barebones foundation but lots of add-ons you can install to extend its features. There’s also Boat Browser (Free, 2.1+), which is built to be customisable, themeable and generally tweakable to your personal preferences. It was even one of your five favourite Android web browsers the last time we asked.
Depending on the phone you have, Chrome may be your stock browser. If not, the default Android browser that comes with your phone is certainly servicable, but it’s not as powerful as any of the above. It may be 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 recommends the best applications and tools across multiple platforms.