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 Chrome is your best bet for speed, features, gestures and add-ons.
- Tabbed browsing with Chrome’s familiar, mobile-friendly interface
- Browsing gestures, including pull-to-refresh, double-tap to zoom, and swiping left/right on the toolbar to switch or open new tabs
- Supports Chrome Sync, which allows you to access and synchronise open tabs, browsing history, search history, and bookmarks across devices
- Integrates with Voice Search in Android for hands-free search and results
- A customisable home screen with shortcuts to commonly viewed sites
- Smart address bar that autocompletes search results and browsing history as you type, as well as suggestions if you’ve made a typo or error.
- Built-in support for Google Translate, which can automatically translate pages in other languages to your preferred tongue
- Form auto-fill that can populate email addresses and other information without you having to type it all in manually
- Incognito Mode browsing that won’t save search or page history
- Customisable text scaling for accessibility purposes, and the option to override page instructions to disable zoom
- Ability to switch between mobile and desktop versions of sites from the menubar (if the page supports the change)
- Chrome “Data Saver,” which compresses and optimises page requests to save bandwidth (by routing them through Google’s servers first)
- Customisable search (if for some reason you want to use an engine other than Google)
- One-tap sharing from the menubar to any other app on your Android device
- On-page search via “Find on page”
- Support for Google Cloud Print
- Built-in “Do Not Track” support
Where It Excels
Google Chrome may not be the most feature-packed browser you can download, but it’s definitely the fastest and most well-integrated with Android. Plus, it’s so well-integrated with the desktop version of Chrome that if you use it there (and you trust Chrome Sync, of course) it’s worth using just to be able to pick up your phone or tablet and continue from where you left off on your computer, or vice versa. Chrome Sync eliminates the need to use third-party tools to send yourself links, open tabs, and bookmarks, which is a huge benefit.
Built-in support for Google Voice Search and Google Translate are both huge benefits as well, and while Google Voice Search can be configured to pass your search requests off to another browser if you have one installed, it’s a seamless process with Chrome, and Chrome knows that your voice request is a search term and will display the appropriate response, whether it’s local weather, a nearby business, or just a word you want to define or web site you want to look up.
From there, Chrome’s other useful features, many of which are buried deep in the settings menus, are there if you need them, and turned off if you don’t. Chrome’s biggest benefit is that it’s likely already on your Android phone, and it’s super fast and well optimised for the platform, unlike many third-party browsers with long startup times, slow loading times, and poorly-implemented syncing options.
Where It Falls Short
Chrome’s biggest drawback comes in two forms: First, the price you pay for it being so lightweight is that it’s also somewhat feature-bare compared to its competition. If “better” is synonymous with “more features” to you, then Chrome may not be what you want. It doesn’t have extensions or add-ons like desktop versions of Chrome (or even some of its competition, which we’ll get to in a minute), and it doesn’t have a “reading mode” that strips out unnecessary formatting and makes web pages easier to read on the go. If you’re looking for those kinds of added features, or they’re a must-have for your mobile browser, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Chrome for Android’s second biggest drawback is that it, like Android, is well set in Google’s ecosystem. That’s both a good and a bad thing. For some people, especially considering you’re already using Android, it’s not a big deal. For others, using Chrome and Android together gives a ton of information to Google that you may prefer they not have, or that you’d rather no one have — especially if you care about the privacy of your browser on the desktop. Luckily, if you are concerned about privacy and how much data Google gets from your web and search activity, Chrome for Android’s privacy options let you turn off things like URL prediction, and turn on Do Not Track.
However, considering Google’s stance on things like ad blockers and other privacy-protecting extensions that you can get on the desktop, don’t expect to see things like HTTPS Everywhere, Disconnect (especially since Google removed them from Google Play because they blocked malware and adware), or any kind of extensions or plug-ins available for the mobile version of Chrome anytime soon.
Firefox for Android (Free) is fast, free, open-source, and a great browser if you use Firefox on the desktop. It can use Firefox sync to synchronise bookmarks, open tabs, history, and passwords with you, and it also has a pretty good library of add-ons, so you can get things like HTTPS Everywhere for Firefox mobile. If you can find it for the desktop, it’s probably available for Android, including AdBlock Plus, LastPass, Readability, and more.
The ability to install extensions means you get an experience similar to the desktop, where your add-ons work inside the browser instead of kicking you out to another app, which is really great for things like your password manager. 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), and the home “panels” can be configured any way you like, as can the default share buttons. Firefox’s “Reader Mode” and its night-viewing mode both make reading the web without clutter, ads, or extra fluff a joy. Its privacy controls — expected from Mozilla — are unparalleled. Firefox for Android plays video seamlessly, and may be better at that than it is at loading pages. It was a strong contender for the top spot here.
Opera (Free) has always been good, fast, and focused on making sure pages load quickly on any device or any connection. Opera’s layout is spartan, but it doesn’t need to be glamorous to get out of the way and show you the web pages you want to see. Instead you get a streamlined experience, a full speed dialer, 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 using Opera Turbo, which saves you data and speeds up page loads. Recent Google Play reviews are all over the place, with users complaining about useful features from previous versions being removed (like the ability to save images or download YouTube videos,) but I have to hand it to the Opera team for trying to do user support in response to Google Play reviews.
Dolphin Browser (Free) is about as powerful as they come, and was our previous pick for the best browser for Android. Part of that is thanks to its extensive third-party add-on library. 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 and add a speed dial page. Dolphin Connect gives you all of the features of Chrome or Firefox sync, without restricting you to a single browser anywhere else (thanks to the Dolphin Connect extension for Chrome and Firefox.) Beyond that, the add-in store is packed with plug-ins and modules for the web’s most popular sites. You even get a remarkable amount of control without installing anything, from changing the user agent (to load the desktop version of web sites), change the text size, font size, and default zoom, and more. You also get control over web content and scripts, block pop-ups automatically, and more. Dolphin’s customisable, built-in gestures are also really convenient.
As always however, Dolphin’s biggest feature is its speed. It’s fast on virtually every type of device (and especially great on older, lower-power handsets,) and Dolphin Jetpack, a replacement (and optional) browsing engine you install separately, makes Dolphin really, really fast. It’s more resource intensive and power hungry (which is why it’s optional), but we’re not joking about the speed improvement.
So why is Dolphin no longer our top pick? Well, while at its core Dolphin is still a great browser, it feels like the developers are paying less and less attention to it, and every new update introduces a few more bugs and issues that weren’t there before. Recent reviews at Google Play seem to corroborate our experience, with plenty of people still in love with the browser (and don’t get us wrong, we love it too), but others reporting that it’s lost the huge lead it had over alternatives a few years ago and is now lagging behind in improvements and regular updates. Dolphin feels like a great product that’s kind of been left on the vine, and combined with the ease and integration of Chrome to Android, it feels like if you want to go where the updates, new features, and active development and improvements are, it’s time to move past Dolphin.
Some other notable browsers include Maxthon for Android (Free) which boasts great speed and tablet views (as well as a special tablet-optimised version,) as well as a packed in RSS reader and options to switch site views quickly, and UC Browser (Free) which has a pretty barebones foundation but tons of add-ons, built-in ad blocking, and a focus on video playback. If you’re looking for more alternatives, or more on each of these, check out our five favourite Android web browsers.
Of course, these aren’t your only options. Google Play is crawling with Android web browsers — many of which are single-function and focus on one thing (ad blocking, privacy, video, etc.) Others are just adware in disguise, recording your browser history to send to who knows where. Be careful if you’re looking for alternative browsers, check the reviews (and third party reviews!), read through the permissions, and make sure you choose based on the features you actually need, not just the features the browser promises.
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