Is there a better Android web browser than the Google one?

Written by on May 25, 2011 in guides, Uncategorized - 11 Comments
browsers

I currently use the standard Android browser. It’s fast and it works well, why would I want to switch? That’s exactly what I’m going to find out. Is there any reason to use an alternative browser such as Firefox or does the stock Android browser come out on top.

Firefox (Free)

Firefox which is the second most popular Browser of any type in existence, released their Android app late last year. Funny enough, the Firefox mobile browser has the same pros and cons as the desktop browser. The browser is the longest one to start up and is one of the longest to load up web pages but has the great ability to install good plugins.

Pros

  • Customization -Like the desktop version, Firefox mobile has many Add-ons that you can install. These help you improve the functionality of your browser such as adding the ability to block ads and make fonts bigger.
  • Easy to switch tabs – Tab switching is made very easy. Just swipe from left to right and the tabs will appear, then just click on a tab to open it.

Cons

  • Sluggish – Firefox is the slowest to start up of all of the browsers and slower than the stock Android at loading webpages. For most people the speed of their mobile browser is the most important feature so this a very big con.
  • No flash support – Since a large amount of the web is flash, this is a huge problem.

Opera Mobile Web Browser (Free)

Opera also has a desktop browser like Firefox but has a much smaller market share. The Opera mobile app is no faster than the Stock mobile browser but it does have a few neat features.

One of those features is Opera Turbo. When the feature is enabled Opera compress the images on their servers. You do lose a bit of image quality but less data is used which means that images should load faster on a slow connection. Another feature is the start page. The page has 9 thumbnails which display your favourite websites that you choose. The start page has been used in multiple browsers on the desktop before but is just as useful and convenient on your mobile.

Pros

  • Turbo – Turbo mode will save you data as it compresses the images it loads.
  • Thumbnails – You can set 9 thumbnails to your favourite websites so it easier than ever to load up your top websites.
  • Easy to use – It is very easy to view websites and access the features of Opera.
  • Easy to switch tabs – One of the most overlooked but important features of a browser is its tab switching features. The easier it is to switch tabs, the faster you can actually get on with browsing the web.

Cons

  • Slower – In our testing, the Opera browser was slower than the stock Android browser.
  • Lack of customization – The Opera browser does not support any plug-ins or themes. This is a shame as plugin’s can greatly increase the functionality of the browser.

Dolphin Browser HD (Free with Premium)

Dolphin Browser HD is a less well known but just as highly rated Android browser. It’s popular for its customization features, it speed and great pinch and zoom.

Pros

  • Customizable – The Dolphin Browser HD supports themes and plugins. This means you can customize your experience in many different ways. Not only can you make your browser look different, you can add many different features and make the browser support different applications such as Lastpass and Read later.
  • Smooth pinch and zoom – The pinch and zoom on the Dolphin Browser HD is one of the best on any Smartphone. It is incredibly smooth so not only does pinching and zooming look great, it makes viewing websites on your mobile a breeze.
  • Easy to use – The Dolphin Browser HD makes it very easy to view webpages and access it’s features.
  • Very easy to switch tabs -The Dolphin Browser HD makes it very easy to switch tabs as the tabs are at the top of the browser like most desktop browsers.

Cons

  • Slower – In our testing the Dolphin Browser HD was slower than the stock Android Browser. Not by a large amount, but still slower.
  • Less space for webpage – SkyFire puts the tabs at the top and the toolbar on the right hand side. This means that there is less space for the actual webpage.

SkyFire (Free with Premium)

SkyFire is an Android browser that recently received a massive update. They boast that SkyFire makes your mobile web experience richer, smarter and more fun. What does this mean? SkyFire has many social network features such as the ability to find websites popular with your friends on Facebook and the ability to check your social networks quickly within the browser. SkyFire also has an easy to use, built in flash player.

Pros

  • Faster – In our testing, the SkyFire browser was slightly faster than the stock Android browser.
  • Great User Interface – Have you ever used an app and really enjoyed using it. When I first used SkyFire I fell in love with it. The User Interface not only makes the app a joy to use but it makes it very easy to use.
  • Many features – SkyFire has many great features such as a flash video player built into the browser and a huge amount of social network integration.

Cons

  • Not customizable – Although SkyFire has many features, there is no way of customizing the browser by installing themes and plugins.

Miren (Free)

Miren isn’t a very well known alternative browser but is very highly rated. Miren is a simplistic browser with few features but great speed.

Pros

  • Easy to use – Miren makes it very easy to view webpages and access features.
  • Speed – In our testing, Miren was the fastest Android browser of all 6 tested.

Cons

  • Lack of features -Miren is a very simple browser without lots of bells and whistles. Although this a con for most, it could be a pro if you like simplicity.
  • Lack of customization – Miren does not include any customization abilities so if you want to change the look or features of your browser then this isn’t the one for you.

Xscope (Free)

Xscope is the least well known Android browser of the lot. Even though Xscope isn’t very popular, it still has thousands of loyal fans. The browser adopts a Google Chrome like theme but this can be changed as Xscope has the ability of changing themes. One of the biggest features that the developers boast about is the file browser. Xscope has a built in file browser that lets you view all the data on your Android device.

Pros

  • Speed – The Xscope browser is one of the nippiest browsers I have used.
  • Easy to use -Xscope also makes it very easy to view webpages and access features.
  • File browser – Although I would have little use for a built in file browser at the moment, I am sure it will come in handy at some point.
  • Customizable – Xscope supports themes so can be customized to your liking. It’s a shame the browser doesn’t support plugins though.

Cons

  • Poor graphics – I found that the browser loaded very poor quality images, this may be the secret to its speed.
  • Stuttery pinch and zoom – Most of the browsers we tested had a great pinch and zoom, Xscope was the exception! Pinch and zoom was very stuttery which made it very difficult to use.
  • Lack of features – Compared to other Android browsers, Xscope has very few features.

Conclusion

Each browser has different features that suit different people so it is difficult to choose the best browser for all. What I will say though is that SkyFire is my favourite. It is only slightly faster than the stock browser but looks far better, is much easier to use and has many more features. In fact, I like it so much that I am finally going to replace the Stock browser for an alternative one, SkyFire! It’s a shame you can’t customize the browser but it’s not a major problem as the browser is so good even without customizing it.

If you want a fast browser then I would recommend SkyFire, Miren and Xscope. If you want to customize then give Firefox, Dolphin Browser HD and Xscope a try. If you want a good all rounder then I would recommend Dolphin Browser HD or SkyFire.

Just before I go, I want to express how disappointed I am with the Firefox app. I am impressed with the plugins feature but I am afraid it doesn’t make up for the poor performance and lack of Flash. Hopefully Firefox for Android will get better over time, for now, there are many great alternative browsers to choose.

About the Author

Caleb is an 18 year old student from England. He bought an Android mobile over a year ago and has been a self confessed Android fan ever since. Caleb is passionate about helping people to make the most of their Android.

11 Comments on "Is there a better Android web browser than the Google one?"

  1. machine906 May 27, 2011 at 12:49 pm · Reply

    I agree about Firefox. I use Dolphin HD because of the customization but I would gladly move to FF if it supported Flash. I love FF Sync and everything else about it.

  2. Katzenstreu May 27, 2011 at 12:55 pm · Reply

    What about the small (700KB) pera MINI browser?

    • calebk May 27, 2011 at 2:12 pm · Reply

      Haven’t tested the Opera Mini browser. Apart from the size how do the two compare?

  3. Katzenstreu May 27, 2011 at 12:56 pm · Reply

    What about the small (700KB) Opera MINI browser?

  4. Decio May 27, 2011 at 2:45 pm · Reply

    Having tested most of these, I choose Opera Mini as my main browser, having access to very poor networks, the turbo mode really makes a difference, in 3G and also in Wifi.

    As most users are in slow networks Opera would be the fastest all of all by far. And you should emphasize that.

    I use Skyfire as my second brower, mainly because of the videos (which doesn’t work always). And that should be emphasized too.

    • calebk May 27, 2011 at 2:51 pm · Reply

      I didn’t try Opera mini. I wrongly assumed that the main browser would be the best. I didn’t actually see much speed improvement in Opera mobile when turbo was enabled. I will give mini a go and see if it is an better.
      Thanks Decio

  5. nightranger73 May 27, 2011 at 3:47 pm · Reply

    Dolphin hd 5 beta2 is faster as the stock browser and BTW I think I have to talk about Choose Browser that lets you open the page you’re viewing in any other browser using the share command. Very usefully if a page has glitches or you can’t download files

    • calebk May 27, 2011 at 7:40 pm · Reply

      Hi nightranger73, Choose browser looks like a great app that will save a bit of time, installing now :)

  6. Nelson Cruz May 28, 2011 at 3:58 am · Reply

    You should test Dolphin Mini as well.

  7. Arion June 1, 2011 at 1:10 pm · Reply

    I use Opera Mobile and its definitely faster then stock browser (you have to turn off Turbo if your not in a bad connection area as it slows down the browsing)

    Tho note though, Opera and FireFox have hardware acceleration..so their speed will depend on the handset you use. If you use a handset with weak CPU, those 2 browsers will benefit (as it takes some load off the CPU onto the GPU). If you have a phone with a strong GPU, those 2 will also benefit as well.

  8. Arion June 2, 2011 at 11:31 am · Reply

    Oh, I forgot to mention something about firefox…firefox is the slowest browser and has no flash support and etc..but there is one thing that makes firefox better then all the other browsers.. aside from its good HTML5 support (which opera also has)..it uses the exact same engine as the Desktop firefox…aka on those web pages that all the other browsers fail you on…FireFox is the one that will render it correctly..so I highly suggest keeping FireFox as a backup browser..

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