Choosing the best Android web browser

Choosing the best Android web browser



You’ll need this:

  • An Android phone – Your phone will need to be running Android 2.2 (Froyo) or higher
  • Wi-Fi connection – Downloading and experimenting with new mobile browsers is a good way to demolish your monthly data allowance so connect to a Wi-Fi network before you begin.

APC story -Choosing the best Android web browser

More than half of Australia’s population owns a smartphone of some kind so it’s no wonder that around a third of our web browsing is done via a phone and that portion is only likely to increase. It’s therefore strange that while the browser war is a closely fought competition on laptop and desktop PCs with the likes of IE9 Chrome and Safari battling it out the mobile landscape is less frenetic.

The majority of smartphone owners – well in the case of Android anyway – actually prefer to use the standard browser provided out of the box.

Some might argue the reason for this is because the best Android web browser is the standard one so there’s no need to change. There’s a reasonable probability many owners don’t change their browser because they feel they don’t need to – mobile browsing is marginalised anyway.

Alternatively perhaps they don’t feel the need to upgrade in the same way as their laptop and desktop applications. It’s also possible that there are so many other apps to update the browser is at the bottom of the list.

 

Why change?

That’s a shame because Google Play offers some great browsers that are – in our opinion – better alternatives to the standard one. After all not all browsers are created equal and there are various reasons why you might want to upgrade the standard software.

For starters some browsers are just plain faster than others and not by mere milliseconds. In some cases there’s a difference of up to 15 seconds when loading pages which should be enough to convince anyone to rethink their choice of application.

 

Faster loading

If speed is your thing then you can opt to use a browser that’s been stripped of much of its advanced functionality in favour of better performance such as Opera Mini or Dolphin Mini. You won’t get the full experience of conventional browsers though and sometimes you might lose compatibility with particular web pages that require the browser to load certain functions so you need to choose which features are most important to you.

 

Hard numbers

If hard numbers don’t do it for you then you might be interested in a browser that’s easier to use or offers tools that better suit the way you browse. Dolphin HD for instance comes with many extra features including the ability to issue gestures that can quickly transport you to your favourite web sites without the need to find them from your Favorites. The standard Android browser doesn’t allow you to do this.

Another consideration when choosing a browser for your smartphone is security. Although this tends to take a bit of a back seat for most people when it comes to mobile internet browsing smartphones are no safer from vulnerabilities than their desktop counterparts.

In fact security is perhaps even more of an issue on Android phones. That’s because despite Google’s vetting procedures you still might download a third-party app that could compromise your personal details. Some of the tests we’ll run in this article will show you just how to test your mobile browser to make sure it’s keeping you safe while you surf the web.

 

Play around

There are approximately 10 aftermarket browsers available on the Google Play Store all of which are free to download. We’ve tried them all out and discovered which ones are best suited to particular tasks such as opening a web page quickly or providing compatibility with the greatest number of web sites.

We’re also going to show you how to perform a range of tests on a browser yourself so if you’d rather explore everything that’s out there at your own pace you can pinpoint the perfect software for your needs.

 

The best mobile browsers

Here are four of the top Android browsers – choose the one that suits your needs.

Best for Speed: Opera Mini.

For most people the main consideration is speed – the faster a browser can load web pages the better. In this respect Opera Mini has every other browser licked. Its compression feature dramatically reduces the time taken to load pages. In some cases Opera Mini is about five times quicker than some of its rivals so it’s worth trying out if your primary aim is to browse the web at lightning-fast speeds.

 

Best for Compatibility: Opera Mobile.

This browser supports Flash has an exceptionally high HTML5 score and passes the Acid3 test easily. If you want web pages to render as accurately as possible on a small screen Opera Mobile is the perfect choice. Unlike its smaller brother however it isn’t the quickest browser out there. In fact it’s pretty average but that’s the price you pay for displaying web pages as they’re meant to be.

best_mobile_android_browsers_compatibility_opera_mobile.

 

Best for Features: Dolphin.

Dolphin HD goes beyond the call of duty when it comes to mobile internet browsing. Not only do you get voice search so you can speak the web sites that you want to visit you can have multiple tabs open for each of your sites. Dolphin even allows you to create a unique gesture to open your favourite sites so you could draw a face for Facebook or flick the screen to go to Flickr.

best_mobile_android_browsers_features_dolphin

 

Best All-rounder: Chrome.

The baby version of Google’s unbeatable desktop browser has a lot to offer. It provides a decent turn of speed has good compatibility with most web sites and has a very intuitive interface with tabbed browsing for easy switching between sites and a clever search bar that brings up suggestions automatically. The only caveat of the Chrome browser is that you need a phone running the latest version of Android – 4.0 or Ice Cream Sandwich to be precise.

best_mobile_android_browsers_allround_chrome

 

Give your browser a grilling

Not sure how your web browser compares to others? Here’s how to check.

Step 1: The speed test

For many people this is the most important feature of a browser. Testing speed is easy. Just pick a variety of pages; some with lots of images some with just text and some with a mixture. Make sure the browser cache is cleared and then time how long it takes for pages to load. Try it a second time to see how the browser fares when the site is cached.

speed test

  

Step 2: The Acid test

To find out if a browser is up to scratch use the Web Standards Project Acid Tests: Acid1 Acid2 and Acid3 the latter being the most up to date. The tests are designed to expose web page rendering flaws. Go to www.acidtests.org and run through the Acid3 test. If you don’t get a perfect score in Acid3 then it’s a fail though some failures are worse than others.

browser acid test

 

Step 3: The Java test

SunSpider tests the speed of a web browser and uses JavaScript as its measure of performance. It’s designed to be a real-world test and has very little margin for error due to the way it works. Visit www.webkit.org and tap ‘Start SunSpider now’. The app will run a series of tests and give you a score at the end. The lower the overall number the better the browser performs.

browser java test

 

Step 4: The HTML test

An alternative is finding out how your browser copes with HTML5. Visit www.html5test.com for a rating. However the score’s generic intended to highlight the browser’s capability across multiple platforms. Peacekeeper HTML5 gives your browser a thorough shakedown and is more accurate. The higher the score the better.

HTML5 test

 

Step 5: The BrowserMark test

Although BrowserMark is similar to Peacekeeper it’s worth using both for the purpose of consistency. The scoring system is different for BrowserMark so while one browser might score well in Peacekeeper BrowserMark might bring up a different result. This could help you choose between two browsers you like.

BrowserMark test

 

Step 6: The one-click test

For an easier way to test your browser try the one-click approach of Browserscope which munches through the standard browser tests and checks for security. Go to www.browserscope.org to run the tests back to back or individually. Once complete Browserscope gives you a final score and shows you how it compares with other browsers.

 one-click test

 

Browser Speed Test Results

HTML5

Acid3

SunSpider

BrowserMark

Speed *

Opera Mini

63

48/100

FAIL

FAIL

5 seconds

Opera Mobile

369

100/100

2179

43163

10 seconds

Dolphin

189

95/100

2372

80027

7 seconds

Chrome

371

100/100

1851

86187

11 seconds

* Speed test demonstrates the time taken to open the www.bbc.co.uk web site.

About web site compression

Opera Mini is the Usain Bolt of the browser Olympics – speed is its number one priority enabling you to download web pages faster than you can with a standard browser.

Fast web browsing is always an advantage but it’s even more beneficial when you’re relying on a flaky 3G internet connection on the move. Opera Mini is able to deliver web sites to your smartphone quicker because of the way it handles pages before they get to your screen.


Some mobile browsers will use less data than others.

A proxy server sits between you and the web site and compresses pages into a format that’s more suitable for smaller screens. You can customise the way it compresses pages by adjusting the image quality of web sites allowing them to load even faster.

Better yet the compression means that the amount of data you use each month will also decrease significantly. This is great if you’re on a mobile contract with a restricted data allowance. The downside of this is that some web sites won’t work as well as others. For example you don’t get any HTML5 or Flash support so if you want to play videos and games on your smartphone then you should probably look elsewhere.

How to keep your bookmarks

Back up shortcuts when you move browsers.

Step 1: Find bookmarks

Download Bookmark Sort & Backup from the Google Play Store and open it to display a complete list of all your browser bookmarks. Scroll down to make sure that everything’s there and then hit the ‘Menu’ button. There are various options here – you can sort your bookmarks alphabetically for example.

 

Step 2: Back them up

If you want to add some more bookmarks to your list at the last minute before you back them up tap the ‘Create’ button and type in the name and URL. Once you’re ready to back everything up tap the ‘Backup’ button to save your bookmarks. When you want to load the bookmarks again hit the ‘Restore’ button.

 

Step 3: PC to phone

If most of your regular bookmarks are on your PC you can quickly transfer them to your phone if you’re using Chrome. Grab the Chrome to Phone app on your mobile and install the extension for your browser. Click ‘Chrome to Phone’ in your Chrome toolbar when you’re viewing a site on your PC to send the link to your phone.

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