The web browser is probably the most used app on your phone, but it’s also the one app you haven’t bothered changing from the default. You could be missing out though. From faster page loading to more security and lighter memory usage, the right mobile browser can completely change your smartphone experience.
Dolphin was one of the first mobile browsers to support multi-touch gestures, and it’s still the browser’s best feature. All you have to do is draw a symbol on your screen to quickly launch a website or feature. For example, draw a ‘G’ to load Google, or an ‘N’ to load a new tab. The gestures are customizable so you can assign them to diﬀerent functions, or you can create your own gestures.
If drawing isn’t your thing, Dolphin also has Dolphin Sonar, which lets you use voice commands to control the browser. For example, you can just say “zoom in” to magnify your current website or “bookmark this” to bookmark a page.
Like Firefox, Opera and Puffin, Dolphin also supports extensions and has a reasonably large selection of add-ons you can use to customize your browsing experience. Dolphin also has a decent feature set even without add-ons, including tabs, private browsing, form auto-complete and password management. There’s even cross-platform syncing available – all you have to do is install the Dolphin Connect app on your desktop PC.
Dolphin also has an interesting ‘flipboard’ style feature called Webzine that curates news content from over 300 websites and displays it in a magazine- style format. Many articles can be cached to make them available oﬄine.
+ Gesture browsing and voice control.
- Irregular updates, some bugs can go unfixed for months.
Ghostery is probably best known for its desktop browser extensions for Firefox and Google Chrome, which let you see what information websites are using to track you, and also allows you to block them from doing so. The Ghostery mobile browser operates in much the same way for your smartphone, blocking websites from tracking your browsing habits, and also preventing them from serving you ads. Like its desktop extension counterparts, you can selectively block parts of some websites, or whitelist ones that you trust completely.
The browser engine itself is built on Google’s Webview kit, which is the same one Google uses for Chrome, so the two browsers share similar memory usage and performance speed. Like Chrome, Ghostery has tabs and bookmarks, but be warned that due to the tracking blocker, some website functions may not work properly.
One interesting thing to point out is that Ghostery uses the DuckDuckGo search engine as default (you can change it to the engine of your choice if you want). DuckDuckGo also emphasizes privacy and doesn’t track your searches so it synergizes nicely with Ghostery.
To continually improve Ghostery’s privacy features, it uses a feature called “GhostRank” which users can enable to send anonymous information about the trackers being blocked.
+ Best choice for keeping your info and browsing habits private.
- Limited features, may cause problems with some websites.
You’ve almost certainly used Chrome, the stock browser on nearly every Android smartphone. Chrome may be the default choice, but it’s not a bad browser, and unlike its desktop counterpart, it isn’t a big memory hog. Chrome was the first browser to introduce a number of features that you’ll now find standard in many other browsers, including tabbed browsing, the ability to quickly initiate searches from the address bar, browsing the web in relative privacy with Incognito mode, and auto-filling lengthy forms with saved info such as names, credit card numbers, and addresses. Chrome also features a rendering engine that sandboxes individual web pages, ensuring that any instability on one doesn’t aﬀect the rest.
Where Chrome really shines if you’ve got a Google account. Once you’ve signed in, it synchronizes your bookmarks, tabs, and history across all of your devices. If given permission, it can remember your usernames and passwords, and it will autocomplete your search requests with a personal dictionary of learned spellings.
Chrome also has a Data Saver feature that uses Google’s servers to compress images, fonts, and other web objects. This has the dual advantage of speeding up browsing and reducing your data usage.
+ Great integration with Google accounts.
- Many of its best features are now available in other browsers.
Mozilla Firefox may be one of the most popular and longest running desktop browsers but it’s a fairly new entrant to the mobile platform. Available since 2012, Firefox for Android is fairly lightweight with a basic home page without too many frills. Unlike Chrome and Opera, it lacks a data compression feature, but it does have standard bookmark, history and tab options, and it will save your passwords too. You can also sync your settings with desktop Firefox. There’s also a pretty extensive set of privacy options that allow you to block advertising networks from tracking your browsing habits and a nice night-viewing mode that dims that colors of webpages to minimize eye strain.
Where Firefox really shines is its great support for extensions that let you customize your browsing experience. Don’t like adverts? Just grab AdBlock Plus. Visiting a foreign language website and not sure what something says? Download Tap Translate for easy on-page language translation. Need a more robust password manager? Pick up LastPass.
Firefox is fairly basic if you opt not to add any extensions, but with a bit of tinkering it can do anything any of the other browsers can do.
+ Large number of extensions available.
- Fairly basic on its own.
Opera Mobile is one of the oldest mobile web browser alternatives available. One of its strengths is its stability and regular update cycle, despite recently being bought over by a Chinese Consortium for S$821 million.
Opera Mobile is quite similar to Chrome, and supports tabbed and private browsing, and also includes a password manager and auto-complete tool. Like Chrome, if you sign in with an Opera account, the app will sync your browsing session between other signed- in devices.
Unlike Chrome, Opera also lets you customize your browser with add-on extensions like an ad-blocker or language translator. While there aren’t as many choices as Firefox, there’s some useful extra functionality here.
Recent updates to the browser have added an integrated ad blocker that blocks pop-ups, interstitials, and banner ads. You can also whitelist certain websites if you want to see its adverts. There’s also a new search bar that supports the standard array of queries, i.e. text, picture, and video search, but now also supports direct QR code scanning. Like Chrome, Opera has its own mobile friendly feature called Opera Turbo, which compresses data to speed up your browsing. According to Opera, it can compress data by up to 80 percent.
+ Built-in ad blocker, QR code scanning search bar.
- Not many unique features, performance could be better.
Puffin is a browser developed by CloudMosa, which was founded by former Google developer Shioupyn Shen. It’s one of the more unusual browsers out there with a huge feature set of unique tools that you won’t find in other browsers, including the ability to emulate a mouse cursor or trackpad and a Gaming Mode that adds a virtual gamepad. Like other browsers, it also has standard features like tabs, incognito mode and a set of custom themes.
While its quirky features are nice, what makes Puffin truly useful is that it’s one of the few browsers that oﬀers full Adobe Flash support. It uses the cloud to download, process, and stream Flash games and videos to your device and thanks to CloudMosa’s US-based servers, it’s even able to circumvent a lot of region-restricted content. The browser’s free tier allows you to stream up to 12 hours of flash content per day, which should be more than enough for most people, but if not, you can always upgrade to the Pro version (S$5.48) for unlimited flash streaming.
Like Chrome and Firefox, Puffin has its own proprietary compression algorithm, which it claims can save up to 90% of your data compared to regular web browsing.
+ Lots of unique features, full flash support.
- Payment required for unlimited flash streaming.
To test the performance of our browsers, we installed all of them onto a Huawei Google Nexus 6P running on stock Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow with no other apps installed. We’re using the most up to date version of each browser, and the only app running is the browser being tested, as well as a System Monitor app when we were checking memory usage.
(Lower is Better)
We tested memory usage by using the System Monitor app available on the Play Store. We cleared the browser cache then checked memory usage with zero tabs open, and again with five tabs open.
Dolphin used the least amount of memory with no tabs loaded, but was quite high in memory usage with five tabs open. Puffin used the most memory both with no tabs open and with five tabs loaded. Surprisingly Chrome was quite lightweight, using the least amount of memory with five tabs open.
(in ms; Lower is Better)
(Higher is Better)
Opera was the best performer here, with Chrome and Puffin trailing narrowly behind. Surprisingly Firefox and Dolphin performed very poorly on this test.