by October 1, 2011 0 comments



The experience of browsing on a smart device may not equate with browsing on a PC. However, there are plenty of browsers available today that offer advanced functionality with varying feature sets. It all depends on what you value most while surfing Net. With Froyo and Gingerbread having native support for Adobe Flash 10.1, you can have the rich multimedia experience through your Android phone’s browser now. But if you’re fond of suring too much of Internet, the stock browser may not be a good choice. It also hogs memory; you can’t close the browser once you are done with your Internet activity, it keeps running in background. Some third-party browsers addressed this issue by incorporating an option to exit the application and also to clear up the cache once you are done with your work, so as to free the system memory.

Having said that, the best thing with Android is that you have the choice to use other third-party browsers like Opera Mobile, Dolphin HD, etc available in Android Market. These browsers, with features like multiple tab support, bookmark syncing, gesture controls, etc give you much greater web surfing experience.

Here we chose only the popular browsers in the Android Market that have more than 250,000 downloads. To test their performance, we used SunSpider JavaScript benchmark to check the JavaScript processing speed of the browser. Also, as these mobile browsers support HTML5 and Flash, we used Peacekeeper Browser benchmark to evaluate the overall performance by testing for rendering capability, DOM operations, handling complex graphics, etc. We used LG Optimus Black P970 phone to install these browsers for benchmarking. And before benchmarking, most of the other background applications were killed using Advanced Task Killer app to ensure no or minimal interference while benchmarking was under process.

So, hopefully these results will give you an understanding of the pros, cons, features and the performance speed of the alternative Android browsers.

Opera Mobile 11.10

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If not in PC browser space, Opera has been able to lead and capitalize on the mobile browser space. The Opera Mobile browser is quick and offers the same feel as that of Opera’s PC browser with the familiar speed-dial as start page. The browser has a sleek interface and offers pinch to zoom or double-tap to zoom in/out of the page. While reading a particular column, the words are wrapped around to fit into the display screen so that you need not have to scroll right-left to read the content. On customization front, it lags much behind Dolphin HD. Another drawback is that it offers Google search only through the Search Bar, while with Firefox or Dolphin, it can be customized to user’s preferred search engine. The browser’s support for Flash add-on helps load the page content fast while the Flash content get downloaded when you tap on waiting icon. Like Firefox, this browser is also heavy at about 12MB in size, and when started it takes up 17MB of memory.

In overall performance, it scores the highest and in SunSpider JavaScript processing test it’s second only to Firefox. In all, the quickest browser that can offer full multimedia support to the users and that’s why highly recommended as an alternative browser to your phone’s stock Android browser.



Dolphin HD

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For a touch-screen phone, this is what a browser should be like. By far, Dolphin HD is the most customizable browser on the list here. At first look, it gives an impression of Google Chrome with its tabbed browsing and speed dial. It uses a Webkit engine and uses the device rendering capabilities. Hence, it is able to have a small memory footprint of just around 6MB, thus making it ideal for phones with lower RAM. The browser has extension or add-on support whereby you can install plug-ins like screen capture, web to PDF, RSS reader, etc. The stand-out feature for this browser is the gesture support and webzines. You can define a gesture for an action. For instance, as in the image we have defined the gesture to draw a circle to be directed to Google home page. There are pre-defined gestures to move to top/bottom of the page, etc.

This is helpful when browsing long text pages. While the ‘Webzine’ mode puts bookmarks into a magazine like layout, striping the extra formatting and emphasizing on the main text content. Other features like pinch to zoom and auto-wrap of text to fit display screen are also available. The good feature is the option to close the application and clear the cache through an exit button.

On the performance front, it is not as fast as Firefox or Opera Mobile, but scored much better than other Webkit based browsers. If you spend more time surfing web through your mobile phone, then you must install Dolphin HD browser for a better experience and features. You would be able to customize the browser to your preferences. It is the best alternative to the stock Android browser.

Firefox Mobile (Fennec 6.0)

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Firefox Mobile or Fennec is the browser that is most heavy at about 16MB, and it additionally requires around 12MB space in SD card. Coming to features, it scores over most of the other browsers. If you use Firefox on your desktop, you’ll find the Sync option most useful to seamlessly access your desktop browser’s bookmarks, passwords and browsing history onto your device and vice versa. Like the desktop version, the mobile browser also has Awesome Bar which acts as address plus search bar. Add-ons or extensions has been a forte for Firefox and for mobile version as well you’ll have loads of useful extensions to choose from. It also blocks pop-windows and prompts the user to take an action. The ‘Save as PDF’ option makes is handy to save webpages in PDF format to be viewed offline later. Swiping the right and left gives you sidebars for multiple tabs view and control settings respectively.

Performance: it scores second only to the Opera Mobile browser in the Peacekeepr benchmark. While for SunSpider JavaScript test, it was the fastest amongst all browsers.

A good performer, but heavy on memory usage compared to others in the league. Best suited for those who use Firefox on their desktops and want the same browsing features and bookmarks on their mobile device as well.



Skyfire

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Skyfire is a mobile browser that is solely meant for social networking. If you are hooked into Twitter and Facebook, then this browser offers best features for you. It is well integrated with Facebook and other social networks. By using Fireplace and Popular sites features, you can come to know what are the most recommended things about a particular webpage, and what all your friends are sharing via Facebook. The Facebook QuickView feature will keep your Facebook page always open and running in the background. You can access the page quickly for updating and checking updates. As the browser supports Flash out of the box, you can play videos from most websites, which is not the case with Firefox or Opera as they require external apps to play videos, even YouTube videos. You can switch between desktop and mobile views, as mobile view can restrict discovery of video content. Therefore it helps if you can switch to desktop view to see all the webpage’s contents. Above that, the memory footprint is small for this browser –just about 5.5MB when started. One annoying thing is that, to play the various Flash videos you have to buy the Skyfire Video license, and once the trial period is over it keeps popping up whenever you open a new webpage.

Coming to performance, it scored even lower than the stock Android browser. Useful for users who are more inclined towards social networking.

Miren

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Unlike Opera or Firefox this is a browser that starts up in a Flash. It is a minimalistic browser with no frills. It has all standard features of pich to zoom, tab browsing, flash support and bookmark management. You can also import/export bookmarks through SD card as well. One of the nice feature is the option to set brightness of the screen from within the browser. Due to minimalistic features, the browser takes just around 6MB of memory space when started. The built-in flash support makes the YouTube video playing from within the browser a seamless experience. This browser also has exit application button to free the memory resources when you are done with browsing. On performance, it scored the lowest in Peacekeeper benchmark and for JavaScript processing it was the slowest.

So which one?

If you are a simple Internet user than the default Android browser will suffice, but if you are looking at advanced features like syncing, better interface and customization capabilities, than you should choose Opera Mobile. For high-end device owners, Dolphin HD would be recommended as it gives enhanced features along with touch based gestures controls for better web navigation experience. While, Skyfire would entice those who are social networking enthusiasts.

Click on the image to enlarge

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