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The best Android browsers, 2014 edition: design, features, and performance

Posted: , by Chris P.

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The best Android browsers, 2014 edition: design, features, and performance

Preface


Three months from now, it will be a full year since we last took it upon ourselves to explore and compare mobile browsers in depth. This time around, we'll be kicking things into a higher gear. Heck, it's probably fair to say that this is a whole new ballgame, as the scope of examined categories is far larger. Said otherwise, while you and us will revisit the same type of synthetic and real world performance benchmarks, along with functionality, and features, general UI responsiveness and design will, this time around, also factor in.

We had to take shortcuts, though. Simply put, there are just way too many browser apps available right now, and that makes it practically impossible to examine them all well enough. So we had to pick. But instead of simply relying on popularity, or speed, or features, we thought it's best to cover the entire spectrum, and also include newcomers, that may not have yet won themselves massive audiences, but chances are, they will.

But enough with the disclaimers. Let's talk facts.

Note: The test device of choice is the OnePlus One.

Interface and design


Last time we explored mobile Android browsers, the focus was on speed. That made a lot of sense back then, especially considering that less than a year ago, poor performance was still an overarching issue with most low-to-mid range smartphones. Today, things are different, and even the cheapest devices out there are speedy enough to mostly swing the discussion in the other direction -- the design of the interface, and how easy it is to use.

In general, it's absolutely correct to say that this is an area that has seen pretty much zero change in a long time -- what we have on our mobile devices is, for the most part, a miniaturized version of our desktop browsers. We have an address bar on top, tabs usually sit there too, and a giant box of white space waiting to be filled with content. We found it absolutely strange that of all the browsers we've tested, including the ones that didn't make the shortlist, only Habit Browser had the address bar located on the bottom, thus making it easy to reach. We're not saying its implementation is perfect, but with the average Android phone now dangerously close to the 5-inch mark, this is becoming an issue. But let's talk about the contestants in turn -- go right ahead into the slideshow below.


Features


Now that you've gotten yourself acquainted with the browsers above and their design language, most of you will naturally wonder what kind of features they bring to the table (heh). It's hard to cover everything everyone is looking for, but there are definitely a few essential features that all of us can and do make good use of. If they're available, of course.

Now, some of these browsers (Firefox, UC Browser, Dolphin, for example) support extensions, but making these a part of the equation would equal a logistical and practical nightmare. Besides, the average user will mostly never make use of them, unless the browser app presents these options in an-easy-to-grasp (and install) way (like UC Browser).

So what features are important for a browser, then? Again, this varies, but we'd say that most would agree that synchronization with your desktop browser is a pretty wicked feature, and one that makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, not all of the browsers on our list offer this feature, which is a bit sad. Moving on, most of us like to have a way to browse the web anonymously, so incognito tabs have become something of a standard feature, but also one that not all browsers offer. Lastly, data compression is also becoming more and more of a worthwhile feature, now that the world is consuming increasingly gigantic amounts of data, all the while on a limited subscription.

The best Android browsers, 2014 edition: design, features, and performance
* Dolphin's Ad blocker requires JetPack (standard on Android 4.3-4.4 devices). Flash support only through an addon.
* Puffin's Flash support lasts just 7 days. After that, you need to subscribe.

Again, this isn't an exhaustive list, but it covers the main bases. As you can count for yourself, UC Browser happens to be the most feature-rich solution currently on the market, and that has been the case for a while now. Dolphin, on the other hand, has a number of other, fairly unique features, like gesture support, so don't underestimate it at all.

UPDATE: Dolphin has since pushed an update that has made Private Mode and Full-screen mode available once again. The table above has been edited to reflect these changes.

Performance: What do synthetic benchmarks say?


With design and features out of the way, it's time for the moment of truth. After all, even the most visually-attractive browser won't last long if it doesn't offer its users great performance. 

The tests we've ran (more times than you'd care to know) are both synthetic and real world, but we'll start with the former. Before we go right ahead, a word, though. Sure, most of you have learned to doubt synthetic benchmarks, as they don't always paint a representative picture of real world performance (which we'll talk about in a bit). When it comes to browsers, however, synthetic benchmarks happen to be decent predictors of performance, especially since some of them are not just about measuring code-crunching speed, but also attempt to replicate real world usage scenarios, and watch how apps handle that (e.g. Browsermark). Let's see.


Performance: Page load times


Tired of synthetic benchmarks? Probably yes, meaning it's time to see how well these load and render pages in the real world. We'll be looking at load speeds under two different states -- with cache and all assets of the browser app purged, and with those saved. This will essentially give us the speed at which a browser loads a page it hasn't seen before (and knows nothing about), and one that it's acquainted with. 

One ground rule: browsers need to load the entire contents of the page, and that's very important, as some stop their progress bar before that happens, which we think is kind of shady. In any case, to arrive at the below results, all tests were ran multiple times (three) and the score you see is the averaged time it took them to load the page.


Memory consumption


The last test we performed concerns memory consumption. Indeed, while most of us now have at least 1GB of RAM on our devices, a lot of people are still stuck with claustrophobic amounts, such as 512MB. For those devices, performance is already an issue, so a heavy browser is the last thing that's needed. We tested memory consumption on all browsers with just the homepage tab open, and then with 4 tabs loaded (Google.com, m.BBC.com, m.NYTimes.com, and a specific page of PhoneArena.com).

The best Android browsers, 2014 edition: design, features, and performance
* in Megabytes (MB); less is better

As you can see, with the exception of Firefox, Puffin, Chrome, and Opera, the rest are fairly clustered together, with Lightning Browser proving to be the most lightweight of all. In other words, if your device finds itself memory-starved, causing it to shut down apps, then Lightning Browser is a decent choice -- it's simple, feature-rich, and speedy.

* Note: Keep in mind that memory consumption varies by device. The numbers above are for the OnePlus One. A device with 512MB RAM won't require over 400MB just to keep Opera running with 4 tabs.

Conclusion


We used the OnePlus One to test all of the browsers

We used the OnePlus One to test all of the browsers

So what are you to conclude from all these tests? It certainly seems like there's a lesson to be learned here, and some are better than the rest. That's true, but we can't stress how small these differences usually are, especially if you exclude outliers like Puffin. Yes, it's certainly safe to say that Dolphin, Opera, and Firefox, are generally slower than the rest, and Chrome and CM Browser are usually one of the fastest, but you still have to get a feel of them before sticking with one.

As for us, through this entire process, we can say that we discovered CM Browser. This new app happens to suite our needs very well, and is plenty fast and easy on the eyes. On the other hand, Dolphin, despite its problematic speed, offers a very specific user experience, and if you're ready to learn, then you certainly need to give it a try. The same applies to UC Browser, which is actually decently fast.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment nearly a year later is Puffin. We can't help but feel the devs are missing out by not investing into a slicker, speedier interface. The browser certainly has that "I-am-the-fastest" appeal, and our tests prove it's true.

Overall, we feel confident in claiming that most popular doesn't necessarily equal better, and you never know when something great will come along. And if you're unwilling to spend your time looking for a great Android browser, it's certainly safe to say that none of those on the list will disappoint you (even Puffin, if speed is what you're looking for).

So there you have them, the very best browsers Android has to offer.

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88 Comments
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posted on 23 Jul 2014, 09:52 10

1. Duketytz (Posts: 522; Member since: 28 Nov 2013)


We all know the most important column is 'flash supported'

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 13:04 3

23. The-Sailor-Man (banned) (Posts: 1095; Member since: 25 Mar 2014)


Dolphin has it.
Besides Dolphin HAS incognito and full screen modes.
What a misleading article. LOL
It has night mode too.

posted on 24 Jul 2014, 00:50

43. TheOldOne (Posts: 105; Member since: 29 Mar 2012)


Nope, it doesn't have incognito, at least in the laterst version. Full creen, yes.

Maybe you're reffering to a different browser?

posted on 24 Jul 2014, 01:17

47. Chris.P (Posts: 309; Member since: 27 Jun 2013)


Hm, that's an input error. Dolphin indeed has full-screen mode. I've edited the table. Thanks to The-Sailor-Man for bringing this up.

As mentioned, Incognito mode is gone with the latest version of Dolphin. It used to be in Menu> More> Settings > Privacy & Personal Data, but the structure is now different (Menu > Settings > Privacy) and the option is missing.

posted on 24 Jul 2014, 10:16

51. c312c (Posts: 1; Member since: 24 Jul 2014)


Incognito mode is most certainly still there, swipe from the right on any page to access the control panel and hit the eye-shaped icon.

posted on 25 Jul 2014, 09:21

57. Chris.P (Posts: 309; Member since: 27 Jun 2013)


Correction. Dolphin has now been updated, and access to Private Mode and Full-screen mode is back.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 20:17

40. joey_sfb (Posts: 3259; Member since: 29 Mar 2012)


Firefox support Flash as well. Been using it for awhile. Just install flash download like the rest and enable plug-in setting Always.

posted on 25 Jul 2014, 10:53 1

62. kzat82 (Posts: 26; Member since: 26 Dec 2013)


Flash support is less important than you think.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 09:56 1

2. XperiaFanZone (Posts: 1472; Member since: 21 Sep 2012)


Switching tabs is a hassle on all of the browsers tested/new browsers, compared to Opera Classic. Still sticking to it until switching tabs is efficient on the new browsers.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 10:09

4. ihavenoname (Posts: 1522; Member since: 18 Aug 2013)


On Chrome: press button/swipe down search bar to go to tab manager. Not a "hazzle" if you ask me. Also switching between two tabs is just left or right swipe on search bar.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 10:18 1

5. XperiaFanZone (Posts: 1472; Member since: 21 Sep 2012)


On Opera Classic, you press the tab menu and you can select tabs from there just by tapping. No need to scroll.

On Chrome you also have to stretch your thumb to the top of the screen and do more numerous actions.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 12:31

20. Furbal (Posts: 404; Member since: 22 Sep 2012)


Opera is my go too browser now. Just use tablet mode and it tabs just like a desktop. Very nice

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 19:42

39. buccob (Posts: 1570; Member since: 19 Jun 2012)


Also didn't Opera support Tab Sync by "Opera Link"???

I don't use it anymore so I am not up to date with the info so...

I used to love Opera but Chrome won me over on desktop and that leveraged mobile version...

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 09:59 4

3. Busyboy (Posts: 412; Member since: 19 Jun 2014)


Chrome

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 10:24 2

6. isprobi (Posts: 230; Member since: 30 May 2011)


In a way this is not truly a fair test because some browsers have unusual features that are not on the chart. Like Puffin having special keyboard and mouse support.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 10:31

7. mocir (Posts: 20; Member since: 13 Jul 2012)


Yandex browser also has the address bar at the bottom. What I like about Next browser (Yandex too) is that you can swipe left or right to switch tabs like we used to on Chrome. Firefox and Dolphin are not worth it. I discovered CM Browser, I'll definitely try it.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 10:33 4

8. mayur007 (Posts: 472; Member since: 10 Apr 2012)


firefox does supports flash..

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 10:44

9. drazwy (Posts: 146; Member since: 15 Jan 2014)


Indeed it does. It's what I've been using for my flash content. But since it's plugin based they didn't count it.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 11:51 2

15. isprobi (Posts: 230; Member since: 30 May 2011)


But I believe it and most of the other browsers that support Flash require you to have Flash mobile installed on your phone. That version is no longer supported by Adobe. Puffin on the other hand supports desktop Flash through its servers as I understand it.

posted on 24 Jul 2014, 12:06

52. RandomUsername (Posts: 560; Member since: 29 Oct 2013)


Also, Firefox has a reading mode...

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 11:11

10. mayur007 (Posts: 472; Member since: 10 Apr 2012)


what i remember is uc browser is also a plugin based

may be i wrong... hvnt used it since long time though

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 11:23

11. antmiu2 (Posts: 241; Member since: 19 Jun 2011)


hi phone arena, please add naked browser to your testshttps://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.fevdev.nakedbrowser

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 11:29

12. alrightihatepickingusernames (Posts: 442; Member since: 29 Dec 2013)


Puffin isn't super fluid in my usage as it loads full desktop pages so I only use it when I'm getting bad service and it's performance will outweigh Chrome.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 11:54

16. isprobi (Posts: 230; Member since: 30 May 2011)


But if you want your phone to be like a PC why would you not always want a desktop web site? I find mobile sites are usually limited in functionality.

posted on 24 Jul 2014, 00:05

42. alrightihatepickingusernames (Posts: 442; Member since: 29 Dec 2013)


Well I don't want my phone to be completely like a PC, I can appreciate a few mobile sites. Most of the time I will lean towards a desktop site, (for example, I'm using desktop PA on my phone) but it just seems more fluid in Chrome. I have lackluster LTE in my area, that's where Puffin comes into play, when Chrome can't load the page I'll deal with Puffin's issues.

Overall the combo is great though. I'm definitely not trying to bash Puffin. I highly recommend it, if it's benchmark scores aren't convincing enough!

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 11:32

13. sadiqahmed (Posts: 27; Member since: 11 Oct 2013)


Dolphin does have Incognito mode known as "Private Mode".

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 12:08 1

18. Chris.P (Posts: 309; Member since: 27 Jun 2013)


Not available in the latest version, for some reason. I knew it used to have it, so I kept looking.

The settings menu where it used to be located is now different, and even the official Dolphin FAQ points to the wrong location. Which version of Dolphin do you use?

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 15:59

31. SellPhones82 (Posts: 565; Member since: 11 Dec 2008)


I noticed a few weeks ago that Dolphin wouldn't load some sites and would error out. They'd load just fine on Chrome and they loaded just fine on Dolphin prior to the update. Going through the setting it appears they stripped a lot of setting/features out of it. Think it's time to uninstall and try some of the other you've listed.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 11:33

14. MarkArigayo (Posts: 240; Member since: 18 Dec 2013)


Dolphin Browser. Lighter and faster on my G2.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 12:03

17. Neo_Huang (Posts: 731; Member since: 06 Dec 2013)


"Note: The test device of choice is the OnePlus One."
Lol.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 15:28

30. cezarepc (Posts: 610; Member since: 23 Nov 2012)


I've been waiting for that invite for months......

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 12:12

19. hafini_27 (Posts: 317; Member since: 31 Oct 2013)


AOSP browser

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 12:35

21. Totse2k15 (Posts: 276; Member since: 11 Feb 2014)


Puffin paid version is all I need.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 12:55

22. Planterz (Posts: 1087; Member since: 30 Apr 2012)


Dolphin has a full screen mode, with an add-on.

posted on 25 Jul 2014, 09:24

58. Chris.P (Posts: 309; Member since: 27 Jun 2013)


It's not default with the latest update (came through after this piece was published).

posted on 25 Jul 2014, 09:41

61. Chris.P (Posts: 309; Member since: 27 Jun 2013)


Now* is what I meant.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 13:08

24. xperian (Posts: 72; Member since: 10 Apr 2014)


I am using Firefox, because it doesn't start to lag after longer usage like chrome and supports adblock

posted on 06 Dec 2014, 07:38

88. sventhedog (Posts: 2; Member since: 06 Dec 2014)


i agree. i noticed that firefox uses more memory (vs others) with 1 tab but increases less memory when you open more tabs. the other browsers uses less memory (vs firefox) with 1 tab but increases more especially opera and chrome.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 13:22

25. torr310 (Posts: 451; Member since: 27 Oct 2011)


Thank you PA for this write-up. It helps!

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 13:34 2

26. LikeMyself (Posts: 302; Member since: 23 Sep 2013)


I would appreciate if you could please do a test to compare how much the top 5 browsers suck battery life as I'm having the impression that Chrome is a nasty battery eater!

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 13:44 1

27. somad (Posts: 131; Member since: 17 Apr 2014)


I just want to know why Google doesn't support flash player anymore on chrome.??!!

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 16:31 1

32. avalon2105 (Posts: 113; Member since: 12 Jul 2014)


Probably because it is not 2004. anymore and people have moved on. HTML5 offers so much more with less resources consumption that I have to wander why are people still clinging to Adobe flash (if it's for porn then I understand).

posted on 12 Aug 2014, 13:37

77. elitewolverine (Posts: 2078; Member since: 28 Oct 2013)


They cling to it for older sites that have refused to update, or other things like nearly all of facebook games.. Adobe is a hog on resources and battery. Even with it on my Note 3 it hogs it up.

Flash is not mobile friendly.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 14:35

28. livyatan (Posts: 753; Member since: 19 Jun 2013)


Did you use the Jetpack engine for Dolphin?

posted on 24 Jul 2014, 01:12

45. Chris.P (Posts: 309; Member since: 27 Jun 2013)


Yes. It comes standard on Android 4.3/4.4 devices now.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 14:52

29. ardem (Posts: 3; Member since: 22 Jul 2014)


Maxthon Cloud Browser
play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mx.brows​er

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 16:42

33. avalon2105 (Posts: 113; Member since: 12 Jul 2014)


I'm really sceptical about those RAM consumption charts since Chrome on my G2 with 13 tabs running (all of them desktop version of those sites) uses 68MB and 77,2MB when I added 4 sites you used in your review. How or why it uses 400MB in your case is beyond me, maybe some difference between LG's and Cyanogen's task manager and how they calculate used RAM but still, such differences seem unlikely to me.

posted on 24 Jul 2014, 01:13

46. Chris.P (Posts: 309; Member since: 27 Jun 2013)


Yeah, the main process maybe using 77.2MB, but did you count the rest? Chrome, like on desktop, has decoupled those, so each tab is a different process. You need to add them up.

posted on 24 Jul 2014, 04:53

48. avalon2105 (Posts: 113; Member since: 12 Jul 2014)


Not sure how to do it. When I go into task manager it shows only that one task and it's RAM usage. Also when I clear the process completely it frees around 80MB or total RAM according to both LG 's task manager and Settings>Apps>Running. That's why I'd like to ask how to check all the processes that browser is running since adding new tabs does increase RAM usage but only so slightly (9MB difference for 4 tabs).

posted on 24 Jul 2014, 05:01

49. avalon2105 (Posts: 113; Member since: 12 Jul 2014)


Ignore my comment above. I found all the Chrome processes in cashed processes and they add up to approximately 350MB but for some reason phone is caching and closing anything Chrome related as soon as I hit home button.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 16:42 1

34. Kiseki (Posts: 3; Member since: 24 Feb 2014)


Opera for me. I need text/word wrapping.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 16:46

35. ausnote2 (Posts: 84; Member since: 07 Dec 2012)


to get full web experience you need flash and i use to used dolphin but now firefox all the way. Note i always used desktop mode since it is perfect for my note 3. One question that if someone can help me is multiple tabs multitasking. that is if i am watching starcraft esport and i browse on a second tab for news, no browsers at the moment allows the first to continue the background :( this is the only drawback compare to the true desktop experience

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 17:17

36. livyatan (Posts: 753; Member since: 19 Jun 2013)


Use Floating Browser, you can open even multiple windows with videos at once, even over the other opened browsers.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 19:12

38. ausnote2 (Posts: 84; Member since: 07 Dec 2012)


will try this. thanks.
one thing that bugs me with firefox is text/word wrapping etc. when enteting a new line like this, i usually try to not start a new line as entering will reverse the cursor. happening over six months ago but firefox team still have not fix it :(

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 18:08

37. Gadgety (Posts: 107; Member since: 03 Sep 2012)


I found a new app/add-in for Firefox which made me start using it, called Home Feed, bringing RSS feeds to the top of Firefox' home page.

If an RSS is available an icon shows up in the search field, and then the option to add. It very smoothly adds RSS feeds to the Firefox home page. All feeds are at the top of the page, and when sliding the finger over them each feed's summaries show up. I love it.

posted on 23 Jul 2014, 21:27

41. arenapirate (Posts: 13; Member since: 22 Nov 2012)


I've found Boat Browser to be much better than most on the list. it's slew of features & faster tab switching/navigation via buttons on the bottom makes it less annoying to use. I still don't understand why other browser developers think it makes sense to put tab & other navigation functions on top of the page where it requires you to readjust your hand to reach.

The only thing missing is text wrap (which I read google has done away with) & having the address bar at the bottom of page like windows phone 8.

posted on 24 Jul 2014, 00:53

44. clarkjeferson (Posts: 53; Member since: 22 Dec 2013)


No Boat Browser? Laaaaaaaame

posted on 24 Jul 2014, 08:01

50. shahrooz (Posts: 212; Member since: 17 Sep 2013)


UC browser has built in ad blocker but you said it doesn't!

posted on 25 Jul 2014, 09:25

59. Chris.P (Posts: 309; Member since: 27 Jun 2013)


It used to. Now it does not. We've looked multiple times and found no option to turn it on. Ads are served as normal with the default settings.

Which version are you using? You check by going to Settings and scrolling to the bottom of the page.

posted on 24 Jul 2014, 12:41

53. MrSpontaneous (Posts: 2; Member since: 24 Jul 2014)


Firefox has a built-in reader mode that can be activated by tapping on the magazine icon on the right side of the address bar once the page has loaded.

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