Android Browser Race

Android Browser Race


In this day and age, it's important for us to stay connected all the time and with all these great leaps forward that the smartphone industry has been making lately, that often happens thanks to our cell phones. As things stand at present, Android is one of the hottest operating systems in the smartphone world and is going from strength to strength in more than one department. One of the things that make Android so well received by most people is the fact that it has such a rich variety of third-party applications. And when it comes to choosing a browser, the Android Market has a lot to offer. That's why we decided that the time is right to test a few of the most popular browsers in the Android world and make a comparison of their pros and cons. In our review, the following browsers will be put under the microscope: the stock Froyo browser, Opera Mobile beta 10.1, Firefox 4 beta, Dolphin HD, Skyfire 3.0 and xScope 6. So, let's start our journey with the stock Android browser as found on the Samsung Galaxy S, running Froyo (all tests are performed on the same handset):

Stock Android 2.2 browser

There are plenty of people who are not as obsessed as you and us about smartphones and they rarely bother to check the Android Market for the newest and bestest of apps. And for them, here comes the stock Froyo browser, which is based on WebKit and there is a pretty decent chance that it has all your needs covered. First of all, the Froyo browser operates in a very snappy manner in two key areas –

it loads pages in lightning speeds and pinch-to-zoom works very well. There is no lag whatsoever and we're really pleased with its performance in these departments. The same can't be said about the scrolling experience with the Froyo browser. It's probably an issue for a few people, since it's a little bit choppy and far from smooth experience. Another weak point of the Froyo browser is the fact that going from tab to tab is not optimized at all and not only we experienced a little bit of lagging, but it actually crashed once during our tests. One big advantage that the Froyo browser has over its predecessors (and some of its rivals too) is the fact that it supports Flash Player 10.1. Sure, it takes a few more seconds to load a page with moderate to heavy Flash content compared to a page which is not Flash-enabled, but everything has its price. All in all, the Froyo browser is doing an all-around good job that will satisfy a huge portion of the Android users.

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All-around balanced browser
Great load rates

Scrolling is choppy on complex pages
Tabbing is not optimized

Opera Mobile 10.1 beta

Opera Mobile 10.1 beta scores a few points over its Android rivals because it gets the simple things right – scrolling is smooth and pinch-to-zoom flawless, but the thing that really makes the difference between Opera and the other Android competitors is the fast load rates, especially when the Opera Turbo mode is on. In that mode, it compresses data – both images and text – in order to load the page faster. It works very well, as the load time is significantly lower, but of course this mode has its downside – everything becomes a little bit blurry. In all honesty, it works well on most sites and it's highly useful if you are in a low-signal area. Furthermore, Opera claims that with the Opera Turbo mode you can save up to 90% of your data costs, which comes in handy these days. Beyond the excellent load rates, Opera Mobile 10.1 beta has all the usual Opera goodies like the bookmark grid called Speed Dial, Desktop Browser Sync and Mobile Viewmode. Our final thoughts on this browser are that it's easy to use, has fast load rates, scrolling is smooth and you can save up to 90% of your data costs, while the downside is that it doesn't support Flash.

Turbo Mode saves you up to 90% of your data costs
Excellent load rates

Not Flash-enabled

Skyfire 3.0

Skyfire is one of the most talked-about browsers and there is a pretty good reason for that – it incorporates some awesome features with a lackluster performance. But the good things first. To start with, Skyfire is more like a PC browser compared to the rest of the pack – it's desktop-optimized and has a few of the goodies that the other competitors in the Android Browser Race lack – like a true toolbar, which gives you one click access to a lot of features. That makes the interface easier to use compared to any other Android browser and, as we all know, small things make a big difference – just to illustrate, the back button on the toolbar can do wonders and the interactive zoom in/zoom out option is really well-integrated. With Skyfire 3.0, you also have better Facebook intergration and OneTouch Search that allows simultaneous search from Google, Facebook and Twitter. Of course, Skyfire made a name for itself with its Flash-playing capabilities. Now, there are a few browsers that support some kind of Flash, but Skyfire is doing a great job in that department most of the time. Now, the bad things about Skyfire – it has one very obvious downside –  this browser is just not very good as a... browser. Most of the time, if more than one tab is loaded, it lags so much that it's practically unusable. Fair enough, though –  if it's not a problem for you to use only one tab, you can get a really good performance from this browser most of the time. That said, Skyfire is millions of light years away from the reliability that you get from the stock Froyo browser and Opera Mobile. You get really snappy scrolling experience when it's not lagging (i.e. when you use only one tab), but with multiple tabs this is nothing more than a wish. Pinch-to-zoom works well, but the slow load of web pages is painful, although it's only fair to say that in the few instances when it was lag-free during our tests, it was one of the fastest Android browsers that we have tested. As a conclusion, we hope that the guys at Skyfire Labs will optimize the browser, because it has so much potential – if they manage to erase the lag which comes with multiple tabs, we'll have a monster of a browser that brings a true desktop-like feel to our smartphones. Fingers crossed.

Desktop-like browsing               
Great interface and functions               

It lags so much when more than one tab is loaded that it's unusable at times
Highly unreliable

Dolphin HD

Dolphin HD is one very, very polarizing browser – its intriguing (even groundbreaking) interface integrates quite a few cool options, but at the same time, some fundamentals – like fast load rates, smooth scrolling and good pinch-to-zoom – are simply not present. Once again, we'll begin with the good things – going from tab to tab with Dolphin HD is easy and fast, although it lags occasionally. It also has some other great features, like Private Browsing (it gives you the chance to browse without leaving a trace), the option to use the volume button to scroll and the Gesture Button that allows you to go back/forward/refresh/add a new tab and so on only by drawing a simple "gesture" on your screen. It really works great (unlike the scrolling volume button) and can be of great help once you get used to it. Moreover, you can create your own "gestures", which further facilitates the process. It has a few other perks (like automatic detection of RSS feeds), but the real gem with Dolphin HD is that it offers plenty of add-ons for download. Since the mobile Firefox is still not optimized enough to be available in the Android Market, this is really a feature that no other Android browser supports. Now, the bad things. First of all, it's noticeable that the load rates of web pages that Dolphin HD achieves are significantly slower than the stock Froyo browser for example. Scrolling is nowhere as smooth as, say, Opera Mobile and even worse, when any flash content is present, the browser is almost unusable and pinch-to-zoom is not executed very well.

Amazing interface               
Great and innovative functions         
Plenty of add-ons               
Flash-enabled with Froyo 2.2

Slow load rates
Lags a little bit when scrolling and using pinch-to-zoom, especially when more than one tab is present
Pages are not always optimized

Firefox 4 beta

When Mozilla Firefox was first released for PC, it showed what the phrase "a really good browser" really means and it was a cure for all of us who were seeking a good substitute for the Internet Explorer, but never really liked Opera. Now we have Firefox 4 beta for Android and we certainly hope that when the full version is released, it would manage to achieve the same heights. Our very first impression was that Firefox 4 beta is loading pages in absolutely unbelievable speeds. It's certainly faster in that aspect than the Froyo browser and Opera Mobile and that speaks volumes about the speeds it manages to achieve. Unsurprisingly, Firefox 4 beta is tightly integrated with its computer counterpart, which means that you can sync all your history, bookmarks and so on between the two. The interface is very intuitive and the back/forward buttons, as well as the bookmark option are always one click away. Moreover, you get plenty of extremely useful add-ons and, as this is only a beta, it's sure that a lot more are soon to come. There is no lag whatsoever and the pinch-to-zoom and scrolling functions work very well. However, all Flash-loving users will be disappointed as Firefox 4 beta for Android doesn’t support Flash at all, which may be a great con for a few people. Also, the browser is not very stable, but this is only a beta after all. Generally, though, Firefox 4 beta is promising much and we can only hope that when it's officially released, all the above-mentioned issues will be cleared. Even now, it's a really good browser that's bound to get better and better.

Lightning loading of pages                   
Tight integration with its computer counterpart                        
Very intuitive interface                   
Plenty of add-ons

No Flash
Not very stable

xScope 6

xScope 6 is the last browser to join our Android Browser Race and its load speed of the web pages is pretty good, although it's not as fast as Firefox 4 beta, the stock Froyo browser and Opera Mobile 10.1 beta. However, it's important to note that when you load more than two tabs, it slows down considerably. xScope 6 looks very clean and simple – a fact that may count as a disadvantage for some people and that's why skins are available for download, which gives you the chance to create a more customized (and sophisticated) appearance for your xScope 6. It has plenty of settings that create a browsing experience of your choice and shortcuts for folders like my downloads and history are always one click away. One thing that we really like about xScope is that it has the most comfortable tabbing we've seen from all Android browsers that we've tested. It uses simple finger swipe that's extremely fast to use and it makes tabbing a pleasure. Sadly, as with the other browsers that we have reviewed, xScope 6 also has a few downsides. First of all, page viewing is not very optimized for some sites and this may be a source of irritation if you use this browser long enough. Scrolling is extremely fast if only one tab is opened, but it tends to lag when three or more are in use.

Good load rates                             
Very fast and easy tabbing                   
Quick scrolling                   

Some people may dislike the simple appearance of the browser
Page viewing is not optimized
Slows down considerably if you add more than two tabs


We took this trip into the land of the Android browsers just to see what the little green robot offers in the browser department. We all know that smartphones are bound to get more sophisticated and powerful and the same goes for the wireless networks that we use to connect our devices to the internet. All of these browsers have their strong points and weaknesses, but probably Opera Mobile is the best Flash-disabled browser, since it is fluid, stable and executes the functions it has very well. As for the Flash-enabled browsers, we think that the stock Froyo browser is the best, because it provides full Flash Player 10.1 support, as well as good load-rates. The most important thing, though, is your opinion on which one is the best Android browser, so tell us with your comments.

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