Welcome back to the battlefield, Droidguy readers. Today we’ve got a real doozy on our hands as we attempt to pit the best Android 2.1 browsers against each other and find out which one deserves to be your web workhorse of choice. As we all know, the browser wars on the desktop are always going to be ugly because each alternative browser is struggling to become the one with the largest installed base. The Android browsers wars may even be more frantic based on the fact that android users are used to having a choice, and unlike the average pc user, they are more likely to go out and download an alternative browser for their device. With that being said, lets prepare for battle, but keep in mind, that the war will continue to rage long after you read this article.
Stock Android Browser
The stock Android browser is just that, the default browser that comes pre-installed on just about every Android device. Be advised that although this browser may be stock, it is no slouch when it comes to features. This browser sets the bar high for any alternate browser released for Android. This browser offers the pinch-to-zoom interface for zooming in on portions of a page, tabbed browsing for browsing multiple pages at the same time, bookmarks and history, page sharing for posting your interests to email or your favorite social networking site, and pop-up blocking. This handy browser can also manage your passwords for log-ins, and works with phones that have motion sensing technology to display the page right-side up based on the orientation of the device. Not too shabby for free right out of the box.
The first alternative browser on the scene for this battle is Skyfire, a.k.a. “the one that does flash”. Now, for those of us who have a non-Froyo device like me, having the ability to watch online flash video is just not yet possible. We are all going to be stuck waiting for our carriers to get their approved builds of Android 2.2 out the door before we can take advantage of the full online flash experience. Enter Skyfire. While Skyfire may not be able to play ANY flash video out there, it does manage to play quite a few, and that’s saying a lot because there are no other browsers capable of playing flash video for Android devices that are not running 2.2. SkyFire is able to stream flash video because it is built on technology that takes each page you visit, and renders it on a remote server before sending that to your cell phone. Because of this, Skyfire is able to optimize the returned content for the device based on the device’s specifications and the current available network bandwidth. The software behind this streaming even manages to compress videos slightly when optimal streaming conditions cannot be gained. Currently, SkyFire is capable of streaming flash videos for flash players up to version 9.1.122.
The Skyfire Browser has a really nice default homepage in my opinion. The page opens with the days top searches and a list of featured mobile sites, and a google search box. Searching for any term or clicking on a search term will reveal the SkyFire search results just below the navigation bar. These results include the Google web results, a list of related videos about the subject, the latest news trends, tweets about your search term, and Amazon.com results for items matching the user’s search. Also, no matter what page you visit, if there is a supported video on that page, the video will pop-up in the SkyBar at the bottom of the page. The SkyBar is a second navigation bar that gives users information about available videos on the page, suggested search terms matching the content of the current page, and the ability to share that page via the user’s method of choice.
Last but not least, SkyFire offers up a handy way of switching the user agent. For those of you not familiar with the term “user agent”, think of is as a costume for your browser. You can disguise your browser’s type as another type. This trick the server into showing you the version of a webpage that is meant for another type of device. In SkyFire, a simple click on the Android/Desktop button (highlighted in green in the image below) will let you switch your browsers from Android or Desktop to the other. One reason you might want to do this is because often, when browsing a site for news, you may just want the mobile version of the site because those sites are quick to load, and require little bandwidth. However, if you are looking for video content, the desktop version of the site is more likely to load up videos because desktop clients are less likely to have the bandwidth constraints of most mobile devices.
One of the most seasoned veterans in the battle would have to be the Opera Mini Browser. Opera Mini runs on just about every device with a network connection. Anyone who has used an Opera browser on their PC or non-android mobile device will instantly recognize the standard Opera Speed Dial Homepage. Your top nine sites, right there at your fingertips. The Opera browser can do all the things that the stock browser can do, but it does it all extremely fast! This browser is able to move pages in a hurry using the same sort of server technology that SkyFire does to boost page load performance.
When you go to battle, being able to do all things well can be a real advantage. Dolphin HD is what I could consider to be a browser utility knife. Sure, it browses the web, but it can also replace a large number of installed apps on your device, if you wanted to do so. The Dolphin HD browser covers all of the stock browser’s features, and it adds on quite a few other features. The Dolphin HD browser gives users the ability to sort their bookmarks. It give users the option to view their pages in full-screen mode (sans tabs and navigation bar). It allows users to assign actions to their volume rocker like scrolling up or down, or switching tabs. It allows users to choose from four different user agents including Android, Desktop, iPhone, and iPad. The Dolphin browser has an extensive support of gesture shortcuts, and even lets you record your own gestures. But, most importantly, the Dolphin Browser supports themes and, wait for it…Add-ons!
I don’t know about you guys, but if you are anything like me you have played around with FireFox, and had a chance to installed some add-ons. Once I figured out how useful add-ons were, I switched my browser of choice to FireFox and never looked back. No lie, have 30 add-ons installed on the computer I am using right now, and I love them. Add-ons, for those of you who are not familiar, are tiny apps that actually run in your browser. There are add-ons to send tweets to your twitter account, manage bookmarks, save sites for reading later, creating QR scan code links, and all kinds of other stuff. Gestures can be real time savers.
The Dolphin Browser HD comes in a lite version and a full version ($4.99). The full version does not have any ads, the Lite version has some advertising in the bookmarks, add-ons, and pages.
Finally, the last contender in this browser battle is xScope. xScope handles all of the duties that the stock browser does. It supports user agent switching between all four types that Dolphin does, and it adds an Android 1.6 user agent. It allows users to do neat things like share screenshots, and view files stored on their device. xScope even has a built-in task manager to view and modify tasks currently running on the phone. xScope offers up a very clean, uncluttered user interface that utilizes a single navigation bar that slides left and right to reveal all of the options. The xScope browser supports the usual pinch-to-zoom interface, and something that they call pin zoom, or as I like to call it, “one-finger-zoom”. Simply double tap on any spot on the page, and drag your finger left or right to zoom in or out.
xScope is available in a free or paid version ($2.99). The paid version adds the ability to save more favorites on the opening page, enhance file management, and file zip compression.
Well, the time has now come for a winner to claim victory. The battle is over, the dust has settled, and a one browser app has emerged as the winner. It’s not easy to choose a winner for this battle because each browser seems to have it’s own unique strong-point. Each browser will appeal to different individuals based on their preferences and needs, and thus, that is the reason why this battle cannot decide who will win this browser war that is sure to continue indefinitely. As these browsers continue to mature and add new features, making a choice among them will only become more difficult.
Today, I have chosen to declare Dolphin HD as the winner based on it’s flexibility, and wealth of different options. There are quite a few thing that this browser has available to it through add ons that really make it versatile, and useful. I for one found the Read-it-later add on to be quite useful as a way to share links between my Android phone and my desktop browser today, without having to have Froyo installed. I feel that the other four browsers would all serve well as a main browser depending on the user. For those who are minimalists, and not looking for lots of flash, or bells and whistles, the stock browser might appeal to you. If you are all about flash right here, right now, you need to install SkyFire. If you want a fast browser with a clean interface, you really need to give Opera Mini a try. And finally, if you are interested in a browser that offers interesting things like file and task management, have a look at xScope.
Thank you all for reading, and as always. Let me what your take is on the battle this week? Have you got an idea for an upcoming app battle? Know of an App you want reviewed, or just want to tell us how we’re doin’? Feel free to comment below, or send me an email at Andrew@thedroidguy.com, and be sure to follow theDroidGuy on twitter to add your input on future app battles!