A few years ago mobile browsing was a real hassle and after a few websites you wanted to throw away your phone. With capacitive touch screens and new gesture controls mobile browsing has improved and the percentage of website visitors accessing sites via mobile devices increases from month to month.
Google Android claim to be open. This philosophy has lead to many applications, which have tight integration to the core functionality of the operating system. As a consequence alternative browsers are widespread for the Android platform.
The defaut Android browser uses Google Crome technology, and is improved constantly with every new version of Android. The default browser is straightforward and is also very fast. But even though there are some reasons to look for alternative browsers. I’ve put some alternatives together.
The mew mobile version of Firefox 4 is now available for Android and has significantly improved performance and resources compared to latest beta versions.
Firefox 4 uses new and own interface principles for browsing. If you swipe to the right, you can see open tabs on the left and you have the possibility to open new tabs. Swiping in the opposite direction, a navigation menu appears with the possibility to add your page to favorites. With these clever attempts Firefox tries to make the most out of the limited screen size on a smart phone.
One more advanced feature compared to the Google Android browser is the possibility to synchronize browser specific data like bookmarks, login data with the desktop browser. The setup of Sync, how this feature is called, is very simple. The only thing is to validate a number combination visualized on your phone with the desktop. All data are stored encrypted and secure on Mozilla server.
Firefox is able to extent functionality via Add-Ons as it is well known in desktop versions of Browsers. The number of Add-One is currently limited but growing. Firefox mobile uses different search engines like Google, Wikipedia, Twitter and Amazon.
A nice gimmick is the “Awesomescreen”, which will be displayed after launching the application and shows recently open websites.
One of the major advantages is the fact that Firefox uses technology of the most recent desktop release. Therefore Firefox mobile supports HTML5 Videos, 3D rendering based on WebGL and more.
But there are still some major drawbacks. The browser will approximately consume al lot of RAM on your device – 14 MByte after the first start. You will have to wait several seconds until the program is started and ready to use. For this reason it makes sence that Firefox is only available on latest devices running Android 2.3 or later.
The rendering of Websites is ok and zooming and scrolling works smoothly within Firefox. Fonts are not as readable as in the Android browser. Up to now there is now native flash support with Firefox 4 for Android.
Opera Mini / Opera Mobile
Opera has 2 different browser variants to choose. The first one is Opera Mini 6.0, which is known from many other platforms. Opera mini focuses on main features an runs best on devices with low resources and low/bad connectivity.
Similar to Firefox there is an online-backup and sync service – called „Opera Link“ and a “Quick Dial” to enter popular websites fast. The change between tabs works well and very smooth.
The bigger brother of Opera Mini is called Opera Mobile 11.0, and uses a complete different rendering engine. It’s the same engine Opera uses for their desktop browsers. The download of the application requires 12.58 MB and is much bigger then Opera Mini app. Flash is supported within this version.
The Skyfire Browser is not new within the Android platform. The latest version is called 3.2.2. Skyfire focuses on the optimization of online videos for mobile usage. It tries to minimize the bandwidth for videos and does not require additional plugins to playback flash videos. The video size is adapted to the screen size on the fly.
One newer feature is the tight Facebook integration. For recently visited sites you can find links within the social network and use the Like-Button.
Additional possibilities are the ability to change browser-identify. For rendering sites Skyfire uses an own version of Webkit (like Google Android’s default browser).
It’s hard to say if Dophine Browser HD is allowed to describe as browser, because this app uses the visualization right from the Android Browser. This application exclusively focuses on innovations within the user interface and user experience. Some of these ideas are similar to Firefox mobile (like swiping to access hidden menus) others can only be found in this app (like gesture controls). The URL input also interprets search queries and there is an own bar for open tabs.
Some gestures are predefined but it is possible to add new gestures for specific tasks. In browser mode the volume rocker can be used to scroll a page or switch between tabs.
All browsers are free for download. But the Dolphin Browser includes advertisements which can be disabled via a paid version.
The Miren Browser has been developed in China and has gained a quite good reputation because of its speed. Back and Forward navigations is very fast. After launching the application you will be directed to a start screen showing direct access to bookmarks, downloads, history and search. There is no permanent navigation area, all interfaces are visualized on the screen as overlay when needed. Scrolling can be done by default using volume rockers. Changing the phones orientation will bring up a control to lock this view, which might by very usable. Search is done via the Chinese search engine Baidu.
The comparison between these different browsers shows the possibility of choice an Android user has within their mobile operating system. Depending on individual emphasis all browsers shows strengths and weaknesses.
Different to Desktop, where Google is leading the Browser market in the mobile world Google lags behind in case of innovations.