Android is the name of the popular operating system for mobile devices (phone and tablet) created by Google. In order to browse the Internet, a device needs a web browser in order to display pages. Although Android comes with a default browser, there are many others available that offer extra features designed to make your browsing experience easier or more enjoyable.
Choosing a mobile browser on Android is no simple task due to a bewildering array of choices in the Play Store. However, one of the biggest advantages of Google's operating system is the huge variety of both apps and browsers that are available.
Another feature of Android is the wide variety of devices that it will run on. From very low resolution, low powered 2" screens, to screamingly fast 10" + tablets that would put some PCs to shame.
This means that no one solution works best on all those devices, even before you consider personal choice and the different browsing habits of the user.
All is not lost though! There are a number of factors that may make your decision easier, and I will try to cover those in the article to point you in the direction of apps that are likely to work in your situation.
For those looking for a quick answer, read the section below. If you want a little more detail, scroll down to The Long Answer and full reviews.
This is the first revision of the review, and it can only improve with your input. Feel free to comment and make suggestions below.
Go straight to the Quick Selection Guide
In my opinion, if you have a reasonably recent piece of hardware running a recent version of Android (2.2+) then the best choices are:
If you have an older machine, or lower spec hardware:
As detailed above, various factors may affect the decision as to your final browser. I discuss these factors in more depth below, and then will try to offer a review of every browser.
Small screen size & resolution
The smaller the screen, the more important it is that your browser does not waste any of that valuable screen real estate with superfluous buttons. If screen size is limited, you may in fact find that the built in browser is best customised to work with your hardware restrictions. If you want to try alternatives though, features like full screen mode and good zoom and pan controls are a must. The ability to effectively re-wrap text to fit within the screen as you zoom will also be essential.
Low powered deviceOn a low powered device, you want the browser to load quickly and add the minimum of overhead. You may well be best ignoring features such as Flash (often resource hungry) and add-ons in order to obtain snappy browsing speeds
Limited data connection speed/limit
Websites are getting bigger...In the early years of the Internet when dial up modems were the norm, website designers would spend hours honing their sites to be the smallest possible, to ensure a speedy experience for their users. With the advent of cheap broadband that is largely no longer the case. Instead designers seem sometimes locked in a battle to see how many images and flashing ads they can fit on one page at once!
However, on a mobile, data speeds can still be in dial up modem territory. Whilst 3G and (in some places) 4G have helped, the extra speed often comes with a pathetically small data limit, even on so called 'unlimited' data plans.If you regularly browse image laden websites, or spend all your time watching YouTube videos, you might find that you hit your data cap sooner rather than later. If you're lucky, you'll just be limited to a slower speed until the end of the month - if you're not so lucky you'll suddenly find charges on your bill for the extra data.
Some of the browsers below attempt to help, by collecting the pages for you on their servers, compressing larger images and files, then squirting the smaller, leaner file to your mobile device. In most cases, you won't notice the quality difference, but you may notice the faster load times.If you are on a very small data cap, or need the fastest browsing you can on a slow data speed, then the clear choice here is Opera Mini (or Opera Mobile if the phone is more capable). Both these browsers include the 'Opera Turbo' technology, which aims to reduce the amount of data each webpage uses.
Note: For the privacy conscious amongst you, the Opera Turbo technology means in effect that Opera acts as a 'proxy' for your connection and could, in theory, read everything your browser shows. If you are using secured browsing (https://) websites then the connection is direct and this cannot happen. In practice, this is unlikely to be an issue for many, but it is something to be aware of.
Current desktop ecosystemIt may not appear initially relevant, but this factor could end up being the decisive factor in your choice. If you run a particular browser on your main computer, and want to sync bookmarks easily between your PC and android device, then you will need to choose one that is compatible. In most cases that will mean using the same software on both, although in a few cases there are workarounds.
In general however, the Opera Android browser will only sync with the Opera desktop browser, Firefox and Chrome likewise.You may need to decide whether the ability to sync bookmarks is important to you. If you tend not to browse the same pages on both, or in fact specifically want to keep the bookmarks separate, then you can ignore this factor entirely when making your decision.
If you do want to sync though, bear in mind that when browsing certain sites on your Android device, the site may detect you are using a mobile browser and serve up a different page without some of the frills, giving you a different experience. There are ways to avoid this, although often the mobile pages are easier to use on a smaller device and more touch friendly.
There are alternatives that will synchronise your bookmarks between any browser but they are generally not free and so outside the scope of this website.
1st Choice: dependent on users' needs
Compatibility / Accessibility
For some, the websites you surf will restrict your choice of browser. Particularly in corporate environments, internal web apps may only work on certain browsers. Services such as banks, which require you to log in, may not work well on certain mobile browsers, if at all. Many browsers are also not well adapted to those with accessibility issues, such as limited vision, poor finger control. In this area, the reviewers' knowledge is limited so any suggestions, comments or experience is welcomed in the comments below. In general however, it may be that Dolphin Browser is the one to work best here, purely because it has so many add-ons, some of which may make it easier to customise the browser to your specific needs
1st Choice: Dolphin Browser
Opera Mobile is still the browser to beat for all round performance, reliability and ease of use. The experience Opera have from their desktop browser shines through with simple touches that make all the difference to an excellent browsing experience. When scrolling in a long page, a simple 'jump to top/bottom' navigation button will pop up. If clicking on an area with several links, the browser will automatically zoom in to allow you to choose the correct link.
Along with that it has the most reliable Flash support in my experience, multi-tab browsing, a simple user interface, full bookmark and browsing history support, a built in download manager, the ability to save a page for future reading, and Opera's 'Turbo' feature, using their servers to compress your pages and images to save on download times and data costs. If you only have one browser on your Android device, it should be this one.
The only criticisms are slightly confusing management of multiple tabs and a lack of add-ons, along with no quickly accessible full screen mode.
Opera Mini is designed as a fast and light browser for those who have slow download speeds or high data costs. As pages are browsed, Opera's servers fetches them and compresses images to provide a faster browsing experience. This does require accepting Opera's ability to protect your privacy, although all the evidence is that they do (and https secure browsing is always encrypted end to end). It doesn't offer Flash support, but if you are in a poor connection area or want to manage your download then Opera Mini is a good choice as it has most of the features of its bigger brother and runs on practically any device of any age.
The drawback is that some more advanced pages will not render correctly and Flash/video is not an option. You must also accept the privacy implications of retrieving all your data through Opera's servers, although this is unlikely to be a major issue for most.
Dolphin Browser has long been a fixture on the Android platform and they have always tried to keep ahead of the pack by adding features. They also supply Dolphin Browser Mini (see below) but this is their most powerful offering, with all the features you would expect on a mobile browser and many you might not.
The app features easy multi-tab browsing, excellent bookmark and browsing history support, multi-touch zooming, simple navigation, Flash and HTML5 support, versatile add-ons, gesture control and a unique 'Sonar' voice recognition feature.
The interface in particular is excellent, with a swipe from the left side of the screen opening a bookmarks/history menu, and a swipe from the right giving you immediate access to installed add-ons
If you like to tinker and want the most features, Dolphin is an excellent choice and the choice of add-ons is impressive.
Note that there have been privacy concerns with Dolphin in the past, although they have addressed them in more recent updates - you can read the details here.
Dolphin Browser Mini is the little brother of the full featured HD browser, and is designed to be lighter, simpler, and less resource heavy. Despite this, it still has the same excellent multi-tab browsing, bookmarks management, multi-touch zooming and Flash support with less of the clutter which will appeal to some, especially on slower devices.
If you want to browse almost anything, but without the memory and resource footprint, Dolphin Browser Mini should certainly be high on your list.
The only drawbacks are lack of the excellent add-ons support of its bigger brother, and the slightly less sophisticated interface.
To be reviewed:
You might want to check out these articles too:
Dolphin Browser Mini