Best Free Web Browser for iOS

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Introduction

Apple iOS operating systems’ are used in all of Apple’s portable touch screen devices. Apple specifically has designed their operating systems’ to be secure, stable and easy to use; with Apple’s latest incarnation, iOS7, being the best yet.
While all iOS devices come with Apple’s own Safari browser built-in, there is a big choice of 3rd party browsers available, for free, via the Apple App Store, which do the same job as Safari.

Discussion

Apple Safari

Safari is the benchmark of all my reviews due to it being inbuilt into all iOS devices, and because it is the most popular web browser with Apple users. With the launch of iOS7, Safari has been updated to include some very useful features. Although Safari is the same on all iOS devices, the layout is different between the iPhone, iPod touch and the iPad. This is because of the limited amount of space on the iPhone and iPod touch and therefore, Apple has had to alter the layout.

Main features accroding to manufacture:

  • Bookmarks Synchronization
  • Share Sites
  • Reading List
  • Gestures
  • Full Screen Mode

After tapping the Safari icon, Safari loads within a second. One negative issue is that it does not have a home page. The last page you view appears every time you load Safari. This is fine, but if you’re similar to me and like to start every session with the same website (which in my case is Google), this is annoying.
 
Safari, on the whole, is fast but at times it does feel slow when loading webpages. Another problem is that Apple does not support Adobe Flash Player. This means that there some websites that do not display correctly and certain features, such as videos, are unavailable.
 
The layout of Safari is very good, with all the main features easy to find and it has a very clutter free appearance. The new tab button works instantly as does the bookmark button.
 
Safari has a lot of useful gestures such as: holding a finger down on a word; website; etc that brings up the options, Copy, Define, Open in New Tab, and Add to Reading List, which I find to be a big help.
 
One of the best new features in Safari is the Reading List function. This basically allows you to save websites so they can be read when your device is offline. This is perfect, if like me, you go to places where there is no or very slow Internet.
 
With Apple's iCloud service, all your bookmarks are instantly shared among all of your iOS devices and laptops/desktops. However, it will only share with the Safari web browser and not any other browser. Nonetheless, this works instantly between your devices and is a very useful feature.

Main features accroding to manufacture:

  • Search and navigate fast, directly from the same box
  • Open and quickly switch between an unlimited number of tabs
  • Sign in to Chrome to sync your open tabs, bookmarks, passwords, and data from your computer to your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad. Pickup right where you left off
  • Send pages from Chrome on your computer to your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad with one click

For people who like using the desktop version of Google Chrome, this will be very appealing. But can Google Chrome for iOS live up to the reputation of its desktop brother?
 
The first time you load Google Chrome, you are greeted with a welcome screen that simply gives you a product tour. You also have the option to sign into a Google account so you can share your bookmarks. Google has also added a feature of being able to share your open tabs on any other device running Google Chrome.
 
Google Chrome for iOS is very minimalistic, which is an advantage on small screen devices. Like most browsers the address bar doubles up as a search box. All the usual features: Refresh, Back, Bookmarks, etc are well laid out and very easy to find. Web pages load up instantly, and the speed is as fast if not faster than Safari. All web pages are displayed correctly as you would expect, and there is an option called Request Desktop Version, which will display the full version of a website instead of the mobile version.
 
New tabs are displayed very quickly by pressing a grey button next to an open tab. Google Chrome then gives you the choice of displaying your most visited web pages or Bookmarks.
 
The downside is there is no option to start Chrome with a home page. Instead, like Safari, it loads the last website you visited.
 
My favorite feature of Google Chrome is the Speak Now mode. There is a microphone symbol at the end of the address bar which when pressed, allows you to simply say something and it will automatically search Google for you. This works extremely well: only very unusual words cause a bit of a mix-up. This is a very good option for anyone who finds using the pop-up keyboard a bit tricky. Although Apple has a version of Speak, now called Seri, which is available on all new iPhones and iPads, Seri is not compatible with older generations of Apple mobile devices and therefore, is only suitable with Apple Safari when searching the web.
 
Another good feature is the New Incognito Tab. This loads a new tab that makes your browsing private. Your search history and cookies will not be stored.
 

 
Main features according to the manufacture:
  • Speed - browse up to 6 times faster, especially on slower or crowded networks
  • Data savings - compress up to 90% of data traffic
  • Speed Dial - get to your favorite websites with a single tap
  • Visual tabs - see all your open web pages and quickly switch between them
  • Opera Link - sync your bookmarks and Speed Dial with other devices 

When first started, Opera’s welcome screen shows the main features the browser has to offer. But it doesn’t actually say how to use these features, nor does it provide links to any form of instructions. But anyone who has used a mobile browser shouldn’t have a problem and there is a decent help option in settings if needed.

Opera web browser manages to load and render websites very quickly, probably the fastest out of all the mobile browsers I have reviewed. It also is the fastest browser I have tested when using a slow Internet connection. For speed alone, Opera Mini gets full marks.

I found Opera Mini to be very stable and it didn’t crash in the entire time it was tested. I found the browser displayed and renders all websites very well. The browser’s appearance is very simple, with no extra bars of buttons eating into the screen space on the iPad version. However, on the iPhone/iPod version, there are bars at the top and bottom of the screen that makes viewing websites a bit difficult. But the top address bar does disappear when you scroll down a page making it a little easier.

The homepage and new tab page shows a page called Speed Dial which I found very useful. Speed Dial displays your favorite websites using big icons, allowing you to easily select a website with one tap. It is very easy to add any web pages to Speed Dial by tapping the plus sign.

Favorites are easily added by tapping the Star icon next to the web address. This gives you the option of adding the website to favorites or adding it to Speed Dial.

Opera has the good feature of being able to press and hold onto an image, text, website link etc and results in an option menu popping up, allowing you to: save images; select text; open images; and so on. Although most browsers have a similar feature, Opera’s version is very simple to use and works very well.

Another good feature is the new tab button. When pressed this shows very clearly what tabs are open through preview screens and makes it simple to open new tabs or close them.

Opera web browser settings are easily selected by tapping the big O on the top-left of the screen. It certainly doesn’t have as many settings as some browsers, but it has all the settings you would expect and some unique ones such as Data Usage. Data Usage clearly shows you how much data you have used in your current session and how much data has been used overall. I also like the help button, which should come in useful for any newcomers to Opera Mini.

Sadly though, there isn’t an option for importing your favorites’ from another browser. There is also no setting for changing the homepage, which is disappointing.

Having said that, there is not much to dislike about Opera Mini. There are only a couple of things that let the browser down from being highly recommended. It does everything Opera claims and has some good unique features.

Mercury Browser

Main features accroding to manufacture:

  • Mercury is the most advanced and elegant web browser for mobile devices. 
  • The rich feature set includes: Themes; Download; Full-screen Browsing; File Sharing; Adblock; Tabs; Multi Touch Gestures; User Agent Switcher; Private Browsing; Passcode Lock; Save Page; Facebook/Twitter integration and a lot more

Mercury web browser is a very interesting option. Mercury’s theory is to make a web browser for iOS that is more like a full desktop browser rather than a cut down version.

Mercury browser installs quickly and opens as quickly as any other browser I have reviewed. There is no tutorial to get the user started, which would have been a good idea because of the vast amount of features available. The first thing that struck me was that it’s very cluttered and not well designed for mobile devices. However, Mercury has thought of this and has a full screen option that hides all buttons and allows the browser to use most of the display.

Web pages load very quickly and are rendered perfectly. Mercury has an option called Readability that reloads a web page and makes it more comfortable to read. This works very well on web pages that contain mostly text, such as Wikipedia. However, Readability didn’t work on some websites I tested it with. It would also occasionally crash and close the browser for no apparent reason.

The big plus side to the Mercury browser is the amount of settings available. Just about any options you can think of are available. For example: Gestures; Brightness; Passcode; Scroll Bar; Set Home Page; to name but a few.  There are quite a few full desktop browsers that don’t have the amount of settings Mercury has. OK, the average user will probably not use most of these options, but I would rather have them than not.

My favorite feature of Mercury browser is the Ad Blocker setting. When this is enabled it will block all adverts on a web page. This is a fantastic feature because there is nothing more annoying than having loads of ads filling a website on a mobile device.  

Mercury also comes with a Downloads manager. Anyone who has used a desktop web browser will know how useful this is. Mercury also has very good integration with Dropbox, Facebook and Twitter.

There is no other browser that has the vast amount of features as Mercury. Although I found some features didn’t work correctly and the browser felt quite unstable at times, these problems will hopefully get fixed and this will result in very good alternative browser.

Main features according to the manufacture:
  • Puffin Web Browser is extremely fast.
  • Once users experience the thrill of using Puffin, regular mobile Internet just feels like torture.

I hadn’t heard much about the Puffin web browser before I started this, but I soon found out that it has a fairly big fan base. This web browser stood out to me because the manufacture claims that it supports Flash and that it is, “Wicked fast”. To do this Puffin uses a large cloud data centre that pre-processes web pages which in turn increases speed and reduces the amount of network data usage.

When you first open the browser you are greeted with a tutorial which shows you all the features the browser has to offer. The layout of the browser is very well designed and has a relatively clutter free appearance with settings and the various features very easy to find. However, you do get annoying adverts popping up randomly.

By default the homepage is set to Most Visited Page which as well as displaying your most visited web pages, also has links to all the most popular websites such as eBay, You Tube, Wikipedia, and so forth. The look of the Most Visited Page is similar to the Start screen in Windows 8, with a tile like appearance.

The browser has a good amount of settings allowing you to customize most of the features you would expect. One downside are the bookmarks. Although it is very easy to open your saved bookmarks, there is no way to import them from any other browser and that may put a lot of people off. But clicking on the bookmark icon displays all links clearly and it is easy to add bookmarks.

A very good feature is the inclusion of a Game Pad and a Track Pad. By clicking on the Game Pad icon, located at the bottom of the window on an iPad, or in settings menu on an iPhone, a nicely laid out Game Pad appears. There is also a settings button on the Game Pad which enables you to change the functions of the buttons. When you press the Track Pad icon, also located at the bottom of the window on an iPad, or in settings menu on an iPhone, a small Track Pad is displayed at the bottom of the window. By moving your finger across the Track Pad, the curser will move across the screen. The advantage of this feature is that it makes it possible to draw images with your finger on compatible websites.

The biggest advantage to this browser is the Adobe Flash support. I wasn’t expecting this to work very well but it does a decent job. It is not able to play Flash games, which is a shame, because of the Game Pad feature. However, Flash video seems to work well and the sound is next to perfect. Sadly, Flash is only available as a two-week trial in the free version of the web browser.

The browser displays web pages incredibly fast and renders them very well. Puffin is probably the fastest browser I have reviewed. But there is a bit of a lag at times, such as when you type queries into a search engine, and the characters can take half-a-second to display.

Puffin is an interesting  browser with both positives and negatives. How fast it loads websites is very impressive; however, the combination of no Flash support in the free version and annoying adverts popping up randomly makes it hard to recommend this browser.

 
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Quick Selection Guide

Safari
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Is a web service or web application
Fast, great layout and very good features
No Flash support
Unrestricted freeware
This product is portable.
ipad, iphone, ipod Touch
Google Chrome
5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
https://www.google.com/chrome/?
37.0.2062.60
30.3 MB
Unrestricted freeware
This product is portable.
Requires iOS 6.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.
Opera Mini
4
 
Is a web service or web application
Fast - good unique features
Can't transfer favorites from other browsers
http://www.opera.com/mobile/mini
8.0.5
11.9 MB
Requires iOS 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimised for iPhone 5.
Mercury Browser
3
 
Is a web service or web application
Fast - vast amount of options and features
Not all features worked, unstable at times
https://mercury-browser.com/
8.7.2
33.8 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Requires iOS 6.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.
Puffin Browser Free
2
 
Is a web service or web application
Nice addition of a Game Pad and a Track Pad, loads websites very fast
Pop-up adverts. Only a two-week trial of Adobe Flash is included with the free version of the web browser.
4.0.0
22.6 MB
Unrestricted freeware
Requires iOS 6.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.

 
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Tags

best free browser for Apple iOS, best free mobile web browser, top free mobile web browser, best free web browser for mobile device, free browser for smart phones

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