The Best Android Browsers of 2012

March 23, 2012
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Update – We have a new list of the best Android browsers, check it out!

There are so many Android browsers out there today, and each one claims to be better than the last. Some offer great experiences, whilst others boast that they are simple and just get the job done. I’ve been through many browsers in the last two years, and found a great set of them to showcase to you.

So without ado, these are the best Android browsers of 2012!

Google Chrome Beta

Chrome is already incredibly popular on computers. In fact, just a few days ago, it became the world’s most used browser (just for a day, for now, but it’s clear where things are heading). And, over the last few months, Google has released and updated the beta version of Chrome for Android 4.0 devices.

Altogether, Chrome for Android is a very smooth browser, with minimalism and speed as its primary objectives. On the downside, even if Chrome loads most sites as a desktop browser would, occasionally some sites send a mobile version instead. Chrome doesn’t have a toggle for requesting desktop sites, which is something I would like to have.

Since Google and pretty much the entire world is phasing out the use of Flash in favor of HTML5 and Javascript, Chrome does not have Flash integration either. So, regardless if you have Flash on your device or not, nothing will render in Chrome. This would be fine in perhaps two years time, when nobody is using Flash anymore, but for now it’s an annoyance because some sites are still clinging onto their Flash players and services.

Nevertheless, Chrome surely deserves a rating of 9/10.

  • Clean and Minimalistic appearance, but fast browsing.
  • The same great tab management from the desktop sibling.
  • Does not support Flash.
  • No ability to request desktop version of a website.

Opera Mobile Browser

Opera is a fairly bulky browser, but very popular amongst mobile users. There are two versions available: Opera Mobile Browser, aimed at higher-end devices, and Opera Mini, which is aimed at older and lower spec devices. So, regardless of the age or specs of your phone, you’ll be able to enjoy a well-made 3rd party browser from Opera.

The Opera team brought one of their best desktop features over to the Android version, and that feature is Opera Turbo. This optional feature uses external servers and routing to compress data before it’s sent to your device, much in the way Amazon’s Silk browser operates. As a result, you end up with less data being broadcast to your device, so pages load faster and your mobile data plan will last you longer.

Unfortunately, the browser can be slow at times, even with Opera Turbo enabled, and it’s also difficult to get websites to send their desktop version instead of the mobile counterpart.

For a rating, it receives 7/10.

  • Supports Flash.
  • Offers Opera Turbo for quicker and less data-intensive browsing.
  • Versions available for high-end and low-end devices.
  • Occasionally slow on some devices, but performs well otherwise.

Firefox

Considering how much I love Firefox on my desktop, I was slightly disappointed when I tried the Android version. The application itself (not the web pages) is very slow to load, and then everything seems sluggish during usage. What won back some favor in my eyes is the fact you can use Firefox Sync to share your tabs across your devices. I quickly imported all of my browsing history and open tabs from my desktop, and I could do the same in reverse from the Android version.

Firefox for Android also has a distinct method of hiding and showing your active tabs. Dragging in from the left hand side of the screen reveals them, and you can continue browsing as normal. Either tapping the ‘X’ or pulling your finger to the right hides them again. This allows you to quickly see your tabs, but not at the expense of screen real-estate.

The issue that ensured that, though it’s a useful browser, I wouldn’t be using Firefox regularly was the lack of a ‘Request Desktop Version’ button, or anything similar in the settings. I use my tablet a lot and I dislike it when sites make mistakes and send me mobile optimized versions. I like to use my device to its full abilities, so not having the ability to make Firefox act like a desktop browser was the clincher for me.

Firefox is awarded 7/10.

  • Firefox Sync integration, keep your history and tabs available on all your devices.
  • Can be slow to render web pages
  • Innovative way of quickly hiding and revealing your Tabs.
  • Lack of ability to request a desktop version of a website.

Dolphin Browser HD

What impresses me the most about Dolphin is that it is so sleek when scrolling. Though we see applications advertised as following our fingers perfectly and being as smooth to the eyes as possible, they often judder and jerk their way around. Dolphin makes itself stand apart by adding fluidity to browsing . The render speeds of pages are lightning fast too.

I also like Dolphin’s tab style, it is simple and thin, and doesn’t try to hide itself. In fact, it reminds me of Google Chrome in that regard.

Amongst the tools Dolphin offers are a full-screen mode, a screen-cut/capture mode, and a web-to-PDF tool, though these do have to be downloaded through links in the application. Dolphin has plenty of other plugins which you can download from the Play Store.

Dolphin Browser has to be awarded 10/10!

  • Hand Gestures to manipulate windows.
  • Scrolling is lightning fast in response (for the TF101 at least).
  • Thin tab styling and management, resembling Chrome’s.
  • Additional tools and plugin’s can be installed from the Play Store.

Boat Browser

Boat Browser attempts to maximize the usage of your device’s screen by placing the toolbar on top of your web pages at the bottom of the screen, as you can see in the screenshot. It is fairly nippy in usage, though not the fastest of all the browsers here. It also doesn’t support Flash, which is a slight let down. What is does let you do is easily toggle how your device appears to websites. In the settings you can toggle between Android, iPhone, Desktop, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and iPad. Websites you visit will respond slightly differently depending on how they perceive your device.

Boat Browser also has a unique home screen, within which you can quickly add hundreds of your favourite websites for quick browsing.

This browser seems to warrant a 9/10 rating!

  • Add hundreds of bookmarks to the landing screen.
  • Doesn’t support Flash.
  • Toggle your device’s ‘appearance’ to websites, Android, Desktop, Firefox etc.
  • Fairly fast in use.

OverSkreen

OverSkreen is an extremely clever bit of kit. It overlays a window over whichever application you are currently running, and can be minimized, resized, and focused on when needed. You can have as many of these screens as you wish to.

It’s great that OverSkreen can render Flash. This means that the next time you’re going through your Twitter feed, you can open a video, wait for it to buffer and then watch it whilst continuing to look at other tweets. It’s a great ability, and it would be good for other applications to be able to replicate this behaviour. OverSkreen continued to impress me by having a ‘Request Desktop Version’ toggle switch that is easily reachable, and you can also quickly toggle the blocking of pop-ups. Though this wasn’t of much use in my regular browsing, it may well be useful for somebody else.

As for my final rating, I think OverSkreen deserves a 9/10.

  • View web pages on-top of other applications!
  • Request Desktop versions of websites.
  • Occasionally slow to respond to window resizing, minimisation and closing.
  • Toggle the blocking of pop-ups.

So, which Android browser is the best?

Well, everyone has different needs. To give you a rough idea, I would say that the fastest browser (in terms of rendering speed) is Chrome. The one with the most utilities and features to offer has to be OverSkreen. For me though, the best Android browser overall is Dolphin HD. It is smooth-scrolling, easy to use, filled with features, and resembles Chrome in appearance.

What about you? Which Android browser do you prefer?

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