Brandon's Notepad

May 1, 2013

Android Applications: Web Browsers

Home > My Lists > Android Applications > Web Browsers


Web browsing is an essential part of the tablet user experience, and there is no shortage of browser options available on the Android platform, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. With nothing to lose, I decided to try several. Here are my conclusions.


Evaluation Criteria

Actually, for this post, I’m not going to focus on a list of specific features or performance benchmarks. Browsers perform one basic job and should do so well. No one is going to complain that their browser is too fast or that it seems to handle any and all multimedia content thrown at it without flaw. We just expect these things, and there are plenty of other sites that cover benchmark testing and the like. Also, I was trying to find a good all-purpose browser, which may not be what everyone else needs. Plus, features change over time and good technology today is (hopefully) replaced by better technology tomorrow. That’s not to say that I didn’t have specific requirements going into this evaluation (and I do mention some of them below), but the specific criteria don’t seem to matter as much in the long run as the process for evaluation and the overall philosophy that came about as a result.

The Best

Ultimately, I decided to stick with the big name browsers: Chrome, Firefox & Opera. These proved to be the most stable and the most feature rich. They had by far the biggest footprints, but they were still small in comparison to the space available on my tablet. Tabbed and private browsing functions are big selling points, and these were not available in other smaller offerings, at least not at first. Chrome is my favorite. Its user interface is more slick than Firefox’s (IMHO) and the ability to share open tabs across devices (e.g. with Chromium on my laptop) is very useful. Firefox is still my second-favorite browser, and though the placement of tabs on the side in landscape mode is less efficient, it does make for easy tab navigation. Opera has some nice eye candy, like the Start Page grid, but I have not been pleased with the overall performance or feel, so I usually only open Opera if I need to access a page that won’t load using the other two. Ironically, there were some sites that I visit frequently that would not work in Opera, and even if this improves over time (through patches and/or changes in content) as long as Chrome and Firefox work as well as they do, I don’t really have a vested interest in making Opera by browser of choice. Security, frequency of updates, quality of testing, and other software development issues played a role in the decision to stick with the big guys as well.

The Rest

Each of the other offerings I tried seemed to cater to specific needs. Some emphasized how lightweight they were, which means they would work better on lower end phones than the default browser (and thus, far better than the heavyweights discussed above). Simplicity was also a selling point, targeting users with smaller screens. Of course, there were those few that included user interface features that they hoped would catch on like wild fire. But none of them had it all, or at least enough to effectively compete with Chrome and Firefox for my loyalty. I did try Dolphin Browser (HD & Mini) early on, which came highly recommended by a friend. The magazine view looked very appealing, but again, that’s just eye candy, and I never did latch on to the gesture interface, despite my Palm Pilot nostalgia. I did get really excited about the Pocket browser (formerly Read It Later) for offline browsing, but in practice I never put it to much use. There were others, but the details don’t seem worth mentioning now.

The Future

Does this mean I’m not going to try out new browsers going forward? Not at all. In fact, while I was redrafting this post, I read about the Puffin browser. I had seen the name in passing, but I never looked into it. And who knows what else the future of browsers holds?


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