One of the things I do religiously on my mobile devices is read stuff on the web. From a browser, of course. That has been the case over the years. While what I do is mainly a constant, how I do it has evolved. This has mainly been informed by the type of applications accessible to me.
Back in 2010/2011, browsing on mobile was not that much fun. At least on Android devices which is what I shall dwell on in this article. That was mainly because of the hardware limitations of the time as well as the software not being up to scratch.
Over five years later, things have really changed. Hardware is no longer really an issue since I am able to keep my usual 100+ Chrome tabs open on sub $80 Android smartphones that we get every now and then for reviews and what not. The software, on the other hand, has never been better. Save for extreme cases, Android holds up just fine and the apps are more than okay.
Now that we’re there, what browser do you use?
Here are a few options that I have sampled over time:
Since early 2012 when Chrome became available on Android, it has grown to become one of the most popular browsers on the platform. That it comes pre-installed on most devices is not lost on me and that has certainly been a big contributor since most users just go with whatever they can lay their hands on.
Chrome also has a head start in the fact that most people already use it on the desktop and familiarity plays a big role here. Never mind that most features of the desktop version of Chrome are yet to become available on the Android version.
However, some of the features that we may desire that are not available on Chrome mobile like the ability to extend the browser’s functionality using add-ons and extensions, are not really a must-have on mobile (I, for instance, can’t remember the last time I used a mobile browser extension).
Chrome works just fine. If you are on a good connection, pages will load fast and the rendering is good. You will not miss a thing. And that’s what has me ditching almost every other browser that smartphone makers bundle on their devices that is not Chrome. Some of those browsers like the ones on Huawei, Xiaomi and Samsung devices, are really good and it’s just a personal preference that has me going for Chrome. However, others like the stock browser on old Tecno phones make me want to scamper for safety every time I encounter them. They are awful. I sampled the browser on Tecno’s latest premium phones and not much has changed.
Grey areas in Chrome like the merged tabs I never really liked have gone away.
Late last year, Chrome for Android also got a feature that many will love, data saving. It is not Opera’s Max but it has been trying (without much success) to get the job done. With Google doubling down on its efforts to make it easy to browse content on slower networks, it is in fact getting much better..
Whatever your preferences or loyalties (sworn Apple, Microsoft or BlackBerry fans), you can never go wrong with Chrome on Android. For those who like being in the fast ring of app updates, Chrome Beta is also a good version of the app. You get the same stable performance (there will be a bug here or there once in a while since it’s a beta) but with access to new features before they make it to everyone else.
Firefox has one major feature that Chrome lacks: add-ons. It even has a dedicated store for add-ons. While I have already noted that add-ons and extensions are not such a big deal on mobile, they are nice to have.
Overall, Firefox on Android, just as is the case on desktop, won’t disappoint. I only find it annoying that the browser doesn’t keep in memory all my opened pages. I always have to go to the history tab to reload them while Chrome can keep them for as long as I want.
What Mozilla is doing wrong about the browser I have no idea. May be it needs to enter into a good number of partnerships that will see Firefox preloaded on mobile devices. This is because of all the data I could access on mobile browser usage, Firefox never featured anywhere at the top.
It’s a very good mobile browser but just not that many people are using it. I guess that is what you get when you are competing with at least two pre-installed browsers on mobile devices (Chrome which is preloaded as part of Google Mobile Services – GMS – and the smartphone maker’s own browser app).
3. UC Browser
Chinese app UC Browser may not be so successful on the desktop but it is killing it on mobile. It has managed to beat both Chrome and Opera Mini (the other high flyer of so many years on this list) to the top slot in a number of markets and going arm in arm with the two in many others.
The browser has been able to score a number of partnerships with regional smartphone brands like Tecno, Infinix and many others that have seen it pre-installed on their devices. With regional brands increasingly accounting for a huge chunk of smartphone shipments into their respective regions, that strategy has paid off handsomely. That is even before you begin considering the feature set that keeps drawing users to UC Browser leading to it being consistently on top of app store charts.
4. Opera Mini
The latest update to Opera mini on Android (and other platforms as well) has seen it acquire VPN and ad-blocking capabilities, two features that users have been increasingly clamouring for. Not long ago, the compression was also refined and users no longer have to suffer lacking various components of web pages. All they do is pick their preferred level of compression (choosing a lower compression mode or no compression at all, for instance, is the only way you can read this article on your phone using Opera mini).
While there’s still the more 2016 smartphone-friendly fully-fledged Opera browser app on the Play Store, Opera mini is still a top choice for mobile web browsers. With Opera adding the ability to download videos for later offline viewing, if you are using an entry-level smartphone whose resources may be strained by the demands of the likes of Chrome or on a tight data plan, it is even a no-brainer.
It’s from the guys who make Go Launcher, a third-party Android launcher that I have never liked. Unlike the launcher, the browser is really good. Unlike Chrome and Firefox which are in its league, it is just a little under 4 megabytes when you install it from the Play Store.
What is impressive about it, however, is its features and speed. It is fast, lightweight, good-looking and has a couple of features that you’ll find handy like a night mode. In terms of going slow on the data consumed, it lets users load web pages without images, just plain text.
The ads that show up in various parts of the browser from time to time are definitely a big turn off but hey, how much are you paying for it?
You definitely need to try it out if you haven’t. It’s been 3 years since I first encountered Next Browser and while I may not be actively turning to it for my daily needs like I do Chrome, it doesn’t mean it’s because it is an inferior alternative. Oh, and it has extensions, just not the type you are used to.
Just like Opera mini has been around since my days with a Nokia feature phone, Dolphin browser was one of the very first high-quality apps available on Android in its early days. Back when we had Android Market and not the Play Store and Chrome on mobile was a distant rumour.
Dolphin is still a good choice for Android smartphone users but I am struggling to see why you will go with it and not Chrome or Firefox.
This one is rather controversial.
We all know what AdBlock does so any product is likely to just be an extension of that. AdBlock browser is exactly that. Since building extensions for mobile browsers is still not a thing and support is very limited, why not just build a browser in its entirety and make it available for anyone who does not want to see any ads on their browser? A repackaged Firefox browser with emphasis on the ad-blocking, AdBlock browser is exactly that.
According to PageFair and Adobe’s 2015 Global Adblocking Report, the number of people using ad-blockers in the last one year went up by 41%. There are about 200 million people out there with ad-blocking software of some kind installed or turned on on their devices.
The problem with AdBlock browser is that besides blocking ads, there’s really nothing going for it if you are used to your usual everyday browser. It’s as basic as basic gets. I don’t know about you but it just doesn’t cut it for me. With browsers integrating ad-blocking, you may be well served elsewhere. For instance, the feature-rich Samsung stock mobile web browser has an add-on for ad-blocking from none other than the team behind AdBlock browser.
Flash is dead.
No piece of software has been vilified and derided more than flash. Yet flash content still exists despite its support being dropped left, right and centre. With the release of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, Google officially dropped support for flash on its mobile platform. However, I still need a browser with flash support in some instances in order to stream live TV on my mobile browser using a few hacks. For that need alone, Photon browser has been my first choice. The problem with these specialized browsers, like the AdBlock browser highlighted above, is that they don’t do well elsewhere. Who said we were in need of jacks of all trades anyway?
I know Dolphin still supports flash but you already know why I don’t always use it so…
Now, which mobile web browser do you use? Join the discussion in the Techweez forums.