One of the nice things about Android is the openness of the Market, specifically that apps aren’t rejected simply because they “duplicate functionality already found on the phone” like another platform does.
What does this mean for Android users? In addition to personal preference, different web browsers have different features, functionality, and user interfaces. Being able to pick which web browser you use on your phone can dramatically improve battery life, compatibility, or just aesthetics, depending on what you need out of your web browsing experience
Browser is name of the web browser that comes pre-installed on all Android devices. Depending on which version of Android you’re running you’ll get slightly different features and benefits.
Generally speaking, Browser on 1.5 and 1.6 versions of the OS supports current web standards, including some CSS3 and HTML5. The version that comes in Android 2.1 includes more of the advanced CSS3 and HTML5 features. (Before you ask, I am not aware of any way to upgrade the default browser without upgrading your Android OS as well.)
Although Browser doesn’t support tabs in the traditional sense, it does allow you to have multiple “windows” open at the same time by tapping the Menu button and selecting Windows.
Overall, Browser is a fast and friendly web browser that is more than capable with the majority of today’s websites.
Coco Browser is the stock browser repackaged with a few added features, namely tabs and Google Bookmarks synchronization.
Other than those two items there is nothing particularly noteworthy about this browser.
Until recently Dolphin was probably the most well-known “alternate” browser for Android (Opera Mini has taken that crown). The 2.0 “HD” version of Dolphin supports tabbed browsing (up to 8), a “thumbnails flick menu”, gestures, add-on support, an integrated YouTube downloader, and stortable bookmarking.
In my very unscientific tests, Dolphin and Browser perform similarly and render pages almost identically.
Opera Mini (beta)
Opera Mini is an anomaly, but not necessarily in a bad way. Most of the time this browser is thought of in the context of regular phones, and to some extent the lower-end of “smartphones”. It’s small, it’s fast, but it’s not the Opera that you’re used to on your desktop, it’s not even Opera Mobile.
What makes it different is web page “pre-rendering” to help speed things up. In short, Opera Mini uses Opera’s servers to “server-side compress” and “streamline render” pages before they’re sent to your phone, acting somewhat like a proxy that does the heavy lifting for you. Privacy concerns aside, when done right this can save you bandwidth, processing power, time, and potentially money (if roaming or not using an unlimited data plan).
Skyfire is most commonly known for its market share on Symbian devices.
Skyfire has a lot of potential, specifically around web media and videos. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of Flash video that’s out there that isn’t on YouTube. SkyFire uses an Opera-like pre-rendering metaphor to intercept these videos and render them into a format that you can play on your Android device. Since the video translation happens on the Skyfire servers they can add support for additional video formats without requiring an update to the software on your phone. This raises the same privacy concerns as Opera Mini, but that may be made a little more palatable by enabling more web video in the process.
xScope comes in a variety of flavors (from a free “Lite” version to a USD$2.99 version, with another version price in between). This browser is seen as the “Android Power User” browser of choice. It’s still in its early phases and has a lot of room to grow, but from what others in the community are saying, this is the browser to watch.
Fennec is probably best described as “Firefox Mobile”. Presently only an early alpha is available, but it looks promising. It’s in no means ready for prime time, but if you want to pass a little time and look at what the future of Firefox might hold, it’s worth a few minutes of your time.
What about you?
Have you tried any other browsers on your Android? Which do you prefer over the stock browser? Which do you avoid?
Is privacy a concern when using 3rd party servers to “optimize” content before it’s delivered to your phone, or are the benefits worth the risk?