TechnologyTell

Latest iOS web browser picks and pans

Sections: Features, Hands On / First Looks, iDevice Apps, iPad, iPad mini, iPhone, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, iPod touch, Originals

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Half or more of the various iOS Web browser apps got updates over the past couple of weeks, and, browser junkie that I am, I’ve been downloading and trying them out. Here are my impressions.

Safari

Safari is one of the two iOS browsers I use most, not because I am that fond of it, but because it’s deeply integrated with the operating system and is frequently referenced in “Open In” links from other apps, such as Google Search.

Actually, Safari is one of the few iOS browsers that I’m not using the latest version of, since I haven’t gotten around to upgrading my iPad 2 to iOS 6.x. All in good time, I guess, I just haven’t encountered any compelling reason to change up. Safari, at least the versin in IOS 5.1, is stable, dependable, and satisfactorily fast, albeit nothing exciting. The one thing I really detest about it is the eight tab limit, which drives me nuts because I’m inclined to keep lots of tabs open.

Puffin

I use Puffin for speed. By my seat-of-the-pants impression, it’s the fastest iOS browser thanks to operating through a proxy server in the Cloud. A free (ad-supported) version is available, but the paid version also gives you Flash compatibility.

Other cool Puffin features are text selection arrows that really work and are decently-sized, as opposed to those wretched blue dots in other browsers. It also has an interesting virtual trackpad feature.

Chrome

The Chrome browser is part of my core productivity suite of software in OS X, and Chrome for iOS shows a lot of promise, but it’s not quite there yet. It’s fast (second only to Puffin by my reckoning), and it’s probably the strongest contender to perhaps elbow out Puffin as my second workaday browser, but for now it’s still too ragged and unrefined stability-wise for that to happen. Chrome has the advantage of being free Open Source software and assured of remaining so.

However, speaking of Chrome, a Google Internet app that I prefer to any ordinary Web browser for researching online os the superb Google Search, which is as refined and slick as Chrome for iOS is rough. Highly recommended.

Maxthon HD

The OS X version of Maxthon has a lot of commonality with Chrome, whose engineering it uses. Maxthon for iOS less so. Maxthon is an attractive browser with lots pf potential, but is currently a bit buggy. For example, the latest version insists on dimming my iPad’s screen whenever I switch into the app, and requiring a visit to the Settings to restore normal brightness. That got old very quickly. I don’t know whether that’s a general bug, or unique to my system, but it certainly rules out Maxthon as a usable browser for me. I’ll look in on it again with the next version update.

Sleipnir

I find Sleipnir Satisfactorily stable and unbuggy, and it’s the browser to use for folks who really like gesture control and navigation.

Sleipnir also has one of the most interesting iOS browser user interfaces, with thumbnail tabs that can be arranged and configured. It also has clear tutorials on how to use it, including a demo video. However, it’s not as fast as Puffin, Chrome, or even Safari.

Diigo

I’ve found Diigo to be a solid, dependable workhorse browser that I would probably use in place of Safari, if it weren’t for Safari’s system integration. It also has a Reader feature similar to Safari for OS X that’s kinda cool and handy, and it lets you open as many tabs as you like. However, it’s not exceptionally speedy.

Terra

Terra is a nice little browser from Readdle that lets you open tabs to your heart’s content, and is reasonably speedy and quite stable. It also supports desktop browsing. On the downside, I’ve has some problems with Terra truncating page or field content.

Mercury

Another indie browser for iOS, Mercury supports up to 15 open tabs—seven more than Safari does. It also supports direct DropBox integration and eight control gestures, and has a file manager feature. Eleven different interface themes are available to customize the interface appearance. It also has full-screen browsing for those who like full screen, and a handy news reader. It’s also fast.

Opera Mini

I’ve tried to like Opera Mini, I really have. Opera has long been one of my favorite Web browsers in OS X, but the iOS version? Not so much. I find it slow and clunky, and its tabs implementation is plain annoying and frustrating.

Dolphin

Dolphin is another indie iOS browser that is speedy, supports voice commands and has a wide range of gestures and customization fratures. Dolphin claims 50 million downloads.

All of the browser apps profiled here are free or offer a free version. If you haven’t experimented beyond Safari, I encourage you to check out some of these alternatives. I’m not going to declare a winner or a heirarchy of desirability, as all of them have their virtues and shortcomings; it will depend upon which feature set appeals to you. I wouldn’t want to settle for just one.

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  • Geoff

    So why no mention of either Atomic Web (my favorite) or iCabMobile? Otherwise nice review. Had not been aware of some of these.

  • Charles Moore

    Thanks for bringing Atomic Web to my attention. I hadn’t previously been aware of it, and it seems to be a nice browser. iCab Mobile looks good too, with a typically iCab deep feature set, but like its desktop OS namesake, it’s swimming aganst a strong current of good free browsers.

    CM