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alternative to safari browserIf you’re used to surfing in all the glory that desktop web browsers offer (e.g. bookmarks, download manager, themes, etc.), browsing in the iPhone’s mobile Safari can sometimes prove difficult.

There is no in-page text search (though there’s a bookmarklet); no fullscreen mode, no real tabs (though there’s Tabulate, a bookmarklet that aims to provide a way for you to flag links to read later in new tabs); no orientation lock: it becomes inconvenient when you’re leaning back on your comfy chair and can’t surf without being annoyed by the constant orientation changes in mobile Safari; can’t cache pages for offline reading; no download manager; and no incognito mode (one must clear history/cookies manually).

On other platforms, you have some great options, such as SkyFire 5 Mini Browsers For Mobile Phones 5 Mini Browsers For Mobile Phones Read More , which has no problems with Flash. The iTunes App Store surely isn’t suffering from a lack of apps these days so if you dig deep, you can actually find some very worthwhile web browsers. All of the following are free and most are so chock full of great features (trust me, they’re the best out of the 25 browsers I tried) that once you start using any of these, you’ll think of mobile Safari as IE.

Kidding aside, let’s get started with these browsers for the iPhone and iPod Touch (in this article, “iPhod” for short).

A. Everyday-Use Browsers

1. Opera Mini (for iPhod)

iTunes customer rating:

google alternative safari


We talked about Opera Mini before First Impressions of Opera Mini Web Browser for the iPhone First Impressions of Opera Mini Web Browser for the iPhone Read More so please don’t hesitate to read it for full feature details. In short, the best features Opera Mini for iPhod offers include:

  • Speed Dial (which lets you access your favorite 9 web pages on startup)

    google alternative safari

  • Ability to save web pages for offline viewing (tremendously useful for iPod Touch users who wish to save MakeUseOf articles!)
  • Unlimited tabs
  • In-page text search and quick navigation to next search result
  • Fullscreen mode

    mobile safari

  • Ability to add search engines (by default, you’ll find Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, and Ebay.)

  • Option to load or not the images to save bandwidth
  • Set font size to small, medium or large.
  • Ability to sync bookmarks, Speed Dial and search engines between computers (Opera web browser How to Manage Tabs in Opera Like a Pro How to Manage Tabs in Opera Like a Pro Read More for Windows, Mac and Linux) and mobile devices (through Opera Link)

What it doesn’t have:

  • Smooth rendering of some web pages (inevitable since Opera Mini fetches compressed sites from Opera’s servers in order to ensure speed, which may drive away those concerned with security)
  • Orientation lock
  • Bookmark search
  • Private browsing mode

2. VanillaSurf (for iPhod)

iTunes customer rating:

google alternative safari

Best features:

  • Offline webpage browsing: In Options (only available in portrait mode), go to the Tabs section, turn Save Tabs and Offline browsing on. Now open any webpages you want to read in offline mode in a new tab, and they should be saved now even when you’re offline!
  • Bookmarks import and export: VanillaSurf has a built-in web server that lets you transfer bookmarks (saved in .html or .htm files) between your desktop browser and your iDevice.

    mobile safari

  • Screenshot: VanillaSurf takes a full screenshot of any website without any of the toolbars or status bar.
  • Startpage: Go to your desired URL and then tap and hold the homepage button till you see the ‘Your homepage is now: [desired URL]’ message. If you turn on the Save Tabs feature, you’ll see your previously open tabs on startup as well, or you can always keep your multiple favorite sites open and surf in new tabs for a multiple homepage workaround.
  • Private browsing mode (off by default): Turning the Private Mode on disables the saved offline tabs, but you can still tap the Homepage button to load your startpage. You can also choose to clear history or clear cookies manually.
  • Fullscreen mode: You can access your bookmarks, go back or forward in the browser, and switch or go to new tabs in fullscreen mode. You’ll have to go back to the regular view to change the URL.

    mobile safari

  • Themes: VanillaSurf has 2 themes: the regular mobile Safari grey and black.
  • Additional search engines: VanillaSurf lets you search in Amazon, eBay, Wikipedia in addition to Google and Yahoo, while mobile Safari offers only the latter two and Bing.
  • Bookmarklet to open in VanillaSurf from mobile Safari: Find the Javascript code on the iTunes page for VanillaSurf.
  • Orientation lock

What it doesn’t currently have:

  • In-page text search (I tried the mobile Safari in-page text search bookmarklet with no luck)
  • Bookmark search

3. Atomic Web Browser Lite (for iPhod and iPad)

iTunes customer rating:

alternative to safari browser

Best features:

  • Real tabs with favicons, but if you don’t particularly go ga-ga for this, you can hide the tab bar and choose List View instead of Desktop Style Tabs. This Lite version also lets you load 5 tabs at one time.
  • Fullscreen mode: You’ll be able to go back and forward, and show/hide the tab bar. The cool thing is that you can customize what buttons appear on fullscreen (and how opaque/transparent you want them), and some of these buttons are pretty unique to mobile browsers (like ‘Font – Increase‘, ‘Go to bottom‘, ‘Go to top‘).

    A minor inconvenience with the fullscreen mode is that when you open up a new tab, you’ll have to go back to the regular view to input the URL.

  • Additional search engines plus in-page text search: Available search engines include Google, Yahoo, Bing, Amazon, Wikipedia, YouTube and Ebay. You can find and incorporate additional pre-set and customized search engines.

    You can also search for text inside a web page and you’ll get the results highlighted just in a desktop browser (though you won’t get the Next or Previous buttons to navigate to the next/previous search result.)

  • Bookmark scripts (think bookmarklets you can add with one click) that range from Translate webpage (to 9 different languages) to Links to Page (search Google for links to current page) and Track FedEx/UPS package, etc.
  • Increase/decrease font size.
  • Orientation lock
  • Private browsing mode
  • Bookmarklet for mobile Safari to open webpages in Atomic
  • Share URL by email, Facebook and Twitter.
  • Fourteen color themes
  • Option to load or not the images to save bandwidth

What it doesn’t currently have (but its full $0.99 version does):

  • Customizable homepage
  • Option to save pages for offline reading
  • Unlimited tabs (5 tabs are allowed at max in this version)
  • Bookmark importing from mobile Safari
  • Bookmark search

Honorable mention goes out to Mercury (for iPhod), which has gotten 3.5/5.0 stars, but kept crashing on my iPod Touch with iOS 4 though I was able to get this screenshot.

Mercury is a fullscreen browser that saves pages for offline viewing, displays real tabs, has a private browsing mode, as well as customizable startup screens showing a Speed Dial-esque bookmark springboard, homepage, or tabs from the last session. It also seems to have a built-in download manager. If you manage to give it a try, feel free to share your experience in the comments!

B. Private/Secure Browsers

You can manually clear history and cookies in mobile Safari, use VanillaSurf and Atomic Lite from above in their private surfing modes or you could use the following ad-free browsers as they automatically discard your list of visited webpages and cookies. Although your network provider or employer (if you’re on a company network) can still monitor your internet activity, these apps may come in handy if, say, you are worried that your personal information might be disclosed should your iPhod ever get lost or stolen.

Therefore, these browsers will have limited functions as your user settings will be cleared every time you exit out of the app (e.g. you won’t be able to import bookmarks, customize the homepage, etc.)

1. Aquari (for iPhod)

iTunes customer rating:

Best features:

  • Option to set a passcode option for ultimate privacy

  • Guest mode that allows no access of your own bookmarks or history. This mode is activated by entering ‘1234’ as the passcode.

  • Fullscreen view on landscape mode
  • Multiple tabs (up to 8 tabs)
  • Bookmark folder support (there’s no bookmark import feature but you can add bookmarks.)
  • Ability to remember bookmarks

When you exit the app, your cookies, search/browsing history and any login information will be instantly cleared.

2. Private (for iPhod and iPad)

iTunes customer rating:

Best features:

  • Simple design
  • Speedy web page loading
  • Supports landscape and portrait modes

This browser is for people looking to just surf without additional features (e.g. bookmarks, tabs, and additional search engines other than Google) and without leaving traces of visited websites.

3. inBrowser (for iPhod)

iTunes customer rating:

Best features:

  • Simple design
  • Shaking your iPhod will take you to Google’s homepage (though you could still go back and restore your previous page. Alternatively, you could press the Home button to clear your history.)

Like Private, the inBrowser app doesn’t have support for bookmarks, tabs, and other search engines, but it does give you a one-shake offering to go into a safe page while it also clears your history on exit.

C. Download Manager + Browser

VanillaSurf comes with a built-in web server that lets you transfer bookmarks and other files between your desktop browser and your iPhod, but it’s not very intuitive. If you’re looking to transfer a quick file to your iPhod in Linux, for example, which iTunes doesn’t support, these apps might come in handy.

1. Download Manager Lite (for iPhod)

iTunes customer rating:

Best features:

  • Intuitive file sharing (share by web server or FTP)
  • Supports in-app viewing of common media files (.mp4, .mp3) and office documents (.pdf, .doc, .xls).
  • When playing .mp3 files, you can listen to various .mp3 files (all or by folder) consecutively in a playlist, and enable Shuffle and/or Repeat.
  • Ability to listen to .mp3 files in the background while navigating with the built-in web browser and file manager
  • Option to set a passcode
  • Ability to extract compressed files (.zip, .rar, .tar.gz)
  • Option to send file attachment by email
  • Ability to set a homepage
  • Ability to bookmark pages, but not import bookmarks directly, unless you choose to upload the bookmarks (in a .html file) from mobile Safari via the built-in web server.
  • Ability to save current page or the next link
  • Option to show embedded objects

  • Bookmarklets (e.g. Find On This Page, define in Dictionary/Wikipedia, etc) and search engines (Amazon, Youtube, etc) are pre-installed in the bookmarks.

Only 10 files can be downloaded at maximum for this version. If you want simpler download managers with built-in browsers, be sure to check out Downloads Lite (lets you download up to 7 files) or the very similar MyMedia (has no maximum and no computer-iPhod file sharing).

2. Downloader Lite (for iPhod)

iTunes customer rating:

Best features:

  • Ability to retrieve and display your last copied URL or image once you open up the app so you can download with one-click.
  • Bookmarklet to open up the app from Safari
  • Supports in-app viewing of common media files (.mp4, .mp3) and office documents (.pdf, .doc, .xls).
  • Ability to extract compressed files (.zip, .rar, .tar.gz, .tgz)
  • Has two modes in the built-in web browser: Browse and Download (where tapped links will be downloaded).

    alternative to safari browser

Like Download Manager Lite, Downloader Lite (I know, confusing, right?), has a limit of 10 downloaded files. If you have an iPad, you could also try iSaveWeb Lite, which has gotten 3.5/5.0 ratings, though on my iPod with iOS4, it kept crashing.

Personally, my favorite browsers are Atomic Lite and Download Manager Lite. Which browsers, mentioned here or not, do you prefer?

Image credit: MDGraphs

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