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The very first application I used when I first received my Asus Prime tablet running Android ICS was the native browser. I wanted to see what sort of features the latest native browser had these days.
While I wasn’t horribly disappointed with the browser, I wasn’t terribly excited about it either. I mean, it had all of the basic features you expect from a decent browser these days – tabbed browsing, bookmarking and favorites, and easy navigation. Unfortunately it lacked anything particularly notable – and these days, when I browse I really like to have access to some of the latest available features like voice search, gestures, and a very fast browsing experience.
So I set out to get a handle on the latest available Android web browsers out there that are better than the native ICS (Ice Cream Sandwich) Android browser. Some of the apps that made it to the top of this list have been covered here at MUO, and for very good reason. Over time, they’ve clearly become the leaders of the pack – the best of the best when it comes to a fully-functional mobile browser.
I am pleased to announce the 7 best Android web browsers to make your mobile browsing experience as awesome as possible, especially if you are browsing with a full-screen Android tablet.
The 7 Best Android Browsers
The native ICS browser is very straightforward. When you launch it, you’ll see the multiple tabs, bookmark, search and favorites icons easily accessible, and the settings menu up in the right side of the browser, where you can quickly enable or disable desktop or mobile browsing. When I’m on my tablet, while I used the native browser, I always just kept desktop browsing turned on.
Since I usually did my browsing on a Wi-Fi network, data transfer volume wasn’t an issue, and neither was network bandwidth.
The bookmarks page on the ICS native browser is alright – a full page of icons featuring all of your saved bookmarks. You’ll see a similar page for your browsing history and any “saved pages” for offline reading.
Those are good features and it’s really a decent browser for anyone that just wants a standard browser, but if you’re looking for a bit of an increase in performance and some cool features that you’re used to with the usual desktop browsers enjoy – like Chrome or Firefox – then you’ll want to install a new browser.
If you’re a regular user of Chrome on your desktop or laptop, you’ll be glad to know that Chrome is now available for Android devices. When I first tried it on the Prime tablet, it was listed as Chrome beta, but now it’s a full, active version of Chrome.
It has the look and feel that you’ve come to expect from one of the greatest browsers on Earth – easy tabbed browsing, voice search with a tab in the URL bar on the mic icon, and quick access to settings, incognito (private) browsing and more from the dropdown menu on the right.
From my very basic and brief tests, which involved loading large sites like CNN and other news sites with the browser, I noticed that this mobile version of Chrome is very fast – it definitely outperforms the native browser by far.
As of the time of this writing, you can get Firefox in the Play Store, but there is also a Firefox Beta available. That’s the one I tested out, and I have to say I really liked it a lot. I am now torn between using mobile Chrome or mobile Firefox on my Android tablet on a regular basis. I don’t quite like the odd way that Firefox handles the tabbed browsing, but I do like performance and how Firefox has migrated to the same basic setup as Chrome, with quick menu access off on the right.
Built-in “Save as PDF” is kind of slick, and the ability to quickly “Request Desktop Site” is nice too, especially with a tablet. Like I mentioned above, tabbed browsing is a little odd, with tabs listed off to a pane on the left which you can quickly open and close.
I think the developers tried this as a way to conserve vertical real estate on the screen, but I kind of prefer tabs at the top and really don’t think they take up enough space to warrant this left approach. On the flip side, a nice thing about the left pane is that you can see a preview icon of all open tabs.
A surprising leader on this list is the Maxthon browser. Jessica recently reviewed this great browser and gave it high marks. You can download either the standard Maxthon browser or the tablet version. I definitely wanted to see what the tablet version had to offer, and I was really surprised. I love the clean design, with quick tabs at the top, and a clean design that easily rivals Chrome.
A few unique features that Maxthon offers above the other browsers includes a “night-reading” mode that you can enable from the right drop-down menu. You can adjust the brightness of the screen so that the screen is very easy to read in a dark room, without burning the hell out of your eyes in the process. I absolutely love this feature, especially for reading in bed without disturbing anyone else in the room.
Much like Chrome and Firefox, you get a nice “new-tab” page which is customizable with the links that you want to add for quick access to your favorite pages.
So, after trying Maxthon – which also had great performance as far as speed goes – I was torn between the three browsers, Firefox, Chrome and Maxthon. The ability to do custom gestures is wicked cool, and has me leaning more toward Maxthon each time I use it.
Skyfire is a little bit unique, with a slightly different style than most browsers. The URL bar is right at the very top of the page and the way it behaves takes a little bit of getting used to, because the way tabs and navigation is, it is just a little different than standard browsers
Of course, having a tablet where I’m not always on a Wi-Fi network and sometimes do want to use only the mobile version of pages, I love the ability to tap the Android/Desktop icon and switch that setting instantly with a tap of the finger.
As I mentioned, the way the browser handles tabs is a little weird – with the number of tabs displayed inside the tabs icon. When you tap the tabs icon with your finger, it opens up a ribbon that displays all of your currently open tabs, or you can open a new tab by tapping the “+” sign.
Page load speed is very fast, so this browser gets really high ranks for speed, but I would only recommend it to people that are looking for some kind of change from the look and feel of typical browsers like Chrome and Firefox. It definitely outperforms the native Android browser.
Another browser that I tested because I’d heard great things about it from Bakari was the Dolphin browser. Dolphin is another browser with a simple, easy to use interface but it also offers plenty of features to get it on this list.
Aside from your usual browser features, you can quickly tap the little dolphin icon in the lower left corner to get instant access to the “Sonar” or gesture features. Gesture settings let you define URLs directly to custom gestures that you create.
Sonar has a voice search feature where you can just say a word or website and the browser will take you there. This is of course very similar to the Chrome browser, except I like the fact that you can access both features quickly from the same page.
The only drawbacks I could find about Dolphin was that it seemed to load pages more slowly, and I couldn’t find anywhere to switch my page view from mobile to desktop – a feature that is a must-have for me. However, for anyone looking for a good browser for an Android smartphone, this is a viable option over the native browser.
I never thought I’d be recommending a browser called “puffin”, but I have to say, don’t let the name fool you. This isn’t just some cheap, cutsie web browser. It is a mobile browser that easily gives big players like Chrome and Maxthon a run for their money.
Just take a look at the quick keyboard and mouse apps at each corner of the display that give you the ability to use the sort of mouse features and keyboard functions you need to have on some websites, that can be kind of difficult to manage from other browsers.
Need to click on a field that your touchscreen won’t let you select? Enable the mouse and click away. Can’t manage to highlight and copy text on the page with your other browsers? Not to worry, Puffing gives you the ability to copy and paste text with the keyboard function. Very nice.
There is also a form of gestures for some features in Puffin. For example, dragging three fingers up or down will drag the page. Squeezing three fingers together or apart will zoom in or zoom out. And the coolest feature of all is when you long-press two fingers on the screen.
This enables the “screenshot” mode, where you can crop a section of the browser display, and then save the image to your device, or share it with friends on your favorite social networks.
That is a really cool feature, and provides big bonus points to the Puffin browser in this list of native browser alternatives.
Of course, no list of the top mobile browsers would be complete without a mention of the Opera browser. I’ve never been much of an Opera fan for the desktop, but a quick run with the Opera browser on the tablet makes it clear that the mobile browser stands head and shoulders above most others.
It also has a clean interface that is a bit unique from Chrome or Firefox, and the tabbed button shows you thumbnail previews of those tabs that are bigger than other browsers out there.
The new-tab page offers big, clear thumbnails of your customized page links.
And my favorite feature is the fact that the menu of settings and features is on the upper left rather than way off to the right side, as it is in most other mobile browsers. Additionally, the menu is organized with graphical buttons rather than just a dry text list. As you can see you get quick access to bookmarks, history, saved pages, recent downloads and even a “find in page” search feature not all mobile browsers offer.
Hopefully, this is a comprehensive enough list. I think it’s clear that most of the usually top-hitters still make the list, but there are clearly a few other not-so-well-known Android web browsers out there that are putting in a great effort. I am seriously considering Maxthon my mobile browser of choice, so long as it can easily load all of my favorite web pages – not the least of which is MakeUseOf.
So, are any of these mobile browsers your favorite replacements for the native Android browser? Do you have any others that are at the top of your list? Share your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below!
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