Article last updated on November 23, 2011
Dolphin Browser HD for Android is a full-fledged app that brings a litany of features normally reserved for desktop computers to your mobile device. Possessing a crisp interface that immediately captures even the most novice Android user, Dolphin HD takes full advantage of your touchscreen in areas where most other browsers fall short.
Perhaps the handiest of them all is its Gestures feature, which allows you to load a site with a simple swipe. Want to go to Google.com? Draw a 'G' with your finger. Need to open a new tab? Create a quick 'N' with your thumb. It's that easy. In addition to Dolphin's integrated Gestures, you are given the ability to create an unlimited amount of your own.
Next to Gestures, my favorite part of Dolphin HD has to be the Webzines. Websites that offer RSS feeds can be rendered as neatly grouped thumbnail images, headlines, and blurbs perfect for your Android display. Those users accustomed to running an RSS reader on your mobile device will enjoy the convenience of the Webzine feature, while RSS newbies will become hooked. Webzine settings even let you control text size, toggle images on and off, and clear a separately maintained cache.
Yet another cool component of Dolphin Browser HD is the ability to install add-ons. As a self-admitted extension addict, this was a big draw for me. With over 50 add-ons available ranging from an integrated Twitter client to the popular LastPass password manager, this feature expands the browser's potential beyond a sizable portion of the competition.
In addition to the aforementioned items, you will find that Dolphin HD contains the majority of prominent features found in today's top Web browsers. This includes but is not limited to tabbed browsing, Speed Dial, private mode, highly customizable bookmarks, and the sleek Dolphin SideBar.
If I had to pinpoint a noticeable negative, it would lie in the somewhat unimpressive load times. They are not excruciatingly slow by any means, but do not do much to separate the browser from its competitors in this area. Depending on your connection type, you may experience page loads that are just a notch below some of the other popular Android alternatives. However, they are not slow enough to deter you from giving Dolphin Browser HD a whirl. MoboTap Inc., the company behind the browser, appears to have a motivated development team and some serious financial backers. This is good news, as Dolphin Browser HD should continue to improve and has the ability to compete with the big boys on the block.
Although Android's default browser still tops the list in terms of raw usage, Opera Mini is considered by many to be the gold standard on the platform. Despite some serious competition gnawing away at their market share as of late, the Opera developers seem to have a real feel for what mobile users want in a browser. With a crisp interface that lends itself perfectly to the Android experience, this oft-updated app contains an impressive feature set that rivals most of its desktop counterparts. This includes the standard components expected in a portable browser as well as advanced items which give you control over your individual private data types and even the app's display itself. Speaking of the desktop experience, Mini supports Opera Link for a seamless transition from PC to mobile when it comes to your bookmarks, passwords, and Speed Dial sites.
The area in which Opera Mini shines the brightest can be summed up in one simple word, speed. With a combination of on-the-fly compression of data on Opera's servers along with optional tweaks such as lowering image quality or disabling them altogether, this app is noticeably faster when it comes to rendering Web pages.
As unlimited data plans begin to fade, more mobile users are being forced to show some restraint with their daily activity. In response, many browsers are offering ways to help the frugal surfer save some coin. Opera Mini is no exception, as the same data compression that causes faster load times also utilizes significantly less data than standard rendering. A Data Usage feature is also available, displaying both the original and actual downloaded size of content that you have viewed in the current session as well as an overall figure. In addition, a percentage indicator gives you an estimation of how much you have saved as a result of the browser's compression.
If you are looking for a change in your Android browser, Opera Mini is an excellent choice.
Originally a Chinese-only app, Miren Browser for Android is rapidly gaining popularity with the English-speaking crowd and for good reason. Known in China as Charming Browser, this feature-rich freebie translates remarkably well on most Android devices; especially when it comes to page load times. While the app itself may be a bit slow on select devices, website rendering is a breeze.
From an options standpoint, intuitive tabbed browsing and robust bookmark management - including the ability to import and export from your SD card - lead the pack. Widespread Flash support along with the ability to control your sensitive data round out some of my favorite aspects of this foreign port. Miren's Smart Display utilizes your entire screen, hiding everything but the Web content that you're interested in. This automatic transition makes for a great display on phones and tablets alike.
With millions of downloads to its credit, calling Miren a hidden treasure may be a bit of a stretch. Compared to some of its high profile peers, however, this app from the Orient really captures the Android browsing experience.
Skyfire 4.0 for Android touts itself as the world's smartest and most social mobile browser, and although those claims may be a bit too boastful the app certainly does live up to some of the hype. Accessible from the browser's customizable toolbar, also known as the Skybar, the Facebook and Twitter QuickView features allow easy access to both social networks without having to leave the browser or the current Web page. Meanwhile, Skyfire's Fireplace lets you peruse a filtered version of your Facebook feed which displays only posts that contain images, videos, or links to external pages. Another neat option found on the Skybar is the Popular button, which shows the articles or pages on the site you are currently viewing that are most popular among Facebook users. These are the highlights among the browser's social-centric features.
In addition to its Facebook and Twitter integration, Skyfire provides the robust functionality that Android users are starting to expect in a browser. This includes tabbed browsing, easy bookmark and history management, and desktop rendering mode. The main selling point, however, is the app's ability to play Flash videos using the company's patented optimization technology. Video is compressed by up to 75% and is played in an optimal fashion based on your device's screen resolution.
Unfortunately, the term selling point is key in Skyfire's case. While the app itself is free, you will need to purchase a video license key for $2.99 to unlock the browser's full video rendering potential. If your Android device cannot view the Flash content that you desire, then this price tag is a reasonable one. Install the browser itself first before considering a purchase, however, as you can get a feel for the rest of its feature set before clicking that blue BUY button. If videos aren't your forte, the free version still has a lot to offer.
Although a version does exist for the Maemo platform, Firefox for Android is Mozilla's first real foray into the mobile world. With a release schedule that closely mirrors its desktop doppelganger, this app brings many familiar ingredients to the palm of your hand. Among these are Personas, which allows you to clothe Firefox in different skins, and the popular Sync service. By providing the ability to synchronize bookmarks, history, passwords, and even open tabs with your desktop versions of Firefox, Sync ensures that leaving your desk doesn't necessarily mean leaving your important browser data behind. Another noteworthy trimming is the Awesome Screen, a central repository for the sites you visit most often as well as everything that is transferred via Sync.
Perhaps the most celebrated aspect of Firefox resides with its add-ons, and the mobile spinoff has a collection of its own to offer. Well-known extensions like Adblock Plus and NoScript have been ported to Android, virtually allowing limitless customization of the browser. If the passion of the desktop add-on development community is a sign of things to come, the mobile extension catalog should continue to grow at a rapid rate.
While Firefox's desktop browser has grown into a juggernaut in both functionality and user base, its Android counterpart still has some maturing to do. The features are there, for the most part, but the speed and stability have yet to catch up. Rampant complaints about slowness, as well as extremely limited video support, have been a turnoff for many prospective converts. Mozilla's past history has shown that significant improvements should be on the horizon. Until then, however, Firefox for Android only gets a three star rating.