Best Android browser 2011: which should you use?

WebKit vs Firefox 4, Opera Mobile, SkyFire and more

Best Android browser 2011  which should you use

It's taken the big browser makers a while, but they're here now. Firefox 4 for Android exited beta in March, Opera Mobile has been available for several months already - plus there are odd, boutique options from upstarts like Dolphin, Skyfire and more.

Here we'll run through the most popular alternative Android web browsers, giving you a few pointers as to whether it's actually worth the hassle of switching everything over to a new system.

We're using an HTC Desire running Android 2.2 as our benchmark phone for all speed observations and performance tests - so results at your end will obviously vary depending on what hardware you're using.

The SunSpider JavaScript performance test is here to give you a general idea of overall performance, as a browser's speed is only as fast as your internet connection and the site you're using.

But hopefully these results will give a good outline of the pros, cons and features on offer from the alternate Android browsers out there. Sadly, Internet Explorer fans are out of luck.

Opera Mobile

Version 11 of Opera's Android browser launched earlier this year, bringing an incredibly fast web experience with it. The browser now supports Adobe's Flash Player add on as well, with the option to only load Flash content when you tap the waiting icon to keep things flowing extra-fast.

Opera mobile

There's also an option to engage the same server-side compression system found in the company's Opera Mini browser, if you're running a slower phone or suffering from a restricted data allowance.

Browser windows are handled by a very user-friendly pop-up tab list, and it's by far the fastest browser on test when it comes to zooming, loading and scrolling pages.

TechRadar home page load time: 17 secs

SunSpider test total time: 3827ms

Dolphin Browser HD

Tab handling is very nice in Dolphin Browser, using the standard desktop browser system of having a visible collection of tabs across the top of the screen. This was the only browser that crashed during our test process, although it did at least offer to reopen the tabs it last had open upon reboot.

Dolphin browser

You're prompted to decide if you want Flash content always on or loaded on demand when first installing the app, plus custom settings let you change the function of the volume key - using it to scroll pages or even switch tabs.

Dolphin is one for the tinkerers, especially as the default colour is a rather unfortunate green which requires the immediate installation of a new theme. It also prompts you to clear the cache and history upon exit, if you wish. Which may please certain special interest users.

TechRadar home page load time: 23 secs

SunSpider test total time: 5517ms

Skyfire 3.0

Skyfire is a very busy browser with tabs and buttons all over the place and numerous added features. Quite the opposite of the standard Android Webkit option - but its pop-up Flash content window is a life-saver for those on phones that don't officially support Flash content. It converts Flash video content on the Skyfire server, and then beams it to non-Flash phones.

Skyfire

You also get custom tabs that pull in popular pages and can link to your Facebook and Twitter profiles, plus its own custom 'Keep Screen On' setting that overrides Android's defaults.

If you have a phone with a big screen so there's room for web pages between its many icons, Skyfire's advanced functionality is a winner for social network users.

TechRadar home page load time: 23 secs

SunSpider test total time: 6902ms

Firefox 4 for Android

Mozilla has finally released the official version of Firefox 4 for Android, after many months of beta testing. The end result is a feature-packed browser that takes many features from the desktop tool.

Firefox 4 for android

Compatibility with Mozilla's cross-platform bookmark, history and password syncing tools makes this the ideal choice for people who haven't embraced the app world and demand an advanced browser on their mobiles.

Sadly there's no Flash Player support in Firefox 4 for Android at the moment, but if you only crave speed and desktop-like features rather than video clips of fat people dancing, it's a good alternative.

TechRadar home page load time: 25 secs

SunSpider test total time: 3071ms

Webkit 2.2

Otherwise known as The Standard One Google Puts On The Phone. The default Android browser's strength is its compatibility with Adobe's Flash Player - as long as you're on Android 2.2 or above and have a phone deemed powerful enough to run it.

WebKit

The number of settings to play with has increased with each Android update, with the browser now featuring the ability to turn off images, JavaScript or Flash to save data, plus password and form data management options to help stay secure. Sadly there are no bookmark sync or management options, which seems odd as that's one area where Google's Chrome desktop browser excels.

It really is a superbly simple tool - plus it was the second fastest at loading the TechRadar home page, a single second slower than the blistering Opera.

TechRadar home page load time: 18 secs

SunSpider test total time: 5303ms

Miren Browser 1.2

The Chinese-made Miren Browser is an odd little wildcard, offering a clean, Apple-inspired design that's focused around a desktop-like tab system. It has some crazy options to play with, like its own in-built brightness setting slider, volume button page scrolling and a simple gesture navigation system.

Miren browser

Miren was the slowest in the SunSpider test scores and not the best at manipulating pages via multi-touch zooming, but it has a nice floating icon system that puts back and stop/reload over the corners of the pages, freeing up extra screen space. It's a quirky one for the outsiders who don't play by the rules.

TechRadar home page load time: 25 secs

SunSpider test total time: 5416ms

The best Android browser is...

For high-powered phones, the Opera Mobile browser is by far the fastest at manipulating pages. It's so comically fast at scrolling and zooming that you start doing it for fun.

If you're running a tablet, it's best sticking with the Android standard Webkit option for now. None of these browsers feature specific tablet optimisations, so don't bother yourself with the hassle of switching sides just yet.

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Liked this? Then check out 40 best free Android apps

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