Six Alternative Browsers to Chrome for Android

Six Alternative Browsers to Chrome for Android

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Browsers are one of the most essential parts of smartphones. When the original iPhone came out, there was a big deal about that single fact, as it featured a Safari web-browser that brought the experience a much needed crispness and smoothness. On phones, that is; many of you probably remember what many seem to forget – dumb phones did it too! When I was a kid, I’d grab my father’s Motorola Razr (probably the most stylish dumb phone there was) and browse the internet on a poorly formatted (but decently wrapped) WAP browser displayed on a low resolution screen. That didn’t stop me from trying to play Runescape (brings you back huh?) on it. Of course it would never work! But being a tech fanatic at such a young age, the possibility was enticing, and the mere fact that the internet rested at my palm was a sublime realization, even at that age.

Blackberries did browsers too, and their track-balls and track-wheels were awesome for that. But the current smartphones really have an edge in every way, and right now a big advantage is the modular nature of current software – a lot of browsers are available for you to try, adapt to, master and enjoy. There’s too many, in fact, and following typical Playstore distribution, you’d find that most of them suck and that there’s just a few browsers dominating the browser market.

What’s probably the biggest competitor to these top browsers is Google’s own Chrome browser. It is a staple of the Android experience, and now that it comes built-in as a default browser in Stock-Android and OEM phones, everyone has immediate access to enjoy its goodness. A lot of factors make Chrome stand out above the crowd. It is very fast, and has gotten considerably smoother in 2014 – you’d think it would considering every Google changelog ever lists performance improvements. But then there’s the fact that it is also in-line with Material Design, and the few extra features it has really enhance the experience. To top it off, it is neatly integrated with both your Google account and your desktop browser, allowing for seamless transitions through cloud synchronization. You know all of this, as these are probably some of the reasons why you keep the app on your launcher dock.

However, Chrome still has some issues. On lower-end devices it is not as fast and smooth as on Nexuses and other flagships. Text-wrapping needs some work (still). Google also took the refresh button out of the address bar on its MD update, which hurts the navigation on the app a little bit. And then there’s the fact that, like with most Google apps, there’s very little for you to configure or customize, which means that you are mostly stuck with the browsing experience that Google wants you to have. There are more reasons, and these are just what I’ve encountered through my user experience which is something that greatly varies from user to user.

Luckily, if Chrome isn’t your go-to browser because of this or that, you still can choose from a good number of impressive browsers. Let’s take a look at which ones are good alternatives, and why they can compete with Google’s monolithic browser in the first place.

All screenshots took at 360 DPI – the interfaces will take more space in default DPI settings.

Dolphin

Dolphin has a very traditional interface, including a desktop format with tabs at the top by default. Having them at the top of the screen is great for navigation, as you can quickly access an extra tab – and not just quick switch, as in non-tabulated browsers – without the need for a full tab overview. The big problem is that it takes up a lot of space, even for this format. It is simply huge, and in my opinion, a little ugly. Those of you spoiled by the Material minimalism of Chrome will not like this as much, even if it is flat. Luckily there’s themes to address this… But all of the included ones are distractedly colorful and inspired by pictures of flowers or landscapes – clashing entirely with our current Material Design.

UI performance is rather good, but both in benchmarks and in real world use, javascript is slower than the rest of the pack. When it comes to page loading speed and re-resizing performance, it is pretty bad if you are used to Chrome. In fact, of all the browsers I tested, it was the worst of the bunch. It was also the second biggest memory-hogger, so those RAM-conscious of you might want to reconsider.

Where the browser shines, however, is features. Dolphin Jetpack scores great in HTML 5 due to Jetpack which is a webkit improvement for GPU rendering that works behind-the-scenes, which is good for the future standard that is being rapidly adopted. As far as actual functionality goes, this browser offers a lot of things I love. For navigation, you’ve got browser-wide gestures to launch whatever site you want in a pinch. And if you don’t feel like drawing, you’ve got the option to voice-search with a smart Sonar feature that works tremendously well. You can also configure the volume keys to scroll websites or better yet, switch tabs. All of this, coupled with tabs on GUI, makes for a very fast and efficient navigation experience. With Dolphin, you don’t just surf the internet, you swim elegantly. It lives up to its name in this regard.

 

Next

Next, we’ve got… Next. Now, I typically hate GO software. I mostly find it bloated, RAM hogging, and generally unappealing. But their latest browser improved significantly on those points. Next is very minimal, and it resembles older Chrome versions in a way. Its got clean aesthetics and the animations of the UI are rather good, among the nicest in this list. The best part of the UI is that its got a very small search bar, and that you can hide the notification bar; these two things make for a very big browsing canvas and it is something I like to see in browsers, specially now that I don’t have App Settings to force immersive mode.

The UI and performance are very optimized. It definitely shows that GO has put some more time than they used to in making this not too bloated. And if you want performance inside a webpage, you’ve got that too, as the javascript performance is second-to-none when it comes to Chrome alternatives. It is not that fast when loading websites, however, so you might want to keep that in mind. Browser Mark scores put it just under Dolphin, and while I can’t notice that differential, it does feel noticeably slower than Chrome. If you value loading speed, stay away. If you are tight on RAM, you’ll love this browser as it is very light -the lightest, in fact-, and never leaves background processes running.

The disappointing part about this browser is the lack of features. You can sync bookmarks, but that is about it. You can also customize the homescreens to a degree, and there are gestures to switch tabs… But as far as options go, it is no Dolphin. Which isn’t necessarily bad if you are used to Chrome. Just don’t expect a whole lot other than light and smooth software with sub-par browsing speed.

 

Firefox

Firefox has an interesting UI. It is very rounded and adds a gradient to your now-grey notification bar, which makes it rather aesthetically pleasing. It’s got a similar menu to chrome, that slides out displaying options in rows. Then you’ve got a tab switcher at the top which lowers the interface to reveal your tabs. But if you are a phablet user, and especially if your DPI is adjusted to make it justice, you’ll find that the tabs are a little too high for simple thumb reach, and the refresh button is at the highest possible location, past vertical thumb reach. This takes some points away from it in comparison to Chrome’s simple and efficient tab system(s). However, the list-tabs system is efficient, as it provides very informational looks at your tabs so that you know precisely where you are going to in a pinch.

Firefox is one of the best in javascript performance, topping the benchmarks of all of the browser alternatives. And as far as webpage loading goes, it is very decent on cold-loading the websites, but if you happen to close the app and want to get back to it, you’ll find that it takes just as long to hot-load the site you just closed. This is very frustrating for low-memory devices that constantly kick browsers out of memory (and Android’s trigger-happy Memory Manager doesn’t exactly help). And the worst part is, this bad boy makes that matter worse as it can take over 100mb of RAM with no websites open. Certainly not a good option if you are on a budget phone, as Chrome uses almost a third of its standby memory.

As far as features go, Firefox has enough to offer you. You can save pages as PDF documents to look at later in all their glory. Then there’s a “Reading List” feature where you can save web sites to look at later. And there’s a very useful guest mode so that your friends can’t access your data if they need to look for something on your phone’s browser. And while talking about the extensions would be unfair, there is a very solid extension system and theme switcher, meaning you can add many features or change the look. Oh, and this browser is Open Source, so you can tinker with whatever you don’t like or find a fork that solves your gripes.

 

 

Javelin

Javelin is gorgeous. It is one of the few browsers that have adopted Material Design, and it did a good job at that. The default color palette is a little wild at first, but it is aesthetic enough to grow on you, especially given that it changes your status bar accordingly… something Chrome is still missing, surprisingly. As for the setup, there’s options at the sides and I think that they aren’t properly distributed. Tabs are not as conveniently accessible as in other browsers, however, and I think that their layout is not the best for navigation. But the gestures it offers make up for it.

As far as performance goes, it is no slouch. Its benchmark scores are up to par with Chrome at some levels, and it only scores less than 400 points than Chrome’s Browsermark score of 2895. In real world use, it works very well also. Websites load fast, javascript is responsive and swift, and you won’t be left waiting like some of the worst offenders on this list. The UI performance is very good, especially considering that this is a rather feature-heavy browser. One of the problems I’ve always had with Javelin, though, is that it is a little too ambitious with its memory usage, as it drains too much even when idle, particularly with its Stack feature running in the background.

But this Stack feature is great. If you are familiar with Link Bubble, this is just as useful. It’ll load your links found in other apps in the background, and lets you access them whenever you want to by tapping the foreground stack that appears. It makes multitasking excellent and takes navigation outside of the box. It certainly beats Chrome in this regard, as Android’s current activity tasking system is confusing and you can very easily destroy the instance your hard work might be laying on. Other features include a built-in ad blocker, and it allows you to sync your bookmarks and history with Chrome, which is one of the biggest appeals of the browser giant. Its incognito mode is even more secure, and there’s a handy “reading mode” that turns distracting web sites into an easily digestible plain article.

 

Opera

Opera was my go-to browser when I had older devices, and it hasn’t changed that much. That’s not to say it doesn’t look good. It features gradients that look a little dated on our more flat interfaces of today, but it is still to-the-point and simple to have charm. The top sees a tab switcher, which is conveniently spawned at the bottom for easy thumb reach. The menu button has a big grind that makes every element easy to identify and click, so you no longer have to eye-scan a list to find the “find in page” button, just click the magnifying glass! And finally, it features many interface modes, to adjust to tablets and phones. The default one has a bottom bar that is really useful, even if it takes up some space.

Javascript performance is above Firefox’s and Dolphin’s, but that’s not saying it is terrific. Next and Chrome are still significantly better. As far as UI speed goes, this one is very optimized, probably due to its long time in the market, with a lower-end target demographic back in the day. Browsermark scores surpass Chrome itself by a wide margin because of this, hitting close to 3200 over Chrome’s ~2900. I did have two few instances where the browser stuttered for  20 second period, but these could just be momentary glitches, and it wasn’t all too often. Page loading is on par with Chrome, but like Firefox, it suffers from poor hot loading times. Luckily, it is nowhere near as memory hungry, but it is still the third heaviest on this list behind Firefox and Dolphin.

Opera’s biggest feature is its interface, I would say. Navigation on it is very neat, especially with the bottom bar. It takes plenty of space, admittedly, but it helps. One of the biggest selling points of Opera back in its desktop golden days was the speed dial, and you see it here. You can customize quick-access tiles to your bookmarks or favorite sites – whatever you want – to enter them as soon as you open a new tab. This is something many browsers offer, but none do it as good as Opera does. Then there’s an off-road mode that will help you save data, but Chrome already has data saving at this point in time. The “Discover” feature shows you information or websites for you to surf through, and not necessarily stuff neatly picked to suit your tastes. I personally love that because, in my opinion, you don’t really surf the internet anymore when everything is tailored towards your likes through search and ad algorithms.

 

Maxthon

This one has been gaining buzz lately, and for some good reasons. Good features, good speed, decent benchmarks.

The interface is not that good in comparison to some others in this list, but it definitely isn’t the worst. Chrome’s is hard to surpass, and this one doesn’t scratch as much as a dent on it. The default tabulated interface is too tall for its own good, which is great for tablets and endurable with a proper DPI, but if you are running stock you might get put off by it. It is clean looking, nonetheless, and prettier than most of the competition. It can also feature a bottom bar for quicker navigation, allowing acces to home, back and forward, favorites and menu.

Javascript performance is above Firefox and Dolphin, but behind Opera, Next and Javelin. It stands as a good in-betweener in this regard. As far as webpage loading and re-sizing tests, it definitely doesn’t fare as well as Opera and Firefox, and neither Chrome. But it is the second fastest in this list when it comes to loading webpages, and the definite best at hot loading. Couple this with the fact that it is the second lightest in the list and you won’t be having many re-drawing issues. However, it still isn’t lighter than Chrome. But on a personal note, my experience with this browser was the worst on this list by far as UI experience went, everything just lagged. It could be that it is not optimized for my phone (Exynos processor) but I just couldn’t stand the stuttering.

Features have this browser shine:  Quick Access is a speed dial replacement that works very well, and with News Bites you can put your favorite social media on there as well. “My Cloud Tabs” lets you seamlessly transition from devices by syncing your tabs, and you can push text, images or links a-la-pushbullet to Maxthon accounts. Reader mode removes ads and formats webistes for you. You can also sync favorites, you can increase the browsing size, you’ve got built in screenshot assistants, amazing text wrapping, and amazing navigation gestures. Oh, and if this isn’t enough, there are add-ons.

 

Conclusion

All of these browsers have clear strengths and weaknesses. As the browser scene currently stands, I think that Chrome is the best all-around browser and it certainly wins over almost all of them when it comes to a fast and efficient user experience – even if its a simpler one.

But like many of Google’s offerings, it is a little too bare-bones for some power-users with specific needs and wants. And all of the browsers in this list add something nice that you might find useful for your browsing use cases. If you want better navigation because you constantly need to be switching tabs, there’s something for you. If you want loads of features, you can get that too. If you want a lighter and speedier browser, you are in luck!

That’s the beauty of Android, you can get just what you want, or at least get really close to it. And when it comes to such a fundamental part of smartphone experiences, you can get just that too. While Chrome still remains my favorite browser, even if just because of commodity and comfort, it can be replaced by plenty of options and the ones in this list are a good place to start.

But these are just short overveiws. I suggest you to just download them and try them for yourself, because browsers have to click with you and adjust to your needs and wants, not the reviewer’s. I personally value navigation and speed the most, but you might want better features or strong javascript support or a customizeable interface. So just give whichever browser interests you a try, and see its pros and cons for yourself!