Android browser head-to-head: Chrome vs Dolphin vs Firefox vs Maxthon vs Opera Mobile vs Skyfire

Reviews 29 Oct, 2012

We put the most popular Android browsers up against the default offering to see which offers the best performance and HTML5 compatibility.

Verdict: 
We'd recommend sticking with the stock Android browser or using the Chrome browser if your device supports it, as this is the best all-rounder. Opera is also a good choice for users who have a small data allowance as it eats up less data than competitors thanks to compression technology. Firefox was surprisingly sluggish and we wouldn't recommend unless you have a high-end smartphone.

If you've got an Android, device, there's a good chance it spends a lot of its time browsing the web.

Android's expansive ecosystem of third party developers is a strength, but it can also lead to confusion: with so many alternative browsers available, which one is the best? Do you really need to switch away from the default browser at all?

IT Pro aims to answer the question definitively. To do this we've taken the most popular Android web browsers - Chrome, Dolphin, Firefox, Maxthon, Opera Mobile, and Skyfire - pitted them head-to-head and against the stock Android web browser to see which you should be using to get the most out of your smartphone or tablet.

STOCK BROWSER

The default browser created by Google has been shipping as the standard browser on all Android devices running Android Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0 and below. It is based on the open-source WebKit engine, which also powers the Safari browser on desktops, laptops and Apple's iOS-based mobile devices. It's fast, it's feature-rich and in the Android version comes with extras including tabbed browsing and simple support for gesture-based control.

The beauty of the stock browser is that you don't have to do anything to get it: there's nothing to download, and you don't have to sacrifice storage space - often at a premium on lower-end Android smartphones - to make use of it. That said, the stock browser is often seen as slow and clunky, especially on tablet devices where the large display isn't used to its full potential.

CHROME


It may seem strange for Google to offer two distinct browsers for Android, but Chrome is a different beast to the stock Android browser. Based on the same open-source Chromium engine as the desktop version, Chrome for Android provides a familiar environment for anyone used to the software on other devices. Better still, it synchronises with Chrome on desktops and laptops, providing access to saved tabs, passwords and browsing history.

The early releases of Chrome for Android were clunky, but Google has done well to get the software up to speed and it's a more than capable replacement for the stock browser. Some compatibility issues still exist, however, and you'll need a device running Android 4.0 'Ice Cream Sandwich' or newer to install Chrome.

DOLPHIN


One of the oldest of the third-party Android browsers, and one of the most popular, Dolphin was one of the first browsers to provide tabbed web browsing on Android-powered devices. With the stock browser now featuring tabs, Dolphin has worked hard to add new features and keep itself current.

The most recent release, Dolphin 9, includes a voice-activated 'assistant' mode which iOS users will find immediately familiar as a Siri-alike. Built directly into the browser, the Dolphin's 'Sonar' assistant isn't as flexible as Apple's version but still provides an interesting way to control the browser without having to use of your hands.

FIREFOX


Developed by the Mozilla Foundation, the open-source Firefox for Android was previously known under its codename of Fennec - and it's come a long way since the early days. Designed to offer a familiar interface to those who use Firefox on the desktop, it's a powerful - but memory-hungry - browser going through a rapid development cycle.

For those who use Firefox already, installing Firefox on an Android device unlocks some handy additional features including support for the same add-on tools and access to a synchronisation system which allows you to access bookmarks and even open tabs from your desktop Firefox install on your mobile. With Chrome the only other browser to offer such impressive cross-platform functionality, Firefox is proving increasingly popular among those with devices capable of meeting its requirements for memory and power.

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