The web browser is an extremely important part of your phone, and for most people that’s probably where a good chunk of time gets spent on any device. Sure, apps more popular and offer a better experience (and we’re starting to see many companies push for app installations over web views) but the web browser is still a completely functional feature, especially for simple web searches or browsing, or if you just need to look at a certain site that you don’t shop often enough to justify an app installation.
With that being said, some browsers are better than others. All Android devices ship with a default internet browser, and most of them also come pre-loaded with Google’s own fantastic Chrome browser. For many people, one of those two apps will be more than functional enough. But for some people that are looking for a slightly different experience because they want something a little faster, or maybe something that integrates with a different ecosystem that isn’t Google’s, there are plenty of other solid options available, and that’s where this guide comes in. We’re going to go over some of the best available replacement web browsers to test out on your Android device.
If you’ve ever experimented with different browsers on your PC, you’ve probably used Mozilla Firefox at some point. It’s one of the most popular web browsers available and helped popularize some of the features we take for granted on our browsers today, like tabbed browsing. Firefox isn’t only available on a desktop, though, and Mozilla has put a ton of time into crafting an excellent mobile browser for anyone looking to use Firefox on the go.
Tabbed browsing isn’t going to make Firefox stand out in 2015, but the browser has a ton of other features that stand above what other apps can offer. One of the biggest features that Mozilla is a huge advocate for is a set of privacy features on Firefox that can be tough to find on other browsers. Mozilla continuously builds better security and privacy features into their browser, and they were one of the first to offer a Do Not Track solution to their browser, which carried over to mobile. Firefox will do its best to block certain parts of the web that try to track your activity, which theoretically leads to a more private browsing experience. And since Firefox is also open source and Mozilla tries to be pretty transparent about things, that makes Firefox a compelling argument for anyone that’s trying to keep their info a little more secure.
Another great feature from Firefox’s desktop browser is its ability to support add-ons. Firefox isn’t the only mobile browser with extensions support, but it’s pretty rare, and Firefox arguably has more support than any other available browser. Just like add-ons on a desktop, you’ll have access to tons of different optional plug-ins to enhance your browser, including things like ad blockers, password managers, and tons of other small utilities and tweaks. It’s not quite as fleshed out as the desktop version, but there’s still plenty off add-ons to make your mobile browsing a bit better.
As an actual browser, Firefox works extremely well. It’s fast and fluid, and Firefox Sync keeps your history, browser tabs, log-in info, and bookmarks synced up across devices. Most browsers (including Google’s own Chrome) do this, but it’s nice to have an alternative browser that won’t disrupt your workflow if you have multiple devices. And, since Firefox is pretty neutral about search engines and service providers, it’s much easier to get things set up to use Yahoo or Bing as a default search engine. I’m sure most of us here enjoy using Google, especially on Android, but there are instances where you may want to keep things separated and not put all of your internet eggs in Google’s basket.
Firefox is free, and it’s hard to beat, especially if you’re already using it on the desktop. It’s just as good as Chrome in almost every way and even wins out in a few areas, so it’s definitely worth checking out for anyone that’s looking for tons of features without going the Google route.
Some people want a lightweight browser that does just what they need, and that’s it. Other people want their web browser to have more features than the smartphone they’re using. If you’re in the latter camp, you’d feel right at home with Dolphin Browser.
Dolphin is currently at version 11 and has over 50 million app installations. It’s been around on the Play Store for a while, and it’s been updated with Android throughout the years to create one of the best available apps around. It’s definitely not a trimmed down, light app, but it does pretty much everything you could possibly ask from a web browser, and it supports several add-ons in case you really just need more features.
What might be the most unique feature of Dolphin is that it supports Adobe Flash right on your smartphone or tablet. If you’ve been keeping up with Android (or mobile devices in general) over the past few years, you probably know Flash has been all but abandoned on mobile browsers, opting instead for HTML5. That’s great for the future of an efficient web, but there’s still quite a bit of Flash content floating around that’s pretty much inaccessible if you’re using Android’s default browser. Dolphin steps in and offers a full flash experience, so you can technically watch any Flash videos or play Flash games on your device. That doesn’t mean a Flash app that’s looking for a mouse and keyboard is going to magically work well with your touchscreen, but at least videos are fully accessible. The app also supports downloading those Flash videos in a format that you can watch offline, too. That feature is extended to any videos using HTML5 as well, which makes Dolphin a great browser for video junkies.
Dolphin is also one of the few mobile browsers that supports add-ons, and there are tons and tons of them. They’re freely available on the Play Store and offer everything from battery saving extensions, YouTube video downloaders, language translations, and nearly anything you can think of. These are all optional on top of the myriad of things that Dolphin already does, including voice search support, a unique gesture-based browsing experience where you can assign actions and shortcuts to gestures (drawing a star will take you to your bookmarks, for example), and fully functional theme support. It’s really, really hard to beat the level of customization that Dolphin offers.
Not only is the app extremely customizable, though, it works really well on all devices. Dolphin uses its own HTML rendering engine which is supposedly a big reason for the performance of the browser, but navigating the interface is quick and easy. The only real drawback is that there is no desktop equivalent for your traditional computers and laptops, but Dolphin does have a workaround that will allow you to send content to and from browsers like Chrome and Safari. Although it can’t completely replace all of your browsers, it can at least bridge your mobile browser to whatever else you’re using.
Dolphin is free, extremely customizable, and extremely functional. If that’s what you’re in the market for, you can’t go wrong here.
Opera is a browser that also has a pretty steady presence in the desktop browser market. It’s no heavy hitter like Chrome or Firefox, but it has a pretty unique take on web browsing that aims to save data and energy and money on devices. The browser has several methods of compressing data on the internet that speeds up your experience without sacrificing any performance. Do more with less isn’t a philosophy we see very often when it comes to mobile devices, but it’s a welcome approach.
The app compresses data in two ways; one involves compressing videos that you’re watching, and the other uses Opera’s own compression servers. The video compression in the mobile app crunches down the size of videos that you’re watching, which saves data and helps videos to play on slower networks. It’s useful if you’re dealing with a congested or slower network, and it also saves some data usage if you have a monthly cap on a mobile network. The normal browsing compression achieves the same goal, but it routes sites through Opera’s own servers to compress info then serve it up to your phone faster than you’d normally see it. Again, speed and efficiency are the two biggest gains here.
As far as features go, Opera mostly relies on its light footprint to stand out from the crowd. You’ll get all the standard bells and whistles you’d expect from a web browser, including synced bookmarks and passwords, and Opera manages your favorite links in a speed dial-like interface that allows you to quickly jump around websites. There’s also a private mode and a Discover tab that helps you find new content to read, which could help you clear up a separate news app that you don’t actually have room for.
If you need tons of features and extras, Opera may not be a good fit. But if you frequently travel or deal with smaller data caps, the app is fast and easy to use and helps you efficiently browse the web.
Javelin Browser is the Material Design browser that Google should have made a year ago. It takes Android’s primary design guidelines and makes an app and interface should make Google jealous. It’s that great.
As far as features go, it doesn’t really do too much to stand out, but the navigation and interface are top notch and make for one of the best browsing experiences available. There are tons of great visual effects and feedback that other browsers simply can’t match.
Javelin’s feature set isn’t lacking by any means, however. There are bookmarks and quick links, full screen browsing, and data syncing through a Javelin account, which are all the things we expect from a decent web browser. But Javelin excels when it can utilize its interface, such as when you’re using the sidebar while browsing. You can easily slide between open tabs, bookmarks, and your browsing history, and quickly clean up history, open private browsing, and other things that are normally stuffed away in a utilitarian tool menu. There’s even a cleaned up reading mode that declutters your current screen to let you quickly read what’s on the page without dealing with ads and other formatting that you don’t need.
It’s a pretty standard list of things you’ll need a browser to do, but Javelin is fast and efficient and genuinely seems like the browser that should be shipping with Android by default.
If you’re looking for a pleasant browsing experience with enough features to stay competitive with the likes of Chrome, Javelin should be high on your list, especially if you like Material Design. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like great Material Design apps?