I’m a Web browser junkie, and I usually have at least four different browsers up and running on my Mac, each with multiple tabs open and often two or more windows-full on the go, and in its own dedicated Space (OS X 10.6) for easy access and switching.
Unfortunately, the iOS doesn’t support Spaces, or for that matter real multitasking at all. But, true to form, I still usually have four browsers started up and populated with open tabs on the iPad as well, and I find that different browsers are best suited to various particular tasks.
On the Mac, I like Google’s Chrome Web browser a lot more than I do Apple’s Safari, and I often go for weeks or months without ever starting Safari in OS X. Unhappily, Chrome isn’t available on iOS devices.
To be fair, relatively speaking, the iOS version of Safari holds up a lot better in comparison with other Web browsers that support the iOS, like Opera Mini, Dolphin, Diigo, Terra, Mercury, and more, than does regular Safari for OS X against its competition. Indeed Safari may be the best of the iOS browser pack, ahead of my other favorites Dolphin, Diigo, and Terra, especially now that the iOS 5 version has real tabs. On the other hand, while I much prefer Opera to Safari in their respective OS X versions, Opera Mini on the iPad has been a disappointment, with a clunky user interface and distinctly less lively performance than any of the aforementioned competitors, and the very speedy Dolphin especially. These are all pretty good Web browsers.
However, for general Web surfing and searching, my favorite browser isn’t really a conventional Web browser at all, but rather the closest approximation of Chrome available on the iOS—namely the Google Search app. In fact, I find Google Search more useful and satisfying than I probably would an iOS port of the Chrome browser were one available.
Google Search For iPad
Google Search for iOS is simply outstanding—a lovely piece of work, obviously carefully tailored and optimized for the iOS, and it works with the same speediness, fluidity and smoothness I’ve come to expect from the Chrome browser for OS X. Even Chrome’s one-click ease of machine translation for other language Web pages is supported.
Within its capabilities, Google Search for iOS lets you search the web faster, easier, and more efficiently than you can with a regular Web browser. How so?
Google Search displays search results and websites side-by-side so you can quickly browse pages and results, and lets you wipe through its image carousel to see image results in full-size. You can also compare search results as webpage snapshots in Instant Previews mode, and use Google Instant and search suggestions to find you desired search results faster. Revisiting past searches is facilitated with Visual Search History, and you can highlight what you want to see on a webpage with the app’s new Find button, easily share pages and +1 sites, and have quick access to other Google apps like Gmail, Calendar, Docs and more.
Google Search also supports Voice Search, allowing users to search by voice and skip the typing, and Google Goggles lets you snap a photo of what you see to find more information about products, landmarks or famous paintings, or even solve Sudoku puzzles. The handy “Search Nearby” feature finds places near you without typing your location.
Google Search also serves as a handy frontend gateway to the constellation of Google Web apps and services, somewhat like Google’s Chrome OS does, only bringing it to iOS through the back door, as it were. There’s an application launcher for 16 Google apps like Gmail, Google Reader, Google Calendar, Google Docs, and so forth, on two pages, and easy navigation from one app to another without leaving the Google Search environment.
Google Search for iOS works with iPhone and iPod touch as well as iPad, and requires iOS 4.0 or later.
Dolphin Browser claims over 10,000,000 total downloads, has been rated #2 on CNET’s 100, and #1 in PC Mag’s “The 40 Best Free Apps for 2011″ In my seat of the pants estimation, Dolphin HD is probably the fastest iOS Web browser, although it’s not necessarily faster than Google Search.
My most disliked Dolphin HD aspect is that on my poor 16 GB iPad 2, where I tend to keep a couple of dozen apps started up, Dolphin tends to dump loaded Web page content when it’s running in the background. Page restorations are fast, as long as there aren’t too many, which mitigates the aggravation somewhat, but I haven’t found this an issue with most other iOS browsers (it is also an issue with Opera Mini).
Webzine – Fast loading, without ads; Webzine simplifies the way you read your favorite news, blogs and websites.
Gesture – Let your inner artist out and create a personal symbol to access the websites you use the most.
Speed Dial – Visit you favorite sites on the go with one touch.
Tabbed browsing – No need to toggle between screens, tabbed browsing lets you open and switch between pages fast as lightening.
SideBars – Make the best of mobile interface via Dolphin SideBars.
Bookmarks Bar -The fastest way to customize your desktop.
Full Screen Mode – Browse without clutter by switching easily to full screen mode.
Access the left and right Sidebar by swiping at edge of screen to facilitate easier browsing when zoomed in.Dolphin Connect – Sync your bookmarks across your iPhone, iPad or Android devices with a Dolphin ID.
Quickly tap the status bar to scroll to the top of a webpage.
Dolphin is compatible with iPad and requires iOS 4.0 or later
Diigo browser (formerly known as iChromy) claims to bring the best of Chrome’s interface, speed and web annotation features to the iPad, and it does a pretty good job of that, although not quite as good as Google Search does for Web search based surfing.
Diigo Feature Highlights:
Tabs on Top - It’s easy to open, switch and close tabs.
OmniboxType search keywords or URL in one box.
Extra space for the web content - The address bar will be hidden automatically when you scroll down the page, so you get the the extra space for web content. To show the address bar, just tap the tab again.
Read later and Reading list (Offline reading) - One click to save a page to reading list, so you can view them offline. One click to remove a page from the reading list. It’s fast to get pages in and out.
Share to different places - Share the page to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Diigo, Instapaper etc.
Context search - Search from context menu directly.
Open link in new tab - Long press a link and choose different open options.
Diigo is compatible with iPad and requires iOS 4.3 or later.
Terra is another fast web browser with unlimited tabs, full screen browsing, text search, and the ability to save web pages for offline reading. I like Terra, find it stable and comparable in speed to Safari, and, like Safari (and Diigo), it happily holds on to open tabs when idling in the background. The downside of that with Diigo and Terra is a lag in coming forward as the tab pages refresh, and I’ll give Safari the nod as best of the bunch for graceful handling of open Tabs, since it’s unafflicted by any similar lag on most sites.
Unlimited Tabs - Enjoy desktop class web browsing experience. Create as many tabs as you need, quickly switch between opened web pages and open links in new tabs.
Full Screen Browsing - Take advantage of the 100% of the iPad screen. Hide toolbars and tabs with one tap.
Save Web Pages - You can save web pages to read them offline with all images preserved.
Text Search - Easily find a word on the web page. Great for long Wikipedia articles.
Swipe gestures - Use swipe gestures for easy navigation while surfing the Internet.
Other things Terra lets you do:
Bookmark Favorite Web Pages - You can add your favorite web pages to the bookmarks. Open a new tab and quickly navigate to any preferred web site.
As noted, Opera MIni is not my favorite alternative iOS browser, which was a surprise, because its big sibling, Opera for OS X, in many respects is my favorite OS X browser. Go figure.
However, Opera Mini does have one unique advantage: compression. Handy for times you find yourself on a slow, crowded network, away from Wi-Fi or when data roaming. Opera’s servers compress data by up to 90% before downloading, so page loads don’t take forever.
On the other hand, I find Opera Mini consistently slower than Safari, Google Search, Dolphin HD, and the others for routine surfing.
Opera Mini features include:
Up to 6 times faster browsing when on slower or crowded networks
Data Savings: Compress up to 90% of data trafficSpeed Dial: Get to your favorite Web sites with a single tap
Visual Tabs: See all your open Web pages and quickly switch between them
Opera Link: Synchronize your bookmarks and Speed Dial with a Desktop PC or other mobile phone.
So there you have it. There are other iOS Web browser alternatives to Safari, such as iCab, which gets good reviews. However, with so many good freeware browsers available, I remain convinced there’s a compelling case to be made for fee-based browser software on either the iOS or OS X.
Indeed, the iOS’s bundled Safari browser requires no apologies, and is, as I suggested, probably the best general purpose browser on the platform, but I do encourage you to give Google Search a whirl. It’s addictive.