Apple’s iOS ships with Safari, which is an excellent browser that renders webpages fast and generally provides for a good web surfing experience. It’s bolstered by tie-ins with Apple’s iCloud, making it easy to sync bookmarks between your computer and iPhone or iPad. The core of any good app is reliability and Apple’s Safari web browser has had bouts with instability since release of iOS 7. While recent updates have improved things and that’s expected to continue with iOS 8, it has left some folks looking at their options. Here’s a look at the best alternative browser apps for iPhone and iPad.
Next to Safari, Google’s Chrome browser for iOS is the most popular web browser on iPhone and iPad. There’s no magic behind its position in the download charts, Chrome is good and makes for a great alternative to Safari. For one, it benefits from having a sibling browser that’s pretty popular on desktop computers, both PC and Mac. That means you are one sign in away from having immediate access to all your favorites and bookmarks.
One unique feature of Chrome is its ability to preload webpages. As wireless carriers increasingly push data caps, less data use can help reign in your wireless bill. Google says by using optimizations, loading images to their servers can result in a reduction of data up to 50 percent.
The latest version also includes voice search. When you browse to google.com, a microphone appears, letting you ask Google. Voice search is much quicker, especially if you have a longer, complex search query.
For those looking to keep their browsing private, Chrome’s Incognito mode lets you surf without saving your browsing history. All you have to do is close the browser tab and that page is literally history.
Other notable features include built-in translation, support for unlimited tabs and an app that consistently benefits from a steady stream of updates to address any lingering stability issues.
As for what you can expect to pay for a world-class mobile web browser? How about free?
Download Chrome (Free)
You might not realize what you’ve been missing until you’ve tried Mercury, available in both free and paid ($0.99) versions. The most prominent feature is support for extensions, all built-in to the app. You enable a host of options from ad block to a nifty screen shot utility. If QR codes are you thing, that’s built in also, letting you scan’em and surf to them. Here’s a look at all of the extensions offered:
- Ad block
- QR Scanner
- Search Menu
The first impressions of Mercury are that it’s a fast browser with a clean looking interface, but that’s only half the story. If you take the time to delve into the settings, you’d find some a treasure trove of functionality. You can heavily customize your browsing experience. The multi-touch settings let you change up to 10 gestures. For example, a ‘two finger swipe’ up can be set to view the previous page. The options are endless. There are different tab styles, address bar styles and you can turn the scroll bar on/off.
Like most browsers, there is a private browsing option. Mercury goes one step further when it comes to privacy. You can set a passcode. If you leave the app without quitting, a passcode is still required to restart your browsing sesson. Privacy buffs should love this option.
Mercury also lets you download all sorts of files and manage them using a powerful built-in File Manager. It all worked as advertised and gave Mercury the feel of a desktop browser. Speaking of which, you can change the user agent if you need to spoof a website which is forcing a poor mobile view. Other options let you ‘hide’ the options bar, creating a more immersive view.
If you seek raw browsing power and endless options, Mercury for iOS is a good place to start.
Download Mercury (Free), Mercury Pro $0.99
Offered in both free and pad versions, Puffin will largely appeal to those who must view Flash content on the web. If you enjoy playing flash games or watching flash based content online, Puffin offers Flash support through their servers, which they call Flash in the cloud. One of the more interesting options with Puffin are the overlay options for a mouse (pointer) and game controllers. For gamers, the added functionality of having arrow keys is worth the price of admission.
The iPhone has never supported Flash and it never will. If you need a browser that has Flash capabilities, Puffin is your best option. The free version lets you access content during off-peak times (8:00 am to 4pm).
If you are in the market for a fast browser that plays nice with Adobe Flash, check out the free version of Puffin. The Pro version will set you back $3.99, a small price to pay for everything the Internet has to offer.
Download Puffin (free), Puffin ($3.99)
There only so many ways to design a browser window, but Opera has managed to think out of the box with Opera Coast. It’s a fresh, modern UI and I’m not simply talking about iOS 7 iconography or minimalist design. This browser feels alive, providing users with a ‘head start’ to the web, aligning popular websites with colorful favicons across the screen. You can tap on a favorite or pull down to start searching the web using Google.
As you type, icons of related sites start appear neatly in a row atop the screen. There are also previews of popular searches. A search of ‘NHL’ brought up an icon representing the main site along with Standings and Scores. By tapping and holding the icon, it was easy to add to my favorites.
Some browsers are focused on having the most features and that’s perfectly fine. Opera Coast seems content with providing a great, fun web browsing experience. No more, no less. The app feels alive to the touch, an experience rich with animations that delight. As you pull down to search, the background image elegantly inherits a gaussian blur, letting you focus on your search. Navigating around was fast, fluid and didn’t feel like work.
Opera Coast is simple, beautiful, fast and fun. Take it for a spin around the block, but don’t be surprised if it makes you forget your old, stodgy browser.
Download Opera Coast (Free)
A mainstay amongst Android users, Dolphin is a very capable browser. A unique gesture feature lets you use your finger to handle everything from navigation to viewing a favorite. For example, you can draw the letter G to visit Google or A for Amazon. Dolphin gestures are completely customizable.
Dolphin keeps its interface free of distractions by letting users swipe left to access bookmarks or right to view open tabs. Bookmarks can be synced across devices, provided you sign in to Dolphin Connect. Viewing tabs in a list can be a refreshing break from the 3D layout in Safari.
The browser itself is free, but a $0.99 in-app purchase will give you access to Dolphin Sonar. Besides being a great name, it lets you use your voice to search the Internet, share on social networks, bookmark websites and more.
While deserving to be on any list of iOS browser alternatives, you should note that Dolphin has not been updated since October, 2013. Its interface could stand to be refreshed.
Download Dolphin (Free)
Safari is a great browser and its integration with iCloud makes it a fantastic option for most users. For those looking for ad-block, support for Flash or a feature not included with Safari, you should be happy to know there are a number of great alternatives. Most of the alternative browsers listed above have free versions. Give them a try and ultimately, see what works best for you. Do you have a favorite?