Try a different browser on your Android or iOS device

Now that smart devices, including smart phones and tablets, have arguably become the most widely used devices now in use to surf the Web, it may be time for those users to consider an alternative browser, rather than the one that came factory installed on their devices. As has typically happened on desktops and laptops regardless of the operating system, the default Internet browser is the one that tends to be most widely used, as many users are either unaware or reluctant to try another browser. I’ve frequently been asked about browsers other than those installed by the manufacturer, and my answers are always the same: Yes, you can have more than one browser installed. Yes, you can use more than one browser; No, they will not interfere with each other, and yes, most browsers will import the bookmarks (favorites), cookies, passwords, and other pertinent information from the original browser.

Many may wonder why so many different software publishers are investing so much time and money creating and upgrading so many different browsers. The answer is simple: Browsers can be a “cash cow,” generating massive amounts of revenue to the publisher. When people browse the Web, each advertisement displayed generates revenue, some of which is paid to that particular website developer, along with a small share (fee, or commission) paid to the browser publisher. Another major generator of revenue to the browser publishers are known in the industry as “Search Royalties,” generated whenever someone uses a search engine, most notably Google. 

With the absolute explosion of smart devices, and the commercial desire to make a profit (or just cover costs, as Mozilla is technically a “non-profit”), the browser wars have intensified in the phone and tablet battlefield. My personal favorite browser is Firefox, which I have running as my primary browser on my Android phone and tablet, as well as all of my desktop and notebook (laptop) computers running Windows. While fans can argue over browsers just as they do over sports teams or pickup trucks, I happen to like Firefox. On each of my devices, regardless of operating system, Firefox is frequently updated to include security and performance enhancements, as well as to add new features. Firefox can be easily configured to “synch” between devices, such that a webpage opened on one device can be opened or continued on another device, and bookmarks (favorites) and passwords can be seamlessly shared on all of my devices. In terms of compatibility, Firefox has versions that can run well on most operating systems, but has never publically released a fully functional version that will run on iOS, making Firefox non-competitive in the iPhone and iPad market.

There are several other excellent browsers that will run well on both iOS and Android devices, often performing better and more securely than the native application installed by the device or operating system maker. With some dispute and controversy from Apple fans, in many of the comparative reviews, Apple’s popular Safari browser running on most iOS powered iPhones and iPads often falls short of many of its competitors when run on the same devices. Since many people have multiple smart devices running different operating systems, it may also be a convenience to run the same browser on these different, but otherwise incompatible devices, which would allow the user to transparently share bookmarks and other content.

One alternative browser that I have installed on several devices is the Dolphin browser (dolphin.com), aptly named because it is both intelligent and sleek, and has builds that run very well on both Android and iOS devices. Among browser users, Dolphin may have some of the most ardent and loyal supporters who have been known to hype and brag about their favorite browser. While many of the features among the competing browsers are somewhat comparable, the Dolphin browser allows the use of gestures on the screen as a way to execute commands. One quick example is drawing the letter “N” with a finger or stylus on the Dolphin screen to open a new tab. Many preset gestures are included in Dolphin, and custom gestures can be easily programmed. A simple tap on a webpage can indicate that that page or news item is to be shared on social media, such as posting a news story on the user’s Facebook account with just a tap of a finger.

As it is apparently capitalizing on its immense name recognition in order to maximize its revenues, Google, the parent of the Android operating system, also produces a very capable browser for Apple products. While incorporated into almost all Android products by design, Chrome is also becoming popular among iOS users and is available from iTunes. Considered one of the fastest browsers, Chrome is also one of the most powerful and intuitive smart device browsers, functioning almost identically to its desktop cousins. One advantage of Chrome when used on multiple platforms is the simple and concurrent availability of bookmarks, history and other content if the user has a registered Google account, which will automatically synchronize the content across all of the user’s devices.

A very popular European browser rapidly gaining market share in the U.S. is Opera Mini. Compact in size compared to many of its competitors, Opera Mini offers a feature on the opening display it calls “Speed Dial,” which displays thumbnail images of the bookmarks or sites most frequently visited. Likewise, multiple open tabs can be displayed simultaneously, providing for instant switching between those tabs. Opera Mini also offers another feature that potentially saves many users money on data costs, as it can compress downloaded data and content by as much as 90 percent. For those who often download large amounts of music, videos or other content, Opera Mini offers a helpful feature that displays the volume of saved data, as well as the space available for additional downloaded material. While extremely feature rich and compact, in my own anecdotal experience with Opera Mini on my devices is that it appears to load websites slightly slower than some of its competitors, but its strong advantages typically offset this minor speed issue. Opera Mini is available for iOS devices from iTunes, while the Android version is available on the Google Play Store. The larger version of Opera (not “Mini”) is available for Android only.

There are several other browsers that work just fine on both Android and iOS devices, each offering its own competitive advantages and disadvantages. One way that some of the lesser known browsers compete with the “big boys” is by offering additional features, most notably enhanced security or parental controls. The Puffin browser screens search results from the major search engines and filters the content for safety, security and privacy issues; Puffin is also unusual in that it displays bookmarks, news and other selected content in squares or tiles, much like the desktop on Windows 8 and Windows 10. Another browser emphasizing security and privacy is from a publisher better known for providing plug-ins, rather than complete browsers, and is the Ghostery browser. The Ghostery browser, available for both iOS and Android, can automatically delete cookies and other Internet tracks, making it one of the most privacy oriented browsers available. Ghostery prevents third parties from “mining” your personal information and Internet history, as well as restricts websites from tracking your online activities. While not as polished and refined as its older and more widely used competitors, Ghostery is worthy of consideration for those especially concerned about online privacy.

With an assortment of alternative browsers available for both iOS and Android phones and tablets, there may be no need to use the sometimes inferior Web browsers that typically come factory installed on our devices. All of these browsers listed may be worthy of consideration.

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