Attack of the Mobile Browsers

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Although there are plenty of Firefox lovers, it's easy to find users who grouse about the speed. This will probably get better as the Mozilla developers roll out the latest versions of the desktop JavaScript interpreter; then again, it might not. Many of the tricks for speeding up the desktop browser require chewing up RAM, which is often in short supply on the smartphone.

Mobile Browser No. 2: Opera Mini and Opera Mobile

Opera Mini (iPhone)
The company that's known for building zippy desktop browsers, which often download and render content faster than the competition, is delivering the same features to the smartphone and tablet world. The Opera browser feels smoother and looks prettier than the standard models on the phone.

There are deeper advantages. For some time, Opera has been building its Turbo infrastructure, a huge collection of servers that act as proxies for browsing the Web. They collect the data, then compress it further. While desktop users may like the feature because it can speed up delivery of data, mobile users may like it even more -- especially if they're using data plans that measure consumption. It's more and more common to find mobile phone plans that include only the first 5GB or 10GB of data each month. Opera is not shy about pointing out the advantages of using this service.

One of the smarter things that Opera does is wrap text. The second round of mobile browsers tried to imitate their big-screen rivals on the desktop, often leading to much pinching and scrolling. Opera tries to word wrap the DIVs much more aggressively than the desktop browsers. It makes reading some pages much easier.

Additionally, Opera seems to have more of the features that we've grown accustomed to using on the desktop, and the company offers to sync the mobile with the desktop browser so that you have a consistent appearance. Thus, if you put a website on the speed-dial splash screen of your desktop, it can appear on your mobile as well. The mobile also has tabs, a long history, and a number of other features we're used to living without in a mobile browser.

opera mobile

Mobile Browser No. 3: Boat Browser Mini

Boat Browser is a relatively simple and rather elegant browser for Android phones that seems to remind many people of using Safari on an iPhone. This is partly because of the color and partly because it doesn't have too many extra features. The performance is fairly snappy, and Boat Browser can play many Flash videos -- a notable departure from mobile Safari.

The settings section offers a wider collection of buttons and options, including the ability to set the "mobile view engine." You can clear the cache, toggle the full-screen mode, and even turn on the ability to "open pages in overview." On the site, Boat Browser scored 182 out of 400, just under what is common in this space.

When I was testing the browser, it suddenly disappeared from the Android Market, then reappeared in a new version two weeks later. No one made any official statement about why it was gone; in fact, it's difficult to know where an official statement about Boat Browser might come from. The lack of a serious Web page owned by the company should be reason enough to be curious about the provenance of the code. It's hard to imagine that someone would put this much effort into something with a malicious intent, but weirder things have happened.

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