Third-party Browsers for the IPhone

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WebMate doesn't include any sort of bookmarking or history features; it's really designed to speedily browse through link-heavy sites. (It does, however, work in both portrait and landscape modes.)

Using WebMate on a site like Digg is a joy, at least initially. Load the site, make sure the switch in the lower left is set to On, then start tapping links of interest. After you've built up a collection of tabs, tap the Next Tab button and start reading. Well, that's what should happen, but it's not what does happen.

When you create a new tab from of a link on the first page, WebMate doesn't actually load the linked site--not until you switch to that tab does it start loading the page. So instead of working in the background while you were clicking links, WebMate was merely noting the URL in preparation for loading. As you switch forward through your tabs, you wait for each page to load--why couldn't this have happened while you were viewing the first page?

What's even worse is that there's seemingly no caching at all--if you load a tab, switch to the next tab and wait for it to load, then hit the Previous Tab button, you'll wait for that page to load again in its entirety. Between the lack of pre-loading and no caching, you spend a lot of time waiting on WebMate. On a wireless network, it's not too bad...but on 3G or EDGE, the waiting is interminable.

Sure, it's no more of a wait than it is to load a similar set of pages in Safari, but the interface shows so much promise--if this worked as expected, WebMate would be the slickest tabbed browser implementation available, because it's the only one that lets you easily open links in background tabs. The program's description page states that a major update is coming soon, so perhaps changes are in the works to add pre-loading and caching. I'm looking forward to the update, in the hopes that it delivers on the promise seen in the first version of this browser.

Final thoughts

In summary, none of these browsers can possibly replace Safari in their current forms. Even overlooking the restriction on password-protected pages, none of them offers the right mix of features, stability, and performance to supplant Safari. A few of them, though, do show great promise as Safari supplements, if you will. iBlueAngel offers a compelling set of features that really let you do more with your browser, QuickSurf can speed page loading, especially for image-heavy sites on slower network connections, and WebMate holds the promise of being the best tabbed browser implementation available.

So which one should you use? Possibly one, possibly several, possibly none. It really depends on what sort of browser enhancements you're looking for. Hopefully these capsule reviews have given you a good sense for the state of each browser, as well as their capabilities. Remember, too, that the history of third-party browsers on the iPhone is very short, and I expect all of these browsers will gain features and bug fixes in the weeks and months to come.

Edge Browser and Shaking Web work with any iPhone running the iPhone 2.1 and 2.2 software updates, respectively. Hot Browser runs on any iPhone and second-generation iPod touch running the iPhone 2.1 update. QuickSurf, WebMate, iBrowser, iBlueAngel, and Incognito run on all iPhone and iPod touch models; iBrowser and iBlueAngel run on the iPhone 2.x software update, Incognito runs on iPhone 2.1, and QuickSurf, and WebMate require iPhone 2.2.

[Rob Griffiths is a senior editor for Macworld.]

This story, "Third-party Browsers for the IPhone" was originally published by Macworld.

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