Sure, your shiny new Android or iOS device comes with its own browser installed. So why invest your time—and money—installing another browser? Because one of these alternatives can add functionality missing from your phone or tablet, boost your browsing speed, and make your mobile life just that much easier.
I thought that my mobile version of Safari was the only browser I’d ever need for my iPhone. Then I tried Dolphin, a mobile browser that’s designed specifically for use on a touch-enabled device.
Available for free for Android and iOS devices, Dolphin is speedy—really speedy. It loads pages lightning-fast.
Dolphin makes navigating the mobile web just as fast, thanks to its intuitive, touch-friendly controls. You can swipe left and right to open new tabs or access your bookmarks. Its gesture browsing lets you assign gestures of your creation—anything you can doodle on the screen in one stroke—to certain features, such as opening a specific site or creating a new bookmark.
Dolphin Sonar, available as a 99 cent in-app purchase, lets you control the browser by voice—including searching the Web and opening new links. I found it very accurate in my brief hands-on tests. While I won’t rely on it all of the time, Dolphin Sonar is a useful add-on to an excellent mobile browser.
Photon Flash Player & Browser
How much would you be willing to pay for a browser that lets you view Flash content on your iPhone or iPad? If the answer is “less than $4,” well, then Photon could be the browser for you. Available for $3.99, this iOS app enables Flash playback nearly seamlessly.
Photon also is available for Android, though the pricing model is slightly different: The app itself is free, with various features—including full-screen playback—are available via in-app purchases.
On either platform, Photon’s looks and functionality are very similar. The browser features a lightning icon in the bottom bar. Tap it, and Flash functionality is enabled. Turning it off uses less bandwidth, and advanced users will appreciate just how much control Photon offers is this area. You can change the bandwidth setting for when Flash is enabled—anywhere from 1 to 6—and you can choose a mode, such as video, game or Web. When you enable Flash, Photon tells you the current settings so you can change them if desired.
I do wish that the menu bars at the top of the screen were a bit more streamlined. They occupy just a bit too much space, especially when you’re using Photon on the small screen of a smartphone. Still, advanced users especially will appreciate just how much control Photon Flash Player & Browser offers over the mobile browsing experience.
Mercury Browser Pro
No matter how advanced mobile browsers may get, most of them can’t offer the power or convenience that their desktop rivals bring. Mercury Browser Pro does its best to make you forget you’re surfing the Web on a smaller screen – but it does so while still taking full advantage of your device’s touchscreen.
For many, Mercury Browser Pro’s selling feature is its Desktop Mode, which spoofs the UserAgent string into thinking you’re using a desktop browser. And not just any desktop browser, but the browser of your choice: You can select anything from Internet Explorer 6 to Firefox 23. This User Agent feature also allows you to view sites as they’d appear on another mobile browser such as Safari on an iPad. It’s an incredibly useful tool for anyone who’s annoyed by the limits of mobile browsing.
So, too, is Mercury’s support for plugins and its ability to let you download media and other files with ease. I also like its support for gestures, allowing you to access its features by shaking or swiping the screen of your device. And I especially like the Mercury Connect feature, which allows me to sync bookmarks from Firefox or Chrome to my mobile browser.
My biggest complaint about Mercury was that it crashed a few times, requiring me to reboot my iPhone. It also froze a few times—not requiring a full reboot, but this was annoying, nonetheless.
Mercury Browser Pro is available as a 99-cent app for iOS. The free, but ad-supported Mercury Browser also is available for Android and iOS.
Liane Cassavoy is a veteran technology and business journalist. She contributes regularly to PCWorld and has written about business issues and products for Entrepreneur Magazine and other publications. She is the author of two business start-up guides published by Entrepreneur Press.