Fastest Browser For iPhone [Review]
The App Store is now loaded with browsers that intend to provide a speedier, richer experience – after all, Mobile Safari leaves ample room for improvement. With the exception of Opera Mini, all the competing browsers are built using the same WebKit code base (the open source browser engine) so any performance gains come from added features like improved tabbing, faster scrolling, image/ad blockers, and page compression. Some of the features do prove to be useful and contribute to faster and more efficient browsing.
That being said, all third-party browsers on iPhone and iPad are inherently handicapped. Since you can’t chose an alternative app as your default web browser, basic activities like opening links from other apps aren’t a matter of click and open. Given their second-class citizen status as non-system apps, third-party browsers can’t run in the background, so there’s no behind-the-scenes rendering or storing pages in RAM. Undoubtedly, third party browsers have issues but they really aren’t the fault of their programmers. Five of the very best browsers amongst a dozen were chosen – Atombic Web Browser v.2.8.0, iCab Mobile 3.2, Mercury Browser v2.3.2, Opera Mini v.5.0.1, Perfect Web Browser v4.0, and Safari.
To make it as fair as possible, the tests were run on the same iPhone 3GS in the same locations (NYC and Miami). Each test ran twice a day (midday and midnight) in two different locations using both AT&T’s 3G network and a private (home) WiFi network.
Speed gains of three to five seconds were apparent in Miami with all the browsers including Safari when using 3G. New York City’s 3G network was less speedy and stable than Miami. WiFi provided speedier browsing in NYC but had no difference in Miami. Time of day had no noticeable impact in either location. The best Miami scores were used as the baseline for all of the tests results.
Boot times were calculated with a stopwatch and each boot test was run five times per browser with the final scores being an average of the times recorded. (highest and lowest score eliminated, remaining scores average out and rounded up)
Page Load Times
The same basic process was used, five tests timed with a stop watch, loading six pages (MacLife, CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times, and an iGoogle page). The final scours are an average of the times recorded for each page, with the highest and lowest per browser eliminated and the remaining scores average out and rounded up.
The reason Opera Mini processes web pages through its own company servers, compressing and tweaking the pages for optimum performance before they get to your iPhone. The result is super fast page downloads and occasional oddness in how pages are displayed. Sites you visit often are cached in part on your phone, making downloads even speedier.
The other browsers delivered essentially the same results in SunSpider, a few seconds variance in time plus or minus is not statistically valid. This isn’t a surprise as all third-party browsers except Opera Mini are built on WebKit and Apple’s developer agreement bans alternative Javacript engines.
Scoring under 100 on this test, which gauges how well a browser meets web standards and you fail. You can even 100 and fail, test results note if there are rendering flaws. Opera Mini’s non-standard way of rendering pages earned it demerits.
Safari/WebKit Browsers: 100
Opera Mini: 74
Opera Mini’s processing feature delivered pages quickly and even enhanced web page compatibility with sites that aren’t iPhone friendly. Speed dialing lets you choose sites to cache, then load them with a tap. New tabs seemed slow compared to simply opening a new page in Safari and there is only one level of zoom and no rubberbanding. Overall: Excellent (4.5/5)
Tabs display is nicely optimized for small screen. You can specify how links on pages behave (whether to open them in a new or same tab) which is great for browsing link heavy sites. Page content is loaded in background tabs, so there aren’t annoying delays when you switch to a new tab. Option to disable image downloads and blocking advertising. Opening too many tabs did crash iCab though. Overall: Great (4/5)
Atomic Web Browser
Configurable search options got us to our search sites quickly. The “Search current page” let us look for exactly what we wanted to quickly. Save session lets you replace the startup screen and instead warp directly to the last browsing binge with tabs intact. Atomic provides a slew of configuration options for those who want to tweak things. There weren’t any specific downfalls other than it being constricted to third-party app issues. Also, a note to everyone, make sure you are using the 99 cent version as the free “Lite” version doesn’t include many of the features previously mentioned. Overall: Awesome (5/5)
Screen real estate is reserved for browsing (the browser navigation, settings, bookmark buttons live in transparent overlays, URL bar vanishes with a hsake and can be calld back with a tap) which makes it easier to quickly skim through pages. Tabs are supported and content is brought up before hand in the background. Springboard icons let you skim bookmarks quickly, but you can switch to standard style if youw ant. Pages can be saved for later viewing offline. Downsides included full pages being displayed instead of mobile optimized sites sometimes. Overall: Great (4/5)
Perfect Web Browser
The “Find” feature got us to where we wanted to be quickly. The “Hyperscroll” whipped up and down pages with lightning speed. You can turn on web compression if you want to speed page downloads a bit and image blocking also offered a nice speed boost. Nice cross compatibility with Safari makes opening pages in one browser from another one a snap. There weren’t too many downsides other than the standard third-party app issues detailed earlier, but it isn’t as crisp as some of the other browsers. Overall: Great (4/5)