If you’re like most of us at Digital Trends, the prospect of surfing the web on a cell phone never seemed tangible until iPhone entered the market in 2007. Sure, we all knew the LG Prada, Windows Mobile phones, and old Blackberries were capable of browsing the web, but none one of them popularized mobile browsers to the degree the iPhone would several years later. Older mobile browsers loaded pages and images at a glacial pace by today’s standards, drastically lagging behind Safari and other popular offerings from key developers like Google, Mobotap, and Opera. What could have been a convenient way to peruse the web on the go was, more often than not, simply more trouble than it was worth.
Then came the iPhone. Safari, Apple’s proprietary web browser, sported a streamlined interface, remarkable speed, and a toolset worthy of competing with even the most industrious desktop browsers on the market, but it’s no longer the only available option. Everyone from the aforementioned Google to Ghostery now touts an exclusive mobile app, bringing tabbed and private browsing, cross-platform syncing, and the utmost simplicity to the forefront of mobile web browsing. Now, it’s only a question of personal taste.
Here are our top picks for the best web browsers for the iPhone, so you can make the most of the web wherever you have a network connection.
Chrome is Google’s answer to Safari, a heavy-handed counterpart offering a slew of valuable tools and reveling in a deep-seeded integration with the Google ecosystem. Once properly synced, Chrome grants you access to nearly all data associated with your account, including passwords, search history, bookmarks, open tabs and the like. It’s exceptionally quick, offering an address bar that conveniently doubles as a search box while touting the ability to swap between an infinite number of tabs or privately browse the web using the software’s built-in Incognito tab.
Chrome even takes a well-executed shot at Apple’s personal assistant with Chrome voice search, allowing you to enter search inquiries with your voice, even when using an older iPhone that doesn’t support Siri. The app’s interface is minimalist and simple, taking a direct cue from its desktop brethren and encasing a slew of functionality inside Chrome’s default, gray exterior. Like any mobile browser, an excess number of tabs can make navigation difficult on a small screen, but browsing is still done in such a way that it never feels burdensome – especially considering the app showcases your top sites whenever you choose to open a new tab.
Best for: Those already heavily immersed in the Google ecosystem.
Ghostery is the perfect mobile browser for anyone that doesn’t want advertising companies to know, or see, what they’re doing online. You can even allow the browser to catalog which trackers you encounter and the sites they appear on because the main goal of this browser is to maintain your privacy and anonymity. Cookies can also be completely disabled from the iPhone’s Settings. The browser gives users a list of trackers to enable or disable for whatever site they’re visiting — complete with a red-numbered notification in the bottom-right corner — and there are none of the usual search engine options (i.e. Google, Yahoo, Bing). Instead, there’s ‘Ghostery,’ which is powered by DuckDuckGo.
Ghostery isn’t as fast as other mobile browsers on this list, so if you really want to keep your browsing history safe, be prepared to sacrifice a bit of speed for it. The design isn’t particularly pleasing either, though the privacy and anonymity features do set it aside from other browsers. Ghostery also has a feature that lets people protect their Wi-Fi connection from advertisers, which can then be used to block trackers in other apps, provided you’re still using the same internet connection. The feature is in the experimental stage, meaning you might run into some problems while using it, and using it in combination with the Safari browser will likely lead to some performance issues. If you’re really serious about protecting yourself online, though, that may not be a huge issue.
Best for: Those who prefer privacy over speed and design.
Opera Mini began as a simple pilot project in 2004, derived from the king of open-source desktop browsers and built from the ground up to fetch all web content through a proxy server. Being the case, the mobile browser is one of the fastest — if not the fastest — pieces of software on our roundup, quickly compressing data by up to 90 percent before downloading and displaying webpages and similar content on even the most crowded of networks. It’s lightweight and designed to run on limited bandwidth, so it doesn’t offer the myriad of standard features that rivals bake in.
Although options are limited, bookmarks and top sites can still be synced between the mobile and desktop versions of the software, and various multimedia content can be saved by simply tapping and holding said image, link, text or another content type on the screen. The equipped interface, dark and adorned with larger icons than are typically present in mobile browsers, is also a nice touch, allowing you to easily navigate between tabbed webpages and the dashboard tray at a moment’s notice. If desired, you can view webpages in a welcoming full-screen mode or take a glance at various data usage statistics highlighting the amount of data used in the current session or during the entirety of the app’s lifespan on your phone. And then there’s the informative Help menu outlining each component of the app.
Best for: Those who seek speed and an easy-to-navigate interface.
Mobotap’s mobile browser could be the most remarkable browser on our list based on the name alone, but it doesn’t stop there. Though it sports a somewhat high learning curve, it’s an incredibly stable browser, one coupled with a girth of valuable features and intrinsically rooted in social networking like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Once synced with the appropriate accounts, you can share content across social networks with a single click, or save the content directly to their Evernote or Box account. Additional options for altering the homepage’s background image, adjusting the font size, and initiating full-screen mode are also present, as is the opportunity to privately browse the web and block unwanted ads and various pop-up content.
Despite the mobile browser’s stark contrasts with Safari, it’s just as fast in terms of speed and boasts syncing capabilities for saving your history, passwords, bookmarks, and other data across mobile and desktop accounts. Although more of a novelty than a crucial function, Dolphin incorporates a Pictionary-esque gesture navigation, encouraging you to draw a swath of recognizable symbols that will, in turn, initiate various actions. For instance, scribbling the letter “N’ on the dedicated input screen will automatically open a new tab, while drawing the letter “T” will direct the current tab to the main Twitter homepage. It’s not the most useful action, but it is inventive and surprisingly accurate. Dolphin also supports voice search thanks to its Dolphin Sonar feature, but users will have to pay $0.99 first before they can use it.
Best for: Those who desire greater customization and novelty navigation.
Before Chrome took over our desktops, Mozilla Firefox was the go-to web browser if you wanted something more powerful than Internet Explorer. Firefox for iOS has all the features that other similar web browsers have, such as sign-in to sync settings, history, bookmarks, and passwords. Firefox’s private browsing mode prevents the browser from remembering your browsing history, and it will also allow you to delete any and all saved information with one tap.
If you dig a little deeper into the settings, you will see why you may prefer Firefox to other mobile browsers. For example, Firefox will let you choose whether or not you want to allow it to work with a third-party keyboard. Some third-party keyboards can transmit things that you type back to the developer, so it is good to have an option for this setting. Another very important privacy-related setting is the integration of Touch ID & Passcodes. An example of when this might be useful is if someone else has access to your smartphone. In Chrome, for instance, someone can borrow your smartphone and access the saved passwords section by going to the settings. In Firefox, you can turn on Touch ID & Passcodes, and when you want access to saved log-ins, Firefox will ask you for a passcode or fingerprint. We believe all mobile browsers should have this feature.
Best for: Those who share their smartphone with others.
Best for: Those seeking merely the bare minimum.
This article was originally published on 1-17-2014 by Brandon Widder, and last updated by Carlos Vega on 4-18-2017 to include Firefox. Kyree Leary also contributed to this article.