Best proxy Browser for iPhone
Advantages: Fast; saves on data consumption; fantastic keyboard helps handle fiddly URL text on a small screen
Disadvantages: We've found it a tiny bit crash-prone; compromises in image quality etc required in order to achieve big speed/data improvements
Opera is widely understood to be the connoisseur's choice of web browser software. It occupies only about one percent of the web browser market on desktop, but its users claim (not without some justification) that it's the best product around.
On iPhone, Opera has two browser apps to choose from.
The first we'll look at, Opera Mini, takes the approach that speed is key. By some clever trickery involving proxy browsers returning static pages (don't worry about it) Opera Mini is quicker than the most popular browsers.
In (very unscientific) tests it appeared to return pages in about half the time it took Safari and Chrome (oddly enough, Dolphin was the slowest, although it has the habit of returning a page fairly quickly but then sitting with the progress bar virtually finished for another 10 seconds, so the experience isn't significantly worse).
It's also an economical browser, reducing your data usage significantly. You can track the savings you're making on a dedicated analytics page.
Opera Mini makes compromises to achieve these savings, but you are able at least to choose how extreme you want these compromises to be. There are three settings - Mini, Turbo and Off, of which the fastest, confusingly, is Mini - and you can choose to load or not load images, and at what quality you want them to appear.
The tab manager view is 3D, as is apparently industry-standard now, and like Chrome allows you to simply swipe a tab to close it. The tabs are arranged horizontally, though, and therefore swiped upwards. This horizontal layout also means (in this user's humble opinion) that it's a little easier to see at a glance what's on each page. And again like Chrome, the interface incorporates a handy 'drag down to refresh' that we'd like to see in Safari.
Opera Mini's keyboard, meanwhile, is masterly - the best of any browser in this roundup. It includes two handy shortcut buttons: one to input a QR code, and another to switch between default searches in Google, Wikipedia, eBay and Amazon. But its triumph is the central slider/rocker switch that deftly moves the cursor in the URL bar and, if you hold it down for a moment, selects text too. The only thing missing is a '.com' or 'co.uk' autocomplete button.
If Apple removed the restriction on default browsers, we'd probably be inclined towards the fast simplicity of Opera Mini over Safari, so it's definitely worth trying it.
Advantages: Looks great; very user-friendly design - once you've got past the initial stage of 'where's the URL bar? - that's heavily optimised for small screen
Disadvantages: Confusing at first; less economical with data than its Mini cousin
This one is also by Opera but it's an entirely different approach to what a web browser can and should be.
Compared to Opera Mini, Opera Coast's attitude to data usage is positively profligate, and it's quite happy to slow things down (very slightly) by introducing the odd fancy animation. Whereas Opera Mini is a stripped-down browser for speed freaks, this is a heavily designed (if still quite minimal, in its own way) browser that's designed to look good. It also likes to recommend online content it thinks you might like, based on the terms you search for.
Opera Coast can be baffling initially: it takes a while to grasp what's going on and even how to access a new web page (there's no conventional URL bar, for instance - you enter the name of the website in the 'search the web' field and it will attempt to autocomplete its address). But that's an inevitable side effect of the app's bold design.
Every aspect of the user experience has been re-evaluated from a mobile point of view; instead of trying to replicate a desktop experience on a smaller screen, Coast starts from scratch. The result is a highly mobile-optimised, beautiful one-thumb browser.
Chrome for iOS
Advantages: User-friendly tab organisation and navigation; many useful features
Disadvantages: Google-phobes may dislike the company's tendency to track and sync, and if you don't want to sign in you lose some of the advantages
Google's Chrome browser for iOS is well made and a pleasure to use, particularly if you're deeply entrenched in Google's ecosystem. If you use Chrome on the Mac, for instance, you can sign into Chrome on both and sync your tabs.
Like Dolphin, Chrome includes a voice-search mechanism, but this time it's bundled with the browser for free.
Chrome's tab management is excellent, if currently quite similar to Safari. You can quickly create new tabs, rearrange them and move between them in a 3D manager view; unlike in Safari's equivalent, swiping any tab to the right closes it.
The general interface is strong, too: back in the main view swiping right takes you to the previously viewed tab, and we like the user-friendly 'drag down to refresh' that you get on all web pages – a nice echo of the increasingly standard method of refreshing your mail or Twitter client.
As with Dolphin, it's easy to invoke 'private browsing', although in this case it's called Incognito Mode. And like Opera Mini, Chrome offers to cut your data usage with a Data Saver optimisation mode. According to Google the reduction may be as much as 50 percent.
Advantages: Feature-rich; gesture support is both convenient and cool; various modes (Night Mode, Private Mode) are handy and easy to access
Disadvantages: Larger range of features makes interface more confusing than that of Safari - especially at first