iCab Mobile Review: Better iPad Browsing

One of the draws of using the iPad (s goog) is having a new device to try new software on to find those gems out there. Having hundreds of thousands of apps to choose from makes this a daunting task, and when a jewel is spotted it can be a delightful experience. That’s the case with iCab Mobile, an alternative web browser for the iPad that has earned a place on my iPad’s dock.

I didn’t set out looking for another browser on the iPad; I’ve been quite happy with Mobile Safari. It’s worked well for me and I didn’t think it lacked any features that would be helpful. I stumbled upon iCab Mobile and quickly found a few features that have improved my browsing experience.

There has been a desktop version of iCab for the Mac for years, and I confess I’ve never looked at it. There are no shortage of fine browsers for the Mac desktop, and I have seen no need to try iCab. The mobile version of iCab is a different story as it adds some usability features to the browser that are nice.

Mobile Safari handles tabbed browsing in a decent way — it lets you open multiple web pages at the same time but it hides them in the background. I often pop open the separate tab window in Safari to find I have a lot of pages open I’m no longer using. What Safari is missing is a tab bar that shows all open tabs just like the desktop version, and this is the primary feature I use in iCab Mobile.

The tab bar in iCab works just like the desktop version of Safari, but is even more configurable than that. You can set new page links to open in the current web page, always open in a new tab or my favorite — open links in domains other than the current page in a new tab. Click a link, and the page opens in a new tab. You can configure iCab to have newly opened tabs take the focus or not. The key is how iCab lets you set things up the way you prefer to work, and when you get it customized the whole browsing experience becomes more enjoyable.

If you don’t like the tab bar taking up space on the screen then you can turn it off. You still have an advantage over Safari in that iCab has a tab button that shows all open pages in a popup window when pushed. There’s no switching to a separate tab window like Safari — the popup is visible as is the current web page and this is a much better solution.

If you really want to take advantage of as much screen as possible, the full screen mode in iCab is wonderful. Just hit the button and the web page fills the entire iPad screen. There are tiny buttons around the edge of the display so you can still access needed functions. This is a wonderful way to browse on the iPad and worth the price of admission for me.

Another big feature in iCab is the ability to use modules. These are like the extensions in Firefox that add simple functionality if desired. There are not a lot of modules available, but a few of them are really useful. There’s the “Translation by Google” module, “Increase text size”, “Add page to Instapaper”, “Twitter”, among others. There’s even a “Black & White” module that makes any web page display white text on a black background, which is more useful than you might think.

The filter function in iCab makes it possible to block ads and other content in any web page. The program has over a hundred filters predefined for use, and it’s simple to add new ones as desired.

The attention to detail in iCab Mobile is evident at every level; take bringing in my bookmarks from the desktop. In the iCab Mobile settings there is an Export/Import option. When that is invoked it opens a window with detailed instructions to get the desktop browser bookmarks into iCab Mobile. It starts a server on the iPad and wirelessly connects it to the desktop, where the bookmark file is copied into iCab with the push of a button. It couldn’t be easier and in a few seconds all my desktop bookmarks were available on the iPad. There’s no way to sync them, but this process can be invoked as desired to update the bookmarks.

The iCab Mobile app makes the browsing experience on the iPad better, and that is saying a lot. I find it well worth the $1.99 price and it has replaced Mobile Safari in the iPad dock. That’s the highest compliment I can give an app.

Related content on GigaOM Pro (sub. req’d): Hot Topic: Apple’s iPad