Got an Android smartphone or tablet? If so, you’re likely running the stock Google browser that comes with Android. But as the mobile web becomes a more prominent part of daily life, maybe the native Android browser isn’t the best tool for the task. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with Google’s browser, but there’s always room for improvement and the free WebKit-based Dolphin Browser HD is filled more than enough functions to qualify it as a “must try” browser for every Android device owner.
My Google Nexus One and Samsung Galaxy Tab, for example, are set to use Dolphin’s browser as the default Internet app for a number of reasons. Here’s just a few of the features that caused me to make the switch months ago without ever looking back.
- Speed is king. I’ve performance a number of speed tests on my Android devices and I’ve yet to see a page where Dolphin is slower than the stock Android browser. More often than not, it’s actually faster although on occasion, the Android browser is on par.
- True tabs. Unlike many mobile browsers, both in Android and other platforms, opening multiple sites in Dolphin creates actual tabs, just like on many desktop browsers. There’s no need to tap a button to see all open windows when you can see the tabs, making for a real time saver. And you can configure Dolphin to either open new tabs in the background if you prefer, which is what I like to do.
- Hardware tweaks. Dolphin offers a custom hardware tweak letting you use the volume controls of your Android device to control the browsing experience. The up and down volume button can be programmed to scroll on a web page or to cycle through open tabs in Dolphin.
- Secret Agent Man! When most websites recognize a mobile device, they serve up a mobile-friendly version of the content. This is par for the course when using Dolphin, but with a few button taps, you can tell the browser to simulate a different device through the user agent setting. Dolphin natively supports user agents for multiple devices or you can set a custom user agent to simulate say, Firefox on a Windows computer, for example.
- Add features with add-ons. Mozilla broke new ground with Firefox’s browser extensions on the desktop and Dolphin brings them mobile browsing with add-ons. These range from custom search engines to a Last.fm player to hear tunes while browsing. Support for add-ons only arrived on Dolphin last year, so the selection is limited, but growing. Folks looking for Instapaper-like support may find the Read It Later add-on worth a look, but I actually use the TLDR app for that function.
- Smart use of space. Since one of the biggest constraints of a mobile device is the limited screen size, I’m always on the lookout for smarter ways to use the minimal space. Dolphin’s approach is to have content take up most of the display, but that content can be moved left or right off the screen for additional information. Swiping the content to the right shows your bookmark listing, while moving content to the left unveils themes, settings and add-ons.
- Gesture controls. The Dolphin browser comes with eight default gestures, allowing you to navigate by drawing on your Android’s display. Draw a back arrow to go back a page, for example. Make a circle on the screen and the page will refresh. Plus you can make your own gestures: when I draw a big “G” on my Galaxy Tab, the GigaOM home page opens up.
- Better bookmark management. Instead of manually managing bookmarks, Dolphin Browser HD supports the cross-platform Xmarks solution, although it does require the $12 Xmarks premium account. Still, for a buck a month, it’s well worth it: bookmarks on the desktop from Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari or Firefox will automatically sync over to Dolphin. And if you’d rather manually manage your mobile bookmarks, Dolphin can keep bookmarks on a device SD card, making them easy to transfer to another Android device.
There are other reasons I use this browser (RSS detection, themes and more), but these are the top reasons I switched some time ago. And if these didn’t convince you to try Dolphin Browser HD, maybe a video demo will push you over the edge:
As mentioned above, the app is free, but if you want to remove the few ads that appear in the free version, you can buy a non-ad license for $4.99. The HD version of the browser supports Android 2.0 or better devices, but if you have an older Android device, Dolphin Mini may worth a look because it works on Android 1.6 devices.
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