Apps may be king on the smartphone, but we still spend a good deal of time surfing the Web with mobile browsers. Apple's iOS and Google Android devices both have default Web browsers, but users also have other options. How well do the default browsers stack up to alternative browsers from third parties?
FixYa, a site that collects data from users on their problems with tech products, recently completed a survey that looked at five leading mobile browsers: Safari, Opera, Chrome, Internet Explorer and the stock Android browser. Most of the findings of the report are based on problems users reported with each of the browsers, although it also took into account positive comments. FixYa compiled a usability index, which you can see below.
Not surprisingly, Safari and the default Android browser ranked first and second in usability. Next up were Chrome and Opera, both of which were fairly close behind the Android browser, despite relatively small market shares, which suggests that bigger isn’t necessarily better. Microsoft's mobile version of IE (on both Windows and non-Windows devices) sits firmly at the bottom of the pack. Users reported major problems with the way IE renders pages and recognizes fonts - two of the most important things a browser does. Yikes! (Sorry, BlackBerry fans, your browser was not included in the index.)
You can’t run Safari on Android, or the Android browser on iOS, so I’ll skip right to alternative browsers you may want to consider.
Opera has a small market share (9.76 percent according to NetMarketShare.com), but that doesn’t mean nobody uses it. In February, the group that distributes Opera claimed 300 million active users. Even if that’s an exaggeration - and I suspect it is - that’s still an impressive number. Opera is available for Android, iOS and Windows Mobile.
Opera has a slick UI, simple navigation, informative status bars and a handy full screen mode. Users told FixYa that Opera also appears to use less mobile data than other browsers. This relates to how Opera routes data through its own servers to compress file size before transfering data to phones, according to the company. Opera also handles HTML 5 well, and that's an important point because more and more developers are turning to that standard as Flash is used less.
However, Opera users were concerned that the data-saving trick might also be a security issue. Opera generally does a good job of compressing pages that are not designed to be viewed on mobile devices, but some users were not happy with the results of that rendering.
As for Google’s Chrome, there’s a lot to like, and FixYa notes that many of Chrome's desktop features were successfully ported over to the mobile version, including things like tabbed and incognito browsing, and a combined search and URL box. (Safari just got this last feature when iOS 7 debuted last month.)
Chrome also lets you sync across multiple platforms (phone and desktop, for example) to save favorites and bookmarks.
Although the default Android browser supports flash, Chrome on Android doesn’t. (iOS devices don't either.) That may be a deal breaker for some users. FixYa users also complained that Chrome sometimes awkwardly displays fonts, and unclear text is a big problem on smaller screens.