by Bill Snyder

Looking for Safari Alternative on the iPhone? Maxthon Ain’t It

Aug 20, 20123 mins
BrowsersMobileSmall and Medium Business

The Maxthon mobile browser, which moved to the iPhone this week, has gotten excellent reviews. But why? Beyond a tabbed browsing feature, there's no compelling reason to make it your day-to-day mobile browser.

Memo to mobile browser developers: One good idea isn’t enough. I’ve been reading good stuff about a mobile browser called Maxthon, a Safari alternative for the iPhone. In particular, its use of tabbed browsing, which has become the norm for every browser you’d use on a laptop or desktop, seemed like the feature that might win me over. It didn’t and my overall reaction is: Don’t bother.

I should have known something was amiss when I went to the App Store after reading some rave reviews on tech sites. (I won’t point fingers, but you know who you are.) The App Store listing featured the kind of cheesy first-name only testimonials you’d see on late-night cable: “This web browser is better than ALL the others,” wrote Jose. “Maxthon really IS the best now!!!” says Elizabeth.

Seriously? That’s supposed to entice a knowledgeable user?

Sure, that’s trivial, but when you look hard at the browser you’ll start to see that it’s not only the app’s marketing that’s cheesy. One claim to fame that’s actually lame: A customizable start page. When you first load Maxthon, the page has icons for thumbnails of popular sites and you can add more if you like. While that is a good idea in theory, it falls down in the execution because you can’t delete sites from that screen. Opera Mini, which I reviewed a while back, has a similar feature, but it’s much easier to customize, and you’re not locked into sites favored by the developers.

Another inexplicable Maxthon omission: A Google search bar. Every other mobile browser I’ve used has that feature right next to the address bar. But Maxathon makes you go to back to the start page (a chore in itself) and click on the Google icon. More wasted time. And speaking of wasted time, I found Maxthon rather slow.

To be fair, there are some good points. I like the tabs, and there’s a built-in download manager. If you use Maxthon on other devices such as the iPad, a Mac or a Windows PC, you can synch your bookmarks and so on via the cloud. And there’s a private browsing mode as well. Maxathon has a Reader mode that lets you open a Web page that supports the feature (some do and some don’t) in a more readable ad-free format. That’s handy, but Safari has had that feature for some time.

Since Maxathon is free, I can’t get too mad at the developers. It doesn’t cost you anything to try it out and keep it if you like. But switching browsers is a chore, what with moving bookmarks and getting used to a different interface. Safari cries out for alternatives, but Maxthon isn’t the right one.