Choosing the right mobile browser for your Android phone

We look at the most popular third-party browsers on Android and help you decide which one best suits your needs.

Choosing a mobile browser is a lot like choosing a browser for your desktop. Do you want something light and speedy? Or is the ability to customize your online experience with add-ons and themes more important to you? Here's a look at some of the most popular Android browsers, to help you decide which browser is right for you.

Dolphin Browser HD

If you're an RSS fiend, the Dolphin Browser HD may soon become your new best friend. Dolphin lets you create a webzine from the RSS feeds of popular websites. The webzine format presents simplified versions of Web pages, with much of the clutter removed to make them easier to read. Though Dolphin can't transform every website into a webzine, it's a handy tool for staying up-to-date on current events in any case. If a Web page can be turned into a webzine, the word 'Webzine' will be next to the URL in the address bar; tap Webzine to see the page in webzine format.

Aside from its webzine functionality, the Dolphin Browser HD supports gesture commands and tabbed browsing. With gesture commands, you can draw shapes on the touchscreen to issue specific instructions to your mobile device. You can draw a circle to reload the page, for example, or you can draw an F to instruct the browser to load Facebook. The Dolphin Browser HD loads Web pages fairly quickly, and it supports a few add-ons such as Read It Later and AdBlocker.

Firefox for Android

Love add-ons but don't feel satisfied by Dolphin HD's offerings? Then consider Firefox for Android, a portable version of the beloved desktop Firefox browser. Like its desktop counterpart, Firefox for Android is all about the add-ons.

Tons of add-ons are available for Firefox for Android, including URL Fixer, which corrects common typos in URLs, and Reading List, which lets you save Web pages for offline reading. You can even give your browser a custom skin after downloading the Personas add-on. Firefox for Android is great for users who want to tweak and tune their browsers, and add their own personal touches. Unfortunately, the app can be a bit slow to start up; and if you have an older or underpowered Android phone, you might want to steer clear of it because it uses a lot of RAM. Firefox for Android also supports tabbed browsing, and you can sync between it and Firefox on your desktop to pick up on one device right where you left off on the other.

Opera Mobile and Opera Mini

Opera has two mobile browsers: the full-size (12MB) Opera Mobile, and the smaller (767KB) Opera Mini. Opera Mini sends your page requests to a server, which compresses them before sending them to your device. This arrangement makes browsing with Opera Mini much faster than browsing with Opera Mobile. On the other hand, Opera Mobile does a better job than Opera Mini of rendering pages to look the way they would on your desktop.

Opera Mini can load image and Flash-heavy sites in seconds, and it supports tabbed browsing so you can open multiple websites at once. The Opera Mobile browser is quite fast, too, and it offers the same features as the Mini. Unlike Firefox and Dolphin, however, the Opera browsers don't support add-ons. Instead, Opera loads its browsers with its own Android app store--accessible through the start page--so you can download Android apps like Angry Birds and sideload them onto your device. Because Opera's apps are curated, there are a lot fewer junk apps to contend with; but if you don't have a device that can sideload apps, the store will be useless to you. Both apps also have a synchronization feature for syncing your mobile bookmarks with the desktop version of Opera.

Stock Browser

It's hard to beat the stock Android browser. With pinch-to-zoom, Flash capabilities, and a decent downloads manager, the Stock browser can handle just about anything you throw at it. It may not have the speed of Opera Mini or the customizability of Firefox and Dolphin, but it is handy for quickly searching online, and it integrates well with other preinstalled apps. You can share pages via email, Facebook, Twitter, or even text message. Unfortunately the stock browser gets updated only when Google updates the operating system--so if something isn't working, the patch may take a while to arrive. Regardless, the stock Android browser is great for people who want something that works right out of the box.

So Which Browser Is Right for You?

Choosing the right browser depends on what you value most while surfing the Net. If you want Web pages to load quickly and you don't care about add-ons, grab the Opera Mini browser. If you like to tweak settings and customize your browser, Firefox mobile will satisfy your need for browser control. News addicts will love Dolphin's webzine capabilities for easy reading on the go. If you don't want any fancy extras and just want to get online through your phone, the stock Android browser should meet with your approval.

Though we looked at only the most popular browsers in the Android Market, plenty of others exist as well. With a little digging, you can probably find a mobile browser that does exactly what you need. If you have a favorite browser that you use on your mobile device, tell us about it in the comments below!

This story, "Choosing the right mobile browser for your Android phone" was originally published by PCWorld.

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