Touch web browser mega shootout: Surf's up

GSMArena team, 10 February 2010.
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Page loading speed

All right then, you know what WWW stands for. World Wide Wait. right? Nope, not funny any more. It was a good joke though back in the days of dial-up. With broadband and the evolution of desktop browsers Wait is no more the case. When we’re talking internet on the go, in most cases you have to wait for the page to load. This includes the time to download the data and get it processed on the device.

Here’s how we tested:

We set up our own fast Wi-Fi hot-spot and prepared three static pages on our server specifically for this test.

To give all browsers equal footing we stripped these pages of all JavaScript and Flash, the banners you see there are just images. We loaded all pages on each mobile browser 4-5 times.

We timed the loading process carefully, by recording the test on video, so the measurements are accurate up to a single video frame (1/30 of a second).

For each browser we took the best time (not an average!) for each of the pages. To give you a better perspective on the results, we threw a notebook in the test: one Atom-powered Asus Eee PC 900A running Firefox 3.5 for Windows.

Here are the results:

We were very glad to see two phones outrun the netbook in this test. Opera Mini is blazing fast and even over a Wi-Fi connection it managed to win the race. If this test was over a 2G connection, the Mini advantage could have been even more impressive, due to the compression applied on the server end.

Safari on iPhone 3GS is the fastest real mobile browser these days, it really is worth all the hype. Running on iPhone 3G however, Safari is not that spectacular and it was outrun by most of the competition. Next in line are Palm Pre and Nokia N900 with very good results, both being fairly new devices with strong chances to improve with upcoming updates.

Quite surprisingly, the mobile IE6 showed some good results in the page loading test while the Opera-s on HTC HD2 and Samsung OmniaPRO were quite slow. Please note that this is page loading only, Opera is very fast in zooming and panning but that’s another test.

Interestingly, Opera 9.7 on the HD2 was one of the fastest browsers to show some content on the screen and this also adds to a better user experience. The Android browsers are nothing spectacular in terms of speed, but we can see the improvement with the higher OS versions. Plus X10 is still an unfinished product, it will be interesting to time it again once released.

The S60 web browser feels slow, even slower than the actual results. Nokia 5800 outperformed some of the competition, but was the only browser, which sometime failed to open the test pages at all. The Samsung Omnia HD results are downright embarrassing, so you might see a point in the user’s petition. In the defense of the Symbian contenders, we might say that both devices weren’t running on the latest firmware, released in January 2010.

Page layout

HTML and CSS are complex and expressive languages but the developers of the competing browser platforms see things differently. One browser will arrange the elements of a page one way, but another will take a completely different approach. The consequences vary from ruined aesthetics to almost unusable pages.

Opera Mini 4.2 on HTC HD2 Opera Mini 5 on HTC HD2
Opera Mini 4.2 messes up the layout slightly, but v5 works just fine

Unfortunately, in this case we won’t be able to give precise measurements. The results are based on our experience with browsing various web pages.

Overall, all mobile browsers gave very good results here and you can rest assured they won’t render any page unusable. In other words, this chapter will only probably count for the most zealous perfectionists.

Nokia N900 comes first; not even a single page managed to catch it off guard. Next, with near excellent results come Safari, the webOS and the Android browsers. Then Opera Mobile 9.7 followed by Opera 9.7 and IE Mobile 6. Even the mobile Internet Explorer 6 scores quite high, especially considering how bad the previous version was.

The only contender in this test with average score is naturally Opera Mini. Given that it works in a completely different way and that it focuses on speed and speed only, this is quite understandable.

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