Touch web browser mega shootout: Surf's up
You know what they say about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. While the table gives information about the different parts of browsing, it doesn’t tell the whole story. So, for each of the browsers we tested, we’ll give a short overview of the general experience.
Mobile Safari on iPhone 3GS (and 3G)
On paper, it looks like Opera Mobile 9.7 beats the iPhone’s Mobile Safari but… well… the table doesn’t tell the whole story.
Mobile Safari lacks things like text reflow, a download manager and saving pages for offline viewing. But it is the browser that defines usability in today’s handheld browsers.
At loading pages, the 3GS also ranked second only to Opera Mini while the 3G with its slower CPU lagged behind.
The biggest blotch (seemingly) on the iPhone’s resume is the lack of Flash support. On the other hand YouTube works like a charm with the preinstalled YouTube client and that’s all the Flash support most phones get anyway. Unfortunately, videos from other Flash websites and Flash games are certainly a no-go.
Nokia N900 might have been the pioneer of full Flash support but more are following (Hero and Nexus One are the first names that spring to mind) and the Safari risks lagging behind on that one.
Mr. Jobs is not keen on letting full Flash on the iPhone and until that changes, Flash is just another thing the iPhone won’t get. And since the Apple tablet – the iPad also lacks any kind of Flash support you are strongly advised not to hold your breath just yet.
MicroB browser on Nokia N900
If you’re reading this in Firefox, then you’re seeing what Nokia N900 users see. The Maemo browser uses the same rendering engine as Firefox, so pages look the same. For now, it has Flash 9.4 so you get the full Flash experience – no Flash Lite will-it-it-work guesswork.
“For now” means there’s a Flash 10.1 update coming up – you know, the one with hardware acceleration. If you need to use web sites that are heavy on Flash, the Nokia N900 simply has no alternative at this point.
The ability to view multiple pages goes without saying but perhaps the killer feature of the Maemo Browser (oh well, besides full Flash support, the excellent rendering and all…) is the add-on system.
It’s the same add-on system that so many people find invaluable in the desktop Firefox.
As far as hardware goes, the Nokia N900 runs on the same Cortex A8 CPU at 600MHz as the iPhone 3GS, the Omnia HD and the Palm Pre. Bottom line, it’s blazing fast.
The standard double tap zoom is complemented by the spiral-gesture, which was a bit slow in our experience – it takes 4 turns of the spiral to fully zoom in. The N900 uses a resistive touchscreen so pinch zooming is a no-go.
Opera Mobile 9.7 on HTC HD2
The HTC HD2 is in the game with two browsers. Opera Mobile 9.7 scored high in almost all fields and the overall experience is great. Panning and zooming are very fast (hello, pinch zoom) and the text is reflowed almost immediately to fit the screen when you change the zoom level. Vertical scrolling is really fast – there’s no need for screen re-drawing. Panning involves a bit of redrawing but it takes less than a second.
Internet Explorer Mobile 6 on HTC HD2
Internet Explorer Mobile 6 is the second web browser available on the HD2. Version 6 is a lot better than its predecessors, but still has a lot of rough edges.
The ergonomics are not quite right to begin with.
Zooming with the zoom slider requires too many taps. The address suggestion adds “.com”, “.net”, etc. at the end of the address, which pushes the suggestions from history all the way down. You need to scroll to get to those even though they are the more useful ones. The lack of minimap complicates the navigation of sites that are not optimized for mobile viewing.
Opera Mobile 9.5 on Samsung B7610 OmniaPRO
The rest of the features are on par with the newer version but (maybe because of the different CPU) things ran a bit slower. Still, you get the ability to save entire pages, an excellent download manager, support for tabs and the rest.