A recent thread on the forum got me thinking, is Chrome really the best browser to be running on my Nexus 7?
To answer this question, I went and installed every compatible Android Broswer I could find, so that you don’t have to! I didn’t even know so many existed before starting my research, but it’s been a lot of fun trying each one out and I would definitely recommend you look through the NXTab list and give some of these a go.
Each one has something different to offer and you might fall in love with a browser you didn’t even know existed!
The Best Alternative Nexus 7 Browser
Let’s have a quick run through the 10 browsers, I’ll briefly summarise the unique selling points for you, followed by my own thoughts. I did find a few other browsers on the Play store, but they didn’t appear to be Nexus 7 (Android 4.1) compatible yet.
Firefox is one of the better known desktop browsers and for a long time the chief Internet Explorer rival. The mobile version, has recently undergone a redesign to improve compatibly, speed and functionality.
It’s quickly apparent that the revised Firefox UI provides a top notch user experience with a clear and easy layout. The browser takes a slightly different approach to navigating between tabs which works well on a small screen. The browser doesn’t seem to have a vast number of options out of the box, but the big selling point of Firefox has always been the ability to add additional functionality through plugins.
Existing Firefox users will like that the Android edition synchronises with its desktop cousin providing access to previously built up collections of bookmarks and other browsing data. Apparently this version was really built for phones but rumour has it a tablet edition is in the works.
A stand out feature for me was the ‘reader’ mode, this strips out all the rubbish from a site and presents you with the core text in a very clear, easy to read format. At the time of writing, this is only available in the Beta edition, I could see it becoming a well used option, give it a go on the NXTab site!
There are actually two versions of Opera, Nexus 7 users will want to use the Opera Mobile version, if you are interested to learn more about each then check out their website.
Fire up the browser and you are greeted with the speed dial options, a handy way to get straight into your favourite websites. Navigating between tabs is also very easy with a visual switcher that let’s you swipe through your own open pages with ease.
Opera is one of the few mobile browsers that retains separate address bar and search box, I’m not a big fan of this distinction but it’s here if you’re into this kind of thing. Unlike other browsers there’s no ability to introduce add ons.
Opera isn’t as feature rich as browsers such as Dolphin or Firefox but it does provide a smooth experience and some innovative UI elements.
The Dolphin browser comes in a number of different flavours including a standard, mini, tablet and a beta test version. Unfortunately the tablet version wasn’t compatible with the Nexus 7, so I gave the standard edition a go.
Dolphin looks fairly similar to Chrome when you first start it up, you see the usual tabs and address bar, but there are two handy menu bars that pop out with a swipe from the left or right to give you easy access to your bookmarks and add ons. A useful ‘Webzine’ feature displays aggregated content in a magazine style format – be sure to add the NXTab feed!
The browser also provides an innovative gesture facility which allows you to draw shortcuts – a clever idea but I can’t see myself using this before the easy to access speed dial!
I have to say I really liked Dolphin and look forward to giving it a longer trial.
The Boat browser sells itself as a fast, light weight and easy to use browser. It’s fully customisable through add-ons, you can see some of these in the Play Store (eg Facebook, URL shortener) and I can see a great deal of potential here.
The real win for me are the customisation options, I love the ability to choose which features to include in the pop out side bar (share, history, full screen, set user agent, and many more). Delve further into the settings and there are more options than I had to time to play with.
The free version has a very small ad in the bookmark area, but these can be removed for a little over a quid. The ads aren’t much of a bother but I would always encourage peeps to tip the devs for their troubles.
This browser has some neat features baked in, the first thing I noticed was the array of touch gestures available for navigation. The neatest of these by far is the ability to move forward and back between pages with a swipe from the side. I’d be surprised if this doesn’t become standard across browsers – it feels very natural.
Other nice features include a built in ad blocker, file manager, tabs, full screen and more. The Pro version is a paid for app and I wonder if it really provides any killer feature to justify the cost? Don’t get me wrong, it’s a neat product with some great ideas but when the alternatives are free I think you’ve got your work cut out to win an audience.
Angel stands out from the crowd with an innovative user interface that gives it a different feel from pretty much every other browser out there. I couldn’t find out much about the origins of this app but it looks like it’s put together by an independent developer.
The first cool feature you’ll notice is the navigation menu that radiates out from the side, this is a joy to use and configurable. The browser has a whole raft of neat features from read later, to sharing, and even the ability to create PDFs from a page. There are also a tonne of configurable options, you can change user agent, font size, zoom etc and it also comes with a privacy mode.
The latest update introduces user scripts for greater empowerment, and although it comes with an ad block script I could find little information regarding this facility.
The free version is ad supported but they are not intrusive, a small fee will remove these and if you become a fan of this browser I strongly recommend supporting the dev’s hard work and innovative ideas.
I found Maxthon to be clean, fast, functional, and competent. Their website claims to be 200% quicker than Google’s Chrome and whilst it definitely felt quick I have no way to verify the claim!
The browser includes access to cloud storage for bookmarks and notes, a whole load of extensions, and a range of skins if you like that kind of thing. It also features a dual display mode which will automatically detect out of date websites and attempt to render them using older standards.
Maxthon was another one of my preferred choices, it felt like it had all the features I wanted without being overrun with ones I didn’t!
The Puffin Browser claims to be the fastest browser ever, it does this by pre-processing pages on their server and sending you compressed data. Puffin also offers a very interesting approach to running flash applications, the browser uses remote execution technology to run Flash on their servers. This service is free for a limited period but available in the paid for version.
Unfortunately I didn’t have great success with their Flash technology, iPlayer didn’t work as it reported that I was outside of the UK – which makes sense if their servers are abroad. I then tried a video chat room but that failed to access the Nexus 7 camera. But at least you get a trial period to see if the service will work for your needs, let us know how you get on.
Another cool feature is the track pad which enables you to simulate a mouse. It works very well and it’s a neat idea but I do wonder how often you’d need it? Perhaps for when you need pinpoint accuracy.
The cloud approach also offers enhanced security, code is executed in a sand boxed environment on their servers so nothing gets close to your tablet. The Puffin browser assures us that their servers do not store any personal information, and assuming that is the case, it also provides a degree of anonymity – a quick check shows that my IP address in Puffin is different to the one shown in Chrome (tap ‘what is my ip’ into Google).
The Ninesky browser actually failed to run whilst writing the first draft of this post, but a quick check before publication and Android 4.1 support had been added!
Ninesky is billed as a light weight app and indeed it didn’t seem as feature heavy as some of the other options here, so it’s a good choice if you like a clear and straight forward approach. The layout is clean and options are easy to reach.
There weren’t really many stand out unique features that I could see in my brief use of the browser, I just couldn’t find anything that interesting to play with! To be fair I think this browser’s core audience is the mobile phone market whereas the Nexus 7 is able to run more powerful apps.
And to finish with, a quick note on the Nexus 7 default browser, Chrome. Before undertaking this browser review I was very happy with Chrome and saw no real need to seek out anything else, I loved that they had brought tabbed browsing to the tablet, and the ability to synchronise with the desktop version.
But by looking at the others I can see that there are definitely some real innovative alternatives out there and I would urge others to support the little guys. However I did miss the zoom feature that engages if you press two links in close proximity – this concept seems unique to Chrome.
I have a soft spot for Chrome, I guess because I am familiar with it already, but I can already see a few things I’d like to add such as better use of side menus and full screen capabilities. However incognito mode is easy to initiate and very useful when letting other people log in to sites without having to log you out.
A Note on Privacy: It’s worth understanding that some browsers, particularly ‘mini’ versions, send data via a central server. This means that 3rd parties can potentially track your browsing activity. If privacy is important to you it is worth doing further research into what information the browser might be sharing.
Which Browser for me?
It’s actually been good fun exploring these different options and I really want to encourage you to give at least a couple of alternatives a go.
I genuinely don’t know which one I’ll end up with or whether any of them will displace Chrome as my number one choice! To be honest trying to explore this many browsers in such a short space of time doesn’t really give any individual browser the chance to stand out as the best Nexus 7 Browser.
At the time of writing, the ones I am keen to explore more are Dolphin, Boat, Maxthon and xScope.
Follow the NXTab RSS feed for updates, or enter your email address in our site’s footer to get new posts delivered straight to your inbox. I’ll be updating this post as and when I learn more.
I would love to hear why you use the browser you do?