The Best Android Browsers – December 2017

There’s a lot to love about Android as an operating system. It’s matured a lot over the past half-decade, with an emphasis on improved performance throughout the Android 4.x days and leading up to a total visual rehaul in 2014 with the release of Android 5.0 Lollipop and the unveiling of material design. In the three years since, Android has evolved to a rich, modern ecosystem. While both iOS and Android have their fair share of criticisms, it’s surprising to see Google’s mobile operating system overtake iOS as one of the best-looking pieces of software you can get today. Despite the sense of visual maturity, Android hasn’t lost its true sense of customization that has been around since the beginning of the platform. From changing your home screen layout to setting up custom launchers, Android has always felt a little more open than its competition, and this remains true to this day.

One of the most underrated abilities in Android’s customization is the ability to set specific apps to as system defaults. By setting an application as a system default, you can control how your phone opens up all sorts of different files in your device. This is incredibly similar to what we’ve seen from other operating systems like Windows, where you can set an application to open specific file types automatically. For example, if you want VLC to handle all of the video file types on your laptop, setting VLC as your default video player will allow the file to open directly inside of VLC without have the device ask you each time you open a file, or you having to manually redirect your computer to a specific application. Android has the same built-in function, allowing you to easily replace the apps that ship on your device with your favorites downloaded from the Play Store. From replacing Google Maps with Waze or Gmail with Google Inbox, it’s easy to replace the applications on your Android phone or tablet with your own favorites.

This includes switching out your browser for a new choice. The market for mobile browsers on the Play Store has been heating up over the past year or so, and as 2017 draws to a close, we’re seeing some great competition for mainstays like Chrome that are included with nearly every Android device out of the box. Whether you’re looking for an application that uses less data than Chrome, helps preserve your device’s battery, or to use plugins like night mode and other applications that can help you improve your standard browsing experience. Of course, there’s so many different selections to choose from, picking a replacement browser can be difficult. Here’s the good news: we’ve tested some of the most popular browsers on the Play Store today, and we think we’ve found some great selections. This is our guide to the best browsers on Android today.

Everyone else

Firefox was the first rival to emerge against Internet Explorer back in the 2000s, offering a better browsing experience in the days of Windows XP. Since then, the browser has gone through plenty of changes, redesigns, and more, and eventually lost a good portion of market share when users began to leave for Chrome. That said, Firefox published a major upgrade near the end of 2017 for both its desktop and mobile apps, and if we’re being honest, both platforms have been greatly improved in terms of both visual design and speed. The new Firefox for Android features a brand new New Tab page, displaying your most-visited pages, bookmarks, and most interestingly, suggested stories recommended from Pocket, the app that allows you store your stories offline for later reading down the road. Pocket is owned by Firefox, and it’s good to see the company taking advantage of the partnership. Our original review of Firefox stated that pages loaded slower than we’d witnessed in Chrome or Samsung’s app, but this has more or less changed since then; the app loads fast, and the visual refresh has placed it much closer to what we’ve come to expect from our top picks on this list. The older version of this app featured some quirky decisions design-wise, like an odd URL bar that hid its tabs. This new version of Firefox is faster, leaner, and cleaner, and still features the advantages of Firefox Sync and data saver options. Firefox just barely misses out on getting one of our top two recommendation slots, but it’s certainly the most improved app on this list

Firefox and Opera helped popularize third-party alternatives to Internet Explorer prior to the rise of Chrome, so it’s only appropriate that both Firefox and Opera offer mobile browser alternatives to a browser with as much domination as Google Chrome on the Play Store. Unlike Firefox, Opera Mini isn’t just a traditional port of a browser; it tries to change how mobile browsing feels day to day. Though Opera also offers a full-fledged version of their browser on the Play Store, it’s Opera Mini that marks the more-interesting port of their browser. With a promise to reduce RAM usage and lighten the load on your CPU, Opera is ideal for older or budget devices that might have trouble powering our other top picks. In many ways, Opera feels entirely like its own thing. Like Samsung’s browser, Opera Mini uses a bottom navigation bar, but also adds a specific menu in that bar to show how many ads have been blocked by the browser, in addition to the amount of data. It’s a cool feature, though it would be improved if moved to settings as opposed to taking up room in the menu. Additional features like a night mode, which reduces your brightness and adds a blue light filter, along with colored themes for the app go a long way in customizing your browsing experience. Opera Mini was, overall, a bit more susceptible to stuttering and slowdown when browsing large pages as opposed to most of the other browser on this list, presumably due to its low bar for performance, and this might make Galaxy Note 8 or Pixel 2 owners turn away from the device. Still, not everyone has a flagship device, so if you’re interested in a browser that manages to reduce your data use and limit the amount of RAM used by the application, Opera Mini might just be a perfect choice.

Dolphin is one of the older third-party browser alternatives on Google Play, having been around since the Android 2.x days, and is the only browser on this list not based on a standard desktop browsing experience. Overall, it’s a solid offering on the Play Store, despite feeling a bit dated in its featureset. The app uses a tab interface on both phone and tablet-sized devices, marking a major departure from every other browser on this list. The address bar features suggested search results as you type, which is a nice alternative over apps like Firefox, though Dolphin does occasionally display suggested advertisements over its URL bar . Ads are a serious problem in Dolphin, though some users will find that they don’t affect their everyday browsing habits. Like Samsung’s browser, Dolphin features a sync service that can be added to the desktop browser of your choice with an extension called Dolphin Connect, and also includes something not offered on any of the browsers on this list: gesture support. Gestures can be assigned to websites, allowing you to draw a letter G to load Google, for example. The service isn’t perfect, and definitely could use some enhancements down the road, but nevertheless, is a cool addition to the browser. Dolphin also offers services like Flash support, one of the only mobile browsers left to do so, and a built-in ad blocker, though some of these utilities caused the browser to feel slower than many of its competitors. Overall, Dolphin is a solid alternative browser, and the only one on this list not from a major company. If you’re looking for something completely new, it’s worth giving a shot—so long as you can deal with its built-in ads.

Like Opera, Mozilla happens to list two different versions of their browser on the Play Store for users to choose from. In addition to the typical Beta and Nightly builds of Firefox, you’ll also find Firefox Focus, a browser first released on Android over this past summer (and previously released as an iOS exclusive). Unlike most other mobile browsers on Android, Firefox Focus simplifies the experience of browsing, instead choosing to implement several different privacy features that help make Focus one of the safest browsers we’ve seen on the Play Store. Gone are extensions, account managers, and even tabs, making this a simple, one-page-at-a-time browser that doesn’t keep history or tracking information for advertisements. In fact, there are no advertisements at all, since Focus includes a built-in ad blocker that stops paid content from loading at all, though as usual, this can be disabled in the settings menu for any websites that prevent you from browsing while an ad blocker is enabled. When Firefox claims that Focus doesn’t track your data, they aren’t kidding. You also won’t find password trackers or any kind of cookies in the browser, making it ideal for checking bank account balances or other privacy-sensitive information. You can’t even take a screenshot inside of the app in its default state, making it perfect for anyone looking for a new style of browser that puts security and safety above browsing features. When you finish browsing, a quick-action trash button allows you to quickly delete the content on your phone, refreshing Focus and starting all over again. While it might not be ideal for everyday browsing, Firefox Focus is perfect for those moments where you value privacy over all else. Definitely an app to keep on your phone.

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