Best Android browser 2011: which should you use?

WebKit vs Firefox 4, Opera Mobile, SkyFire and more

It's taken the big browser makers a while, but they're here now. Firefox 4 for Android exited beta in March, Opera Mobile has been available for several months already - plus there are odd, boutique options from upstarts like Dolphin, Skyfire and more.

Here we'll run through the most popular alternative Android web browsers, giving you a few pointers as to whether it's actually worth the hassle of switching everything over to a new system.

We're using an HTC Desire running Android 2.2 as our benchmark phone for all speed observations and performance tests - so results at your end will obviously vary depending on what hardware you're using.

The SunSpider JavaScript performance test is here to give you a general idea of overall performance, as a browser's speed is only as fast as your internet connection and the site you're using.

But hopefully these results will give a good outline of the pros, cons and features on offer from the alternate Android browsers out there. Sadly, Internet Explorer fans are out of luck.

Opera Mobile

Version 11 of Opera's Android browser launched earlier this year, bringing an incredibly fast web experience with it. The browser now supports Adobe's Flash Player add on as well, with the option to only load Flash content when you tap the waiting icon to keep things flowing extra-fast.

Opera mobile

There's also an option to engage the same server-side compression system found in the company's Opera Mini browser, if you're running a slower phone or suffering from a restricted data allowance.

Browser windows are handled by a very user-friendly pop-up tab list, and it's by far the fastest browser on test when it comes to zooming, loading and scrolling pages.

TechRadar home page load time: 17 secs

SunSpider test total time: 3827ms

Dolphin Browser HD

Tab handling is very nice in Dolphin Browser, using the standard desktop browser system of having a visible collection of tabs across the top of the screen. This was the only browser that crashed during our test process, although it did at least offer to reopen the tabs it last had open upon reboot.

Dolphin browser

You're prompted to decide if you want Flash content always on or loaded on demand when first installing the app, plus custom settings let you change the function of the volume key - using it to scroll pages or even switch tabs.

Dolphin is one for the tinkerers, especially as the default colour is a rather unfortunate green which requires the immediate installation of a new theme. It also prompts you to clear the cache and history upon exit, if you wish. Which may please certain special interest users.

TechRadar home page load time: 23 secs

SunSpider test total time: 5517ms

Skyfire 3.0

Skyfire is a very busy browser with tabs and buttons all over the place and numerous added features. Quite the opposite of the standard Android Webkit option - but its pop-up Flash content window is a life-saver for those on phones that don't officially support Flash content. It converts Flash video content on the Skyfire server, and then beams it to non-Flash phones.

Skyfire

You also get custom tabs that pull in popular pages and can link to your Facebook and Twitter profiles, plus its own custom 'Keep Screen On' setting that overrides Android's defaults.

If you have a phone with a big screen so there's room for web pages between its many icons, Skyfire's advanced functionality is a winner for social network users.

TechRadar home page load time: 23 secs

SunSpider test total time: 6902ms

Firefox 4 for Android

Mozilla has finally released the official version of Firefox 4 for Android, after many months of beta testing. The end result is a feature-packed browser that takes many features from the desktop tool.

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