iPhone Life magazine

The One and Only Real iPhone Web Browser Roundup

While the iPhone’s built-in Web browser, Safari, is a pleasure to use, it still has some missing functionality. Some of these:

  • Full screen mode (browsing the Web without the upper and lower status and command bars taking up any screen estate)
  • Orientation locking (to avoid Safari changing orientation when you move or turn your phone)
  • An easier way to switch between open pages (now, it requires sometimes several taps / swipes to switch to another opened Web page)
  • Background Web page loading (to avoid having to wait for a new page to be opened while going on reading the current one)
  • Allowing for more pages to be open without having to continuously reload them (albeit Safari in the latest, just-released iPhone OS 3.0 certainly helped this)
  • Configurable Web search engines
  • To be able to quickly scroll to not only the top, but also the bottom of the page (for example to check out the latest posts in forums, blogs)
  • Providing "faked" User-Agents to make Web servers think you’re accessing them from desktop browsers, and not an iPhone-based one
  • Viewing page source
  • Disabling image loading in order to speed up page loading times and drive down data use

Enter third-party Web browsers, which allow for the above. Let’s take a closer look at them – particularly because the existing, pre-OS3 roundups are heavily outdated – some of them have been published as early as this January – and no longer contain useful information.

First and foremost, as in my previous Web browser bibles for mostly Windows Mobile (see for example THIS), you’ll find most of the information you’ll need to know in the comparison & feature chart available HERE. It’s quite a huge one, so, it’s worth either printing it (in landscape mode) or viewing it on a desktop computer with as huge a screen as possible. After a quick introduction and evaluation of the reviewed browser, I devoted quite a lot of time to explaining what each row in the chart means and how the reviewed browsers behave in that respect. It’s in there that you’ll find a lot of additional information and tips.

First and foremost, there aren’t browsers for the iPhone not depending on the Safari / WebKit engine. What does this mean? There’re some fundamental restrictions (still, as of OS 3.0) plaguing Safari and, accordingly, all browsers based on it. The most important being the lack of text reflowing capabilities allowing for nicely reflow the text when you zoom into a page with pinching. Some other browsers (for example, later Opera Mobile 9.5+ versions) on other mobile platforms (in this case, Windows Mobile) do offer this functionality. This, unfortunately, also means there will still be some Web pages or forums almost impossible to read with Safari. Some of the examples are listed HERE (see "2.1 Real-world rendering tests"), in my article on how Safari compares to Windows Mobile Web browsers (and the multiplatform Opera Mini); for example, THIS Thinkpads.com thread.

Similarly, there isn’t full Flash (Lite) support either, something already existing on Symbian S60 (Flash Lite coming bundled / pre-installed with the Web browser) and Windows Mobile (a "hacked" version of Flash Lite 3 can be installed in some later Opera Mobile versions). This also means no online YouTube-alike works with iPhone OS 3 – not even the ones that do work with the Flash Lite 3-enabled Windows Mobile or S60.

Safari

The built-in Web browser in the iPhone is still the most recommended one unless you have some special needs, which I’ll explain later. For example, unless you’re absolutely fed up with

  • the always-visible top and bottom bars taking up some (but not much, contrary to what some developers state) screen estate or the
  • inability to easily open and load pages in the background or the
  • limited number of pages you can store in-memory (as opposed to some other and, in this respect, better browsers) or the
  • inability to just download files (of types handled by the iPhone) into the file system – it will only pass the online files to the respective handler application in streaming mode, which, in most cases, won’t allow for saving.

These aren’t the only problems with Safari – when going over the feature chart, I’ll explain more of its shortcomings.

Nevertheless, if you can live with the problems of the browser, I recommend it the most as there simply isn’t a worthy contender to it. It’s only very rarely that you will want to switch to an alternative browser to, for example, quickly download some files into the file system of your iPhone so that they can later be read / played back / sent to another computer / Internet-enabled phone without having to download them again or you really need to keep as many tabs open as possible.

Note that there’re a number of welcome fixes and additions in iPhone OS 3.0. First, it’s definitely better when it comes to handling memory (but in no way as good as some of the alternative browsers). It also allows for opening links in a new tab (if you don’t just quickly tap a link, but tap-and-hold for about 1 second) – something that has been sorely missing from earlier versions. Nevertheless, it still lacks some essential features like full screen mode or background page loading.

Now, let’s take a look at the alternative browsers produced by independent developers. Again, note that I only provide a quick evaluation / introduction here; it’s in the feature chart that I elaborate on all the features, advantages and disadvantages of each browser and compare them to the alternatives.

iCab Mobile 1.5

Feature-wise, it’d probably be the best browser of the bunch if it was more stable. Too bad it frequently crashed on both my testing environments (iPhone 3G with 2.1.1 jailbroken and 3.0 non-jailbroken), which makes it pretty much useless because of the constant restarts.

It allows for tweaking a lot of its parameters as can also be seen in the following two screenshots, taken from the first and the second half of the Settings dialog:



A screenshot of the Bookmarks dialog. As you can see, it’s also one of the very few browsers to support folders:

It’s also one of the very few browsers to allow for opening a page in a background page:

Air Browser 1.1

While this browser has some unique goodies (quick scroll up and, particularly, down to top/bottom-most; find in page), the exceptionally bad memory handling and the lack of real full screen makes it far less desirable than OS3’s Safari or some other 3rd party browsers. A screenshot also showing the only menu it has:

Also note that the menu has "Find in page" – too bad most other browsers (except for Safari, which allows for running scriptlets implementing this) lack this essential feature.

It’s one of the very few multitabbed browsers to have a list of the tab immensely helping finding the one you want (instead of swiping through pages until you find the one you want, sometimes with multiple swipes, as is in Safari):

Also note the two arrows at the bottom middle – they allow for quickly moving to the previous / next page.

VanillaSurf 1.2

This browser isn’t bad; what I miss the most is background page opening capabilities and quick top / bottom scrolling. As it has never crashed on me, probably the most recommended browser if you do want both full screen and multipage support – for $1 only.

Too bad it uses Safari’s approach for selecting the page you want, and not a much denser, one-page list for much quicker selection:

It has no background loading capabilities either – and the lack of support for quickly scrolling to the top / bottom of the page is really annoying.

Its settings dialogs are as follows (as you can see, it’s packed with a lot of goodies):

CaizerWeb 1.0.2

The very ugly scrolling / dragging makes this title (which, otherwise, would be pretty nice) in no way recommended

Journey Web Browser 1.0

Pretty good and capable Web browser; too bad the scrolling speed / stuttering can be a real pain in the back. Therefore, not recommended.

BigBrowser+ 1.1

If you MUST store the downloaded files on your phone and make them accessible to an external computer, you’ll want to turn to this app.

File downloading in progress. Unfortunately, background downloading isn’t supported

As with all the other browsers, unsupported files (ZIP, WMV etc) can’t be downloaded.

Built-in file viewer; at the bottom, you can see the address you need to connect to from an external browser to be able to access / download your files / pages.

fgBrowser 2.5

It would be nice if and only if it supported multiple documents.

Main menu view:

Favorite / history view; as can be seen, it supports ordering history items really nicely:

iBrowseTwo 1.1.0

Really-really incapable: not even landscape is supported. Don’t bother.

The only menu it has (address input):

Mini Browser 1.0

Don’t bother.

(with the main menu maximized)

(and with it minimized)

QuickSurf 1.2

Really nothing to write home about – except for it not loading / displaying images (which is also supported by some other browsers – but, of course, not Safari):

Multi-Full Browser 1.1.0

Another very weak title.

(four pages at the same time)

(and after switching to two)

A more thorough comparison and explanation of the chart

Now, let’s take a closer look at the chart. Note that in order to make the most out of this section, you’ll want to open the chart in a separate tab / window so that you can avoid scrolling.

Landscape support?: The first row of the group explains whether a given browser supports switching into landscape orientation at all. As you can see, not all do; for example, (the, otherwise, not recommended) iBrowseTwo (at least in its current, 1.1.0 version) and the absolutely rubbish Mango Browser are incapable of Landscape. The non-recommended "Wide Web with Twitter" doesn’t depend on automatic orientation change (unlike the other, Landscape-capable browsers) – you must manually switch orientation.

Lock orientation?: several third-party browsers support locking the (current) orientation. While Safari does allow reading Web pages in bed in landscape orientation while you’re on your side (if you make sure the side with the speaker is down, and not the other one – that is, the side with the Home button),

  1. some browsers allow for dynamically changing orientation in all the four directions (not just three, as is the case of Safari and practically enabling in-bed, on-side reading without any orientation locking). This also means you can’t use them in situations like the above (you’d want to browse the web while you’re lying on your side).
  2. You’re doing some physical exercise (running, bicycling in a gym etc), or just can’t continuously browse; for example, you’re talking to someone or walking the street and, consequently, you often put your phone in your pocket for a moment. To avoid the constant switching between the portrait and landscape orientations (and the waiting a bit for the orientation to restore when you take your iPhone back to your hands), you might want to disable automatic orientation change.

In both these cases, locking the orientation can be of immense help.

Tab / multidocument support: It’s very important, particularly over slow(ish) and/or expensive connections or on slow(er) devices, that you can keep as many web pages open as possible.

For example, when you encounter a link you’d like to follow on a Web page, when you return from it, Safari reloads the previous (original) page, which may take quite a lot of time (and data use). In this case, it’s preferable to open the link on a new tab (of which the Safari has 8) and, by forcing it to load the page in the new tab, don’t let the iPhone "forget" the original page.

There are two major groups of 3rd party browsers: ones that allow for multipage / multitab work, and ones that don’t. Unless you really don’t want to use multitabs (because the additional time / data usage doesn’t annoy you), you’ll want to go for browsers belonging to the former group. You, in addition, will want to learn how to use these features as efficiently as possible to minimize page switching and wait-until-page-is-loaded time. As usual, there’s a "+" sign with browsers supporting multiple tabs (windows) open at a time and a "-" sign with ones that don’t.

How many taps to switch between tabs?: if you do use multiple tabs, it might be very important to be able to switch between them as easily and quickly as possible. On tabbing-enabled desktop Web browsers, for example, all you need to do is either pressing Crtrl-Tab or just clicking the tab in the upper command bar of the screen. Of course, on the iPhone, there’re no keyboard shortcuts and, because of the limited screen estate, there aren’t visible tab thumbnails either. That is, you will always need to issue sometimes multiple screentaps to switch between tabs (open documents).

Some browsers, while (to conserve screen estate; that is, not to take up 20-30 additional vertical pixels to display the list of tabs) they don’t display the title of each tag, provide one or two arrows to quickly switch between tabs. These allow for one-tap switching between consecutive(!) tabs. Some others have gestures (for example, double swipes to the left / right as in Journey Web Browser 1.0) to do the page switching. Others allow for a quick list of tab titles upon tapping an icon. These, therefore, allow for switching pages with two taps. Finally, the built-in Safari (and several third-party browsers) only allow for page switching requiring much more taps and swipes. An example: if you have six tabs open and you’d like to open a seventh from tab one (the leftmost one in the tablist), you’ll need to swipe the tablist right several times to get back to the old tab. This isn’t at all elegant or easy – the approach taken by the "tab title list on one screen"-enabled browsers is certainly superior.

An example of an, in this regard, vastly superior browser, Air Browser:

As you can see, it both has a quick tab title list (one tap to activate any tab) and two dedicated arrows for switching to the previous / next tabs.

Open links in background tabs (no need to switch back to continue reading the current page while the other is still loading): currently, as of iPhone OS 3.0, you can only open links in new tabs when you long-tap (about one second) a link:

(Note that this is only available in OS 3, not in previous versions!)

That is, there’s no way to instruct Safari to open the link in a new, so-called background tab, which would allow for staying in the current document (going on reading it) and only switching to the new page when you’re absolutely sure it has fully been loaded. This way you can save a LOT of time if you take into account that pages, in general, require several seconds to load / render. For example, I always (try to) switch back to the original page when doing this – which, in Safari, requires a LOT of screentaps.

More advanced browsers like iCab Mobile have a link tap context menu item "Open in background tab". If you tap them instead of "Open link normally / in this tab / in a new tab", you both preserve the current document (no need to reload it when you return to it AND you can continue reading it while loading the new page in the background) and don’t lose time waiting for the new page to load (staring at the empty or partially rendered screen) or switch back to the current one:

Unfortunately, very few other browsers support them same. Mostly because of this feature, iCab Mobile, which has a lot of other goodies, would be one of my most recommended browsers if it didn’t crash so frequently.

Default "open to" definable?:

In some browsers, should be there no way of deciding for each (tapped) link where they should open, you can define where, by default, they should open their content to. For example, VanillaSurf 1.2 lets define in Settings:

So does iCabMobile:

If you set this, you don’t need to select all the time whether to open the new page to the current or a new tab.

Memory use: does it keep all opened pages in memory; test suite results : in order to make real advantage of multitabs, you also need a browser with good memory handling.

If you’ve ever used multiple tabs in pre-OS3 Safari, you know why: in previous operating system versions, Safari notoriously killed the contents of opened tabs if the new one was larger than a specific threshold. (With the Safari in OS 3.0, this problem is still existing but seems to be far less pronounced – nevertheless, some 3rd party browsers still fare much better in this respect.)

In order to make the test as strict and reproducible as possible, I’ve used my old Web page I’ve purposefully made for memory usage and page load time measurements for my previous Web browser reviews and roundups.

This Web page is almost 600 kbytes long. I’ve created multiple copies of it to avoid "caching" and browsers’ only using one memory representation for all tabs instead of one for each tab; just change index.html to index2.html, index3.html … index6.html to access them.

In order to find out how many tabs can coexist, I’ve opened as many instances of these Web pages in different tabs and, after fully loading each tab, I’ve iterated over the previous ones to see whether they still have the Web page, or, do they start reloading pages. As you can see, in this respect, by far the worst (multitab-enabled) browser is Air Browser 1.1; all the other was able to keep much more pages in memory. Unfortunately, the new, OS3.0 Safari is in the lower half of the bunch (with only four pages), while some of the alternatives (most importantly, VanillaSurf) had no problems keeping eight pages in memory.

At the same time, I was also able to find out how many pages are needed to "crash" a given browser. Unfortunately, several, otherwise high-quality browsers (iCab Mobile 1.5, CaizerWeb 1.0.2 and Journey Web Browser 1.0) crash when you "overburden" them with too many tabs / mmory-consuming Web pages open.

No, don’t think, based on the test page’s length (600 kbyte) and consequent memory needs (which is, according to my measurements on the Windows Mobile platform, can range from 2 to 16 Mbytes – that is, much larger than the original HTML page itself), you can safely use these three browsers to browse only few, smaller Webpages concurrently. The figures I’ve provided only show when the browser crashed in a well-controlled environment with known Web pages. Upon casual browsing far smaller(!) pages, I’ve encountered frequent crashes too (far more frequent ones than Safari crashing – it still does! – under OS3), pretty easily ruling out these three browsers. On the other hand, VanillaSurf 1.2 has never ever crashed on me. Too bad it lacks some essential features…

Test page loading time: along with the memory usage tests (loading the large test suite), I’ve also benchmarked it loading the page in the first and, then, second, third etc. tabs. I’ve found out that loading the page in the first tab takes far more time than in the consequent ones; for example, with iCab Mobile, 18 seconds for the first page and between 7 and 8 seconds for subsequent ones (hence the 18/ 7…8 listed in this row). This must have been caused by the test pages, while physically different (and, therefore, loaded separately), sharing the same image resources. That is, the latter didn’t needed to be fetched again.

As you can see, interestingly, Safari has turned out to be the worst-performer of the (multitabbed) bunch. This means the related promotions (see for example BigBrowser+’s iTunes page and ad) are indeed true: if a developer states his or her browser can load pages faster than Safari, then, he’s indeed right.

Can you select where to open it in some kind of a runtime context menu?: when discussing Default "open to" definable? above, I’ve already explained some browsers (including Safari starting with OS3 – but not before) allow the user decide where a tapped link should be opened.

The ways of activating this context menu is different. For example, with Safari, a single, short tap opens the page in the current tab (unless the link forces the browser to open it in a new one), while a long (about one second) tap brings up a context menu where you can select whether you want to open the page in the current tab or a new one – or, alternatively, whether you want to copy the link address.

On the contrary, in iCab Mobile 1.5, you need to use short-taps (and not long ones!) to activate the full context menu of the browser (as long as you’ve set "Ask" for the default link target in Settings). If, on the other hand, you tap the links continuouy for at least one second, you’ll be presented Safari’s own menu, without the option to open the page in a new tab.

Titles of all tabs easily accessible?: I’ve shown how Air Browser 1.1 makes it easier to select the tab to switch to (as opposed to the several-taps-and-swipes-needed Safari approach). In this row, I elaborate on how the browsers behave in this respect – that is, do they have easily accessible and selectable lists of tabs.

As you can see, Air Browser 1.1, iCab Mobile 1.5 and CaizerWeb 1.0.2 are the best in this respect. VanillaSurf 1.2, the most recommended browser (because of its stability, not because of its feature set, in which it is definitely worse than some of the other browsers!), unfortunately, uses the same slow and awkward interface as Safari.

Max. number of tabs: here, I’ve listed how many tabs the browser have. As can be seen, (multitab-enabled) browsers generally support several tabs; the two exceptions being (the, otherwise, in no way recommended) iBrowseTwo 1.1.0 and Multi-Full Browser 1.1.0.

The Search group elaborates on local / global searching support. Its first row, Find in page? If not, compatible with my scriptlet?, tells you whether you can have the same functionality as Ctrl-F in esktop browsers. It might be very important to find a certain word on a huge Web page. Find in page, when implemented, allows for this.

Unfortunately, few browsers have this functionality – the biggest names (for example, VanillaSurf and Safair itself – while iCab Mobile does support it) don’t.

Every cloud has a silver lining, though – with Safari, you can enable this functionality with so-called "scriptlets". Please see THIS for more info and how they should be used.

Built-in Web search engine support?: in Safari, there’s a text input field to the right of the address input bar, which provides you with an easy way to quickly issue Google (or, if you reconfigure it in the system-level Settings, Yahoo) searches without having to go to Google (Yahoo)’s homepage first. Here, I’ve listed whether the browsers do the same.

Favorites: Access Safari favorites?: The new, Favorites group explains how the browsers handle favorites. Some don’t even have any favorite support (you will want to avoid these altogether), some are pretty advanced.

The first row in this group, Access Safari favorites?, explains whether the browser is able to operate on Safari’s own favorites (none of them are, except for, of course, Safari itself). In this row, I’ve also explained some of the niceties; for example, iCab Mobile’s excellent capabilities (export / import and reading the system-level Contacts database).

Bookmark name editable?: you, at times, may want to store a favorite with a modified name (not bearing the title of the page). Here, I explained which of the browsers are capable of this.

URL editable: you may also want to edit URL’s themselves. At first, this doesn’t seem very important. However, if you take Javascript scriptlets into account (see the link in Find in page? If not, compatible with my scriptlet? above for more info), this may become REALLY important.

Favorite folders?: examines whether you can define subfolders. Note that some of the browser that, otherwise, allow for subfolders, only allow them in the depth of one – I’ve also elaborated on this in the chart.

Support for reorganization?: when you have too many items, you might want to reorganize them – for example, bring the most used ones (along with, if you do use them, "find in page", "bottom of the page" etc. scriptlets) to the top so that you can quickly access them without having to scroll down a lot.

In addition to Safari, of the higher-quality titles, iCab Mobile 1.5, CaizerWeb 1.0.2 and Journey Web Browser 1.0 support this kind of functionality. Reorganization is done in exactly the same way in all these browsers: you tap-and-hold the icon (the three horizontal lines stacked) on the right of the favorite and, then, drag the record to its new position.

History? : This group lists whether there’s support for history (user-input addresses) and whether the stored data is actively used when you enter something starting with the same of containing some substring (URL autocomplete based on history?) and you can delete the history data (Clear history?), should you not want people see what pages you’ve visited.

Scrolling : Scrolling smoothness?: the Scrolling group elaborates on issues with scrolling. The first row in this group, "Scrolling smoothness?", elaborates on whether scrolling is smooth.

Unfortunately, all third-party browsers are definitely worse than Safari in that the scrolling, to some degree, stutters on them. The difference can be very small (as is the case of iCab Mobile 1.5 and VanillaSurf 1.2). Some (otherwise, high-quality) browsers, unfortunately, exhibit pretty bad scrolling stuttering; the most important examples of them are CaizerWeb 1.0.2 and Journey Web Browser 1.0. You’ll want to avoid them entirely if you find this problem really annoying.

Quick scrolling to top / bottom of document?: on the iPhone (as opposed to some other, touchscreen-enabled platforms like Windows Mobile Professional / Classic), there’re no draggable scrollbars to quickly scroll up / down to the top / bottom of the page (or, for that matter, anywhere inside the page). If you know Opera Mini on compatible platforms, you may also remember that it also offers quick scrolling to the top / bottom on non-touchscreen platforms too with repeated pressings of #3.

With Safari (and some other 3rd party Web browsers), you can quickly and easily browse to the top of the page by simply single-tapping the top of the screen. The opposite of this (quick scrolling to the bottom), however, is only implemented in very few browsers – and, unfortunately, Safari isn’t one of them.

Again, my scriptlets to the rescue! As is explained in the (first) UPDATE section of THIS article, you can easily create a scriptlet, which, when activated, quickly scrolls down to the bottom of the page.

Cookies: Clear cookies?: some browsers allow for clearing cookies, should you be afraid of privacy issues.

Fine-tuning acceptance?: In addition, Safari allows for fine-tuning (in the system-level Settings menu) them.

Misc.: Interrupting page loading?: the first row of the Misc. (miscellaneous) group concentrates on whether you can interrupting (stop) loading a page. Say you only need the text of a page and, when it’s already rendered, you want to stop loading the in-line images. If the browser doesn’t support this, you’re shot.

Full screen?: the built-in Safari doesn’t support full screen mode (not even in OS 3.0). This is the problem that made most 3rd party browser developers embark on developing their own browsers.

In this row, I elaborate on whether the full screen mode (if supported) is really full screen mode (where you can exit from either shaking the phone or, as with fgBrowser, some special three- or two-finger gestures) or one where you’re still shown icons to exit the full screen mode. Of course, you may want to prefer browsers that offer true full srcreen mode. As you can see, again, iCab Mobile is the best in this respect – it doesn’t display any icons and entirely operates based on shaking.

Remembers last visited page(s) upon relaunching?: some Web browsers automatically reload the last page (or, when in multitabbed mode, even pages – as is the case with VanillaSurf 1.2) when you relaunch them.

Interaction with Safari (passing a link to / receiving a link from): in cases, you may want to pass the address of a given page to Safari so that you can continue browsing the Web in that browser. (The opposite is true in very few cases.) Note that, now with OS3’s supporting copy/paste operations, this isn’t that important a functionality any more.

User-Agent faking?: in some cases, you may want to "fake" your User-Agent HTTP request header telling the Web server you’re browsing pages from you’re from another Web browser, not Safari on the iPhone. Very few Web browsers support this.

Nevertheless, if you really need this functionality with, say, Safari, you can use third-party some sites effectively changing your User-Agent – which is also a widely used practice of Opera Mini users.

File download?: in Safari (and most 3rd party browsers), when you tap a link pointing to for example a PDF, DOC, MP3, MP4 or other file otherwise supported by iPhone (that is, the phone can play it back or render its contents), it will invoke the application assigned to the particular file type straight away – without storing the files in the file system so that you can, later, play it back without having to download it again.

Of the tested browsers, only one (BigBrowser+ 1.1) is able to not only "Open" (see the above-explained, default functionality), but also "Save" these files into the file system. (This browser, otherwise, is pretty basic; I only recommend it for file saving.)

View source?: only one browser (Journey Web Browser 1.0 ) makes it possible to view the source of a Web page.

Copy-paste?: back in the pre-OS3 pages, probably the most important feature missing from the operating system was copy/paste. This was of special interest in the Web browser, as it’s mostly there that you may encounter text you’d like to quickly paste into your notes or mail.

Before OS3’s radical changes, you only had two ways of fixing this: first, mailing the address of the current Web page (this is supported by almost all browsers, including Safari), or, going for the very expensive ($6) and, comparatively, weak Magic Browser (iBlueAngel) – the only Web browser to have reduced (it’s only able to copy full blocks of texts and to mails and the address bar only) copy/paste support. If you were lucky enough, with some kinds of content, you could use third-party scriptlets: for example, if you needed copy/paste functionality to convert non-HTML links to HTML ones (so that they become activatable and can be followed) with, for example, the Linkify scriptlet HERE.

Can image loading be disabled?: particularly when you’re on a slower connection or you need to reduce your data usage (images can eat up pretty much data), you may go straight for a client that supports disabling images. The majority of third-party browsers do so; unfortunately, Safari doesn’t.

Offline browsing?: there’s one browser that allows for automatically reading back the pages that were open last time you have exit: VanillaSurf.

Note that the two browsers that allow for Web page saving (BigBrowser+ 1.1 and Magic Browser (iBlueAngel) 2.5) also allow for this – to some degree: they don’t save images.

Save web pages?: See the above explanations about saving a Web page so that it becomes offline.

Auto forms fill-in?: another welcome addition in the OS3 Safari is the form autofill. In order to have an idea of other mobile browsers’ supporting the same, I need to point out that none of the Windows Mobile Web browsers have the same (except for, probably, SkyFire, which I haven’t tested in this regard so far), and the same stands for the BlackBerry and Symbian S60.

https support? (ebay test): some Web browser developers state there’s no HTTPS (Secure HTTP) support in some browsers. This is why I’ve run a HTTPS test too with eBay (and, at the same time, I was able to test whether cookies are retained over browser restarts). All the browsers that I’ve tested in this regard turned out to be supporting HTTPS.

Input keyboard: the one with ".com"?: one browser (Magic Browser (iBlueAngel) 2.5) present the user an on-screen keyboard not specially tailored for entering Web addresses; for example, it lacks the .com button.

Ad filtering?: some browsers support ad filtering. The most important of them is iCab Mobile 1.5, which allow for even manual editing of filters – excellent!

Some additional remarks (06/22/2009):

  1. The tests have been conducted on the iPhone 3G under both OS version 2.1.1 (jailbroken) and OS 3.0 (non-jailbroken). In the column for Safari, I’ve included both information, separated by a slash (/).
  2. On the new iPhone 3G S (which has both two times more RAM memory and a much faster processor), the loading speed should be better and some stated Safari is able to keep much more pages in memory. This may also mean the 3rd party browsers, which crash on the 3G, run OK on the 3G S – I couldn’t test this as here in Europe the 3G S will only hit the shelves in July. As soon as it arrives here, I purchase one and re-run the tests.
  3. You may also be interested in some of my past, mobile Web browsing-related articles and speeches; for example,
  4. If any of you has a direct contact to the developer of each 3rd party app, let me know. I’d like to discuss what they should do with their browsers and also post updates to this roundup as soon as they have implemented some bugfixes / improvements – and I would really welcome their knowing about the bugs I’ve found.
  5. As with my previous Web browsing related articles, you may want to spend some hours scrutinizing my comments, particularly in the chart. The chart (and the comments) contain a lot of practical tips like “how do I open a page in the background?”, “how do I disable image loading” etc. Nevertheless, if you want to have tips explained in a much more verbose (and easier / digestable) way, check out the next issue of US-based papermag ‘iPhone Life, where I may come up with a full article with tons of practical tips like these.

UPDATE (06/23/2009 0.37CET): I’ve tested Arachnid 1.4.1, a recently-released browser with multitab support. I’ve found it pretty mediocre: other titles are definitely better. For example, it doesn’t in any way support opening a link in a new tab.

Furthermore, it has major memory problems (comparable to Safari and much worse than most of the other tabbed browsers), can’t run scriptlets and doesn’t have goodies like disabling image loading.

UPDATE (06/23/2009 22.15CET): thanks to the developer, I’ve received the latest, 1.7.2 beta of iCab Mobile.

Unfortunately, it may take several weeks until you are allowed to upgrade to it – lately, the whole AppStore review process has become really sluggish. For example, version 1.6 is already waiting for many weeks for the release and Version 1.7 (this is the version I quickly review here) can only be submitted to Apple when version 1.6 is finally released to the AppStore. Hope Apple improves upon their reviewing process because, knowing the goodies (for example, scriptlet support) of the new version, it’s really a pain in the back to have to wait for weeks for versions that long have been sent to Apple.

First and foremost, tap-the-statusbar-to-scroll-to-the-top works in this version. In the currently available one (1.5), it only worked when there was only one page open.

Then, scriptlets work (unlike in the current version). iCab already supports goodies like in-page search and scrolling to the top but, unfortunately, scrolling to the bottom isn’t supported. Fortunately, my scriptlet runs just great with the new version. (Again, don’t even try to import it into older versions – it won’t work because it always puts an http:/ in front of javascript, which renders it unable to run.)

Finally, there’re a lot of other goodies like offline browsing (favorites) much like those of NetFront on Windows Mobile / Symbian / Linux-based Sharp Zaurus devices etc.

As far as the crashing problems are concerned, it seems I’ve managed to find out what pages are causing them; for example, some article pages HERE. There’re times when the browser immediately exits when loading these pages (ALL of the articles result in a crash) and there’re times when they don’t. It seems the problems are caused by an advertisement or something changing from time to time. Otherwise, under OS3, unless you heavily overload the browser with web pages of several hundreds of kilobytes each (just like my PPCmag forum test suite), it’s pretty stable and I haven’t encountered any crashes, assuming I didn’t visit for example the above-linked pages. The developer’s stating the browser is much more stable under the new operating system version seems to be true.

This also means, also taken the excellent features of the browser into account, that it’s, currently, iCab Mobile that I recommend heartily, particularly because it seems to be quite future-proof and the developer is very responsive and open to implementing new features / ironing out bugs. Keep in mind, however, keeping track of Web pages that cause it to crash and report them to the developer.

Other niceties

I would also mention some of the other goodies already existing in version 1.5. First, there’re gestures in full screen mode to go to the previous/next page (quick left/right swipe in the upper part of the screen) and tab (a quick swipe from the lower left/right to the upper right/left corner to switch to the next/previous tab, respectively). That is, you don’t need to exit full screen mode (which may be a time-consuming project).

Let me also elaborate on how ad filtering works. If you do enable filters in Settings (which are disabled by default), images that follow a certain pattern won’t be displayed. This saves bandwidth, CPU and time. For example, let’s take a look at the following two PPCMag blog screenshots. The first has been taken with filters disabled, the second enabled:


See the difference? Even with the default settings, most of the advertisements images (on the bottom left/right and the top) have been hidden in the second screenshot.

There’s another very nice feature I’ve already mentioned in the chart, but it needs to . When you go to Settings / Bookmarks Export/Import and press Start server at the bottom, you’re presented the IP address and the port number you need to connect to the just-started bookmark server:

Now, navigate to it (in this case, ) in your desktop browser. You’ll see the following:

Here, if you select a Netscape HTML bookmark file to upload in the file chooser under “Upload Bookmarks” and, then, click the Upload Bookmarks file button, your all bookmarks will be uploaded to your handset. It’ll ask you about replacing your existing bookmarks or adding the new ones to them:

What are these Netscape HTML bookmark files? They are really easy to be created in your desktop browser.

In Opera, navigate to Bookmarks / Manage Bookmarks and select Export as HTML:

In Firefox, go to Bookmarks / Organize Bookmarks. In the window coming up, select File / Export… .

It’s the file you’ve exported that you’ll need to pass to iCab Mobile.

UPDATE (06/27/2009): there have been two new browser versions since my publishing the review:
Journey 1.1: it’s stated to automatically open links in new windows. Well, this only works when the link target is explicitly set to new; not otherwise. Furthermore, the tap-and-hold context menu no longer has the “Open in new tab” menu item. That is, you can no longer direct the browser to open a link in a new tab – unless it’s instructed to do so by the original author.

Hope this newly-introduced bug is ironed out.

Otherwise, there isn’t much to report on. The scrolling speed is as bad as in the initial (previous) version. This (too) makes this browser a very bad choice – go for iCab Mobile instead.
(BTW, the browser is at a 50% sale; that is, it only costs $1 now. Nevertheless, I don’t recommend it even at this, lower price.)

Mini Browser 1.5: the new versions handles Gmail and calendar better and the reload/stop buttons are positioned to the riht of the activity indicator. Otherwise, no changes; this means I in no way recommend it. Not even for free. Shell out the $2 for iCab Mobile – it’s so much better...

Now, let’s turn to online radio players also containing a built-in Web browser. I didn’t elaborate on them in my dedicated Web browser review as these built-in Web browsers (not even in their best reincarnation; that is, in Pocket Tunes), as their functionality is far inferior to those of even average, dedicated Web browsers. They’re, more or less, are like an afterthought and their only aim is to provide a way of accessing the Web while listening to online radio stations. (Without jailbreaking your iPhone and, as is explained in one of my past articles, using Backgrounder, you can’t send apps like these into the background and switch to, say, Safari or Mail.)

Let’s start with the, in my opinion, apart from some lacking functionality (e.g., direct recording of streams into audio files or lyrics support) some other players have, best (and, unfortunately, most expensive: 8 euros) app of the bunch, NormSoft’s Pocket Tunes Radio (current, tested version: 5.2.2). It has a much better built-in Web browser than that of RadioBOX or Oogli LLC’s ooTunes Radio:

  • It supports Landscape (no locking and no full-screen though) and
  • favorites

It’s also very stable (has never crashed on me during an about two-hour Web browsing session, while listening to some stream outdoors), remembering the last state and quick scrolling to the top is supported. Too bad scriptlets (find / bottom) and multitabs aren’t supported. 


(Note that, in Landscape, the lower icon bar isn’t visible; neither is the address bar. The latter is also hidden when not at the top of the page.)

As stated, it’s a way better browser implementation than that of the two other (albeit much-much less expensive) radio apps, which I introduce below.

Another browser is Oogli LLC’s ooTunes Radio (price: $4). It (as of the current, tested version, 2.1) has a much worse Web browser not even supporting Landscape or bookmarks. All you can rely on to quickly access your favorite Web pages is the four-record history displayed under the address input field:

(Just under “Recent X”).
This is the browser itself with the toolbar enabled:

… and disabled:

Finally, let’s take a look at eingrad’s RadioBOX (current version: 1.4.1; current price [50% sale]: $1), which is even worse than that of ooTunes Radio because it doesn’t even have a history. All it offers is the following:

Incidentally, of the three, this is the only browser that isn’t capable of handling the special types (.ASX) not supported by Safari: it just displays “Frame load interrupted”. This is a pity, as the player does support WMA – it’s “only” HE-AACv2 and OGG (unlike the two other players) that it doesn’t support. It also passes the MP3 and AAC playback to the system-level Quicktime player – and doesn’t try to play back these contents in the app. (The latter - it’s not “catching” URL’s of HE-AACv2 content - is not that big a problem, though, as RadioBOX doesn’t support HE-AACv2 and, therefore, it couldn’t play back these streams in stereo and high quality.)

UPDATE (06/29/2009 3:23CET): I’ve jailbroken my T-Mo-locked iPhone 3G (previously updated to OS 3.0) to, among other things, find out how the best browser, iCab Mobile puts up with being sent to the background. (Which is very advantageous: no need to wait for reloading the last page(s) when you restart the browser.) The results are excellent: it can be safely backgrounded.

I’ve also run a some-hour-long test of browsing the Web with iCab, while running Pocket Tunes Radio in the background to play back a radio station using OGG. Everything went just fine – no crashes at all. Great!

As there’s a lot of misinformation on this subject, some remarks on jailbreaking your phone and installing Backgrounder. Note that this is for iPhone 2G/3G, NOT 3G S, and for the (at the time of writing) current firmware version (3.0).  

  1. If you’ve already upgraded to OS3, don’t throw away your firmware file (iPhone1,2_3.0_7A341_Restore.ipsw) – you’ll need it. If you need to download it again, get it from HERE (2G is HERE)
  2. Get redsn0w (for Windows, for example, HERE; other links HERE). Unpack redsn0w.exe and start it.
  3. When it asks for a 3.0 firmware, just browse for the official ROM file (see above)
  4. Then, just do what it asks you to do (switch off the iPhone and, then, restart in DFU mode). If you doesn’t succeed (which is highly probable if you have a Windows that is pretty slow to auto-install the DFU drivers), you’ll need to re-do the same. Don’t be afraid: it’ll work, even if you don’t start the entire process in a non-switched off iPhone.
  5. Do NOT check in the “Install Icy” checkbox! It causes major problems!
    Speaking of this, if you do (did) install Icy, you’ll encounter various problems when trying to install anything (including both the essential Cydia and system updates and Backgrounder). To fix it, just restart redsn0w and re-do the jailbreaking process. It won’t uninstall Icy; still, Cydia will work just fine after that. (Many state you need to completely reflash the firmware and reload the backup; this can take more than an hour. In my practice, this has turned out to be unnecessary.)
  6. To install the MobileInstallation hack, add the http://cydia.hackulo.us source to Cydia and, after that, search and install the application “AppSync”.
  7. To install Backgrounder, you’ll find it in Cydia too (just search for “Backgrounder”). Make sure you download the 3.0-specific version, not the one for pre-OS3 operating systems! Also note that it’s only capable of “basic” multitasking – that is, you can’t play with the config files of individual apps in order to let them run in the background. All you have is the long-pressed Home button to switch between enabled and disabled backgrounding.

That’s all. As you can see, it’s really simple – and even fixing the Icy install can easily be done. As long as Apple doesn’t officially allow backgrounding (to enable multitasking or, for example, preserving the contents of third-party Web browsers), you’ll, unfortunately, need to jailbreak.

UPDATE (09/Jul/2009) : I’ve also elaborated on the built-in Web browsers of two instant messaging (IM) applications, Beejive 3.0 and IM+ 3.1. Even the latter is not really worth using (and the former doesn’t even have any GUI components – it’s indeed just a viewer for the, over chats, passed URL’s), particularly now that both these IM apps support Push and can, therefore, be safely exit without logging out.

That is, now with OS3, don’t base your selection of an IM app on the built-in Web browser – unlike with Internet radio apps, where you can’t background the radio app and, consequently, the quality (or sole existence) of a built-in Web browser is essential.

Please see http://www.iphonelife.com/blog/87/one-and-only-real-iphone-instant-messenger-roundup for the IM roundup.

UPDATE (Jul/17/2009):

  1. Version 1.5 of iCab is released. It has some nice goodies. However, the next version will even be better: URL autocomplete by name (not only URL); the ability to not only download files, but also invoke downloaded ones (as is the case with BigBrowser+), allowing for .PLS file playback in the built-in QuickTime, allowing for scriptlets (e.g., my “bottom” script) etc. Incidentally, the first three features have been implemented upon my requests ;)
  2. Version 1.of Multi-Full browser is out. It fixes opening pages in a new tab. That is, it’s still not recommended.
  3. New versions of Web browsers, from now on, upon installation, will display a confirmation dialog as can be seen in the screenshot below. This is Apple’s new rule when third party browsers are concerned; you shouldn’t be afraid of them:
  4. I’ve been asked for more info on how form autofill differs in the built-in OS3 Safari and iCab Mobile, the most recommended third-party browser, mostly because Safari’s approach seems to be less awkward (fewer taps needed to save the contents of a form and to retrieve them). The difference is the following: while Safari doesn’t allow saving the contents of arbitrary forms, not even some with passwords, iCab does allow this. Give a try to for example http://www.winmobiletech.com/form.html or http://forum.xda-developers.com/. Try entering anything in the fields and, then, press Submit. No “Save password” will be displayed; that is, you simply can’t save the contents of these forms.
    Do the same with iCab Mobile: save the form content and, after reloading it / returning to the page, make it fill out the contents. It’ll be restored in both cases:

All in all, iCab Mobile is much better at restoring the contents of any form, not just a few select ones.

UPDATE (Jul/18/2009):

The next version of iCab Mobile, which has already been submitted for approval to the AppStore, will also have a download manager (a much better one than that of BigBrowser+, the only other browser with something similar to it). You’ll be able to not only save files in the background, but also play / read them back after saving (no need to stream them again every time you want to watch / listen to / read them), but also access the downloaded file from any other computer.

Basically, it works the same way as exporting / importing bookmarks; that is, you’ll need to start the same built-in server. To do this, go to the built-in Settings and tap Export/Import. (Note that this has been both renamed (from Bookmarks Export/Import) and relocated (from the bottom to the second group):

When you go to Export/Import, the server will still be shut down:

Tap Start server at the bottom. You’ll be shown the address you can connect to save your files (and, of course, bookmarks – but, again, I’ve already explained how bookmarks can be imported / exported):

Enter the same address (here, http://192.168.1.100:8888/) into your desktop browser. You’ll see something like this:

In the lowermost group, you can already save your files (e.g., right-click the file you want to save and “Save as” or “Save linked content as”).

You may also want to read my “Make Web Browsing Easier- New Safari features and iCab Mobile make browsing easier on your iPhone or iPod touch” article in the next iPhone Life issue, where, in the section “Downloading or streaming content to your iPhone”, I elaborate on the brand new downloading-related features of the new iCab Mobile.

IMPORTANT: as of 17/July, it’s still version 1.5 that is the current one in AppStore. Do NOT try finding the above in it: this version still doesn’t have a built-in download manager. The next version will have, which will hopefully be approved very soon.

BTW, in addition to the list of differences I’ve listed in my previous (yesterday’s) update, iCab has also received an “Orientatation lock” switch right in the built-in (that is, not the system-level!) Settings. (BTW, this has also been recommended by me to the developer ;) )

UPDATE (20/07/2009):

  1. There’s a new version of Mango browser:

    As you can see, there’s nothing to write home about in the new update.
  2. The new version of Perfect Browser, however, is much more interesting as it incorporates a lot fixes and additions:

    Now you might want to check it out; however, personally, I’d still stick with iCab Mobile instead.

UPDATE (07/22/2009): iCab Mobile 1.6 is, at last, out!

It has a LOT of goodies (several of which has been recommended to the developer by myself):

  • Scriptlet support (!!)
  • Download manager with multiple background downloads and the ability to render / play downloaded files. They can also be accessed from a desktop.
  • The “Lock orientation” flag is, now, in the Settings – far easier to access / use it than in the original position
  • etc.

Now, all I can say is go and get it – it’s certainly worth it!

UPDATE (07/23/2009): I’ve quickly tested the $1 BOLT too.

AppStore shot

I don’t really recommend it: as of the current, 3.1 version, its quite simple and incomparably less capable than iCab Mobile. Just a few cons:

  • No multiple tabs
  • No favorite reorganizing (moving) or editing
  • No any way to stop loading a page
  • No autocomplete
  • No history
  • No download manager

Some screenshots:

The only advantage over the only two times more expensive iCab Mobile is the User-Agent spoofing, which will, according to the developer, only be later implemented in iCab Mobile.

BTW, the AppStore description (screenshot) of BOLT states it doesn’t consume any memory, unlike Safari. It’s true in the respect Safari indeed remains in memory so that, when invoked again, it won’t fetch the last page again – and, as is also explained in my radio client roundup, it also allows for streaming MP3 and AAC streams in the background, which is a really unique feature. However, all the third-party browsers have exactly the same advantage (which is quite much a disadvantage in many cases), not only BOLT.

Note that it has nothing to do with Bitstream’s BOLT browser (also see THIS for my review). I think the developers of the iPhone browser will want to rename their product to avoid mistaking it for that of (the much superior and older) Bitstream.

UPDATE (02/Aug/2009) : Safari has received a free (!) download manager too with support for both multimedia and binary / compressed files – but only for jailbroken devices.

To install it, search for “Safari Download Plug-in” in Cydia.



Install the package; immediately after this, if you tap any multimedia or compressed archive link from inside Safari, you’ll be able to select from between downloading the linked resource or passing it to the native app (the latter being the default with playable multimedia files – but not with “unknown” file types like ZIP, RAR and so on):

If you select download, it’ll show you the download process:

Fortunately, you can run several downloads at the same time and also continue browsing by manually creating a new tab and firing up a Web page. Alternatively, if you don’t want to go this way, long-tap the original download link until you are presented the link context menu; from it, select Open in New Page:

This will make sure the download page will open in a new tab and, after switching back to the original one, you can continue browsing. It’s a bit less convenient as iCab Mobile’s approach, but if you absolutely don’t want to pay for the latter, still a viable solution.

Note that you can have more than one download running in parallel as is shown in the following screenshot:

UPDATE (08/13/2009 23:48 CET):

  1. A new version of VanillaSurf has been released.
    Unfortunately, its biggest problem is still discernable (and definitely making it on slower devices – anything before the iPhone 3G S – really frustating): the stuttering. It’s really visible and downright annoying on the 3G. On the 3G S, the situation is far better but I would still not recommend it – iCab Mobile is far-far smooter (and, now, with version 1.6, also more power- and featureful, as opposed to early versions running under OS versions before OS3). Or, even Oceanus (to be reviewed in the next bullet).
  2. I’ve tested Oceanus too. (So far, I wasn’t able to do this as it’s not available in our local AppStore and, consequently, I couldn’t purchase it.) The current, tested version is 1.3.

First, let’s compare it to the, in my opinion, best third-party Web browser available, iCab Mobile 1.6.

The pros of Oceanus:

  • Auto-scroll (if you’ve ever used Mobipocket Reader on any mobile platform, you know what this is; in addition, you can dynamically change the scroll speed or just stop scrolling with one screentap only with the on-screen controls)
  • Tilt-scroll (very nice too)
  • Built-in support for using compressing & content stripping services greatly lowering data use and increasing page loading speed. (These, however, do make pages one-column by destroying their original contents – along with all their scripts and objects like YouTube inline videos).

The cons of Oceanus:

  • No “where to open to” link context menus. If you do want to open a link in a new tab (to avoid having to reload the current one when you tap “Back” if you open a link in the traditional way), you’ll end up having to issue several taps (long tap-and-hold to bring up the link context menu; select Copy; tap the “Tabs” icon; either create a new tab or switch to an existing one; tap the address input field until you see Paste; tap “Paste” and, finally, tap Go).
  • No download manager
  • No ad filtering
  • No favorite export/import
  • Not possible to quickly scroll to the top of the page (nevertheless, if you use the recently-released QuickScroll – and you do jailbreak your phone –, this won’t be a problem. See THIS for a tutorial)
  • No scriptlet support, which makes it impossible to quickly scroll to the top / bottom of the page without problems – or to run in-page searches
  • No in-page text search
  • In non-full screen, the upper bar takes more screen estate because it has another (title + orientation lock) row in it
  • No form autofill with previously stored user data
  • No gestures at all in full screen mode (while iCab supports previous / next page and tab)
  • While it has a tablist, it doesn’t have thumbnails of the pages (not that big a problem, though)
  • It stutters a bit on the (slower) iPhone 3G, unlike iCab. This stuttering, however, isn’t as bad as that of, say, the VanillaSurf browser. The 3G S being much faster, you won’t really be annoyed by the slightly still discernable, occasional stuttering. That is, on the 3G, iCab Mobile behaves, in this respect, much better.

All in all, I’d still stick with iCab Mobile. It’s just far more capable – except for the more sophisticated scrolling capabilities and the ability to use external compression gateways of Oceanus.

Screenshots:

The settings dialogs:


(the three major advantages of Oceanus over iCab Mobile: the two kinds of scrolling and the compression usage)

The following two Settings screens:

Landscape view in non-full screen mode (note the thick upper bar):

List of tabs:

In full screen mode, if you don’t enable Shake mode, there’re three icons in the lower left corner of the screen for Previous / Next / exit full screen. (Note that their transparency can be set in Settings):

The “+” menu:

and, finally, the link context menu:

UPDATE (08/17/2009):

A brand new, 1.7 version of iCab Mobile has just been released.

It introduces, among other things, configurable User-Agent strings. You can, currently, only switch in the global system Settings application, which means you’ll be forced to exit iCab Mobile entirely when you encounter a page needing another User-Agent. Note that if you have a jailbroken phone and use Backgrounder, you’ll also need to force iCab to completely exit in order for the new User-Agent to be used. (Plain page reloads won’t work.)

The new setting is at the bottom of the system-level iCab Mobile setting:

Upon tapping “Browser ID”, you’ll be presented the User-Agents you can select from:

All in all, the best Web browser has become even better - now, you won't need third-party browsers (up to now, Journey Web Browser or Spy) to visit Web sites not returning a page of your liking when you browse them with the factory default Safari.

UPDATE (8/25/2009): In THIS Apple.com thread, I’ve run into an interesting question: whether Safari stops refreshing Web pages when minimized (that is, when you press the Home button).

You already know that Safari is vastly different from third-party Web browsers in that it doesn’t exit when you press the Home button. Instead, it just minimizes itself. To quickly test whether it continues executing scripts / reloading pages when minimized, I’ve created a JSP page with the http-equiv="refresh" tag in it – and an additional System.out.println() call so that I can always see in the web server’s console whether there’s any page access. The source of the page is as follows:

<meta http-equiv="refresh" content="1">
<% System.out.println(System.currentTimeMillis()); %>

I’ve found out the following: Safari does stop executing even http-equiv-based refreshes (the most common way of forcing a Web browser to continuously refresh pages, not counting in JavaScript-based tools) when you either minimize it (press the Home button) or suspend the entire phone (press the Power button). That is, you do NOT need to be afraid of it using up all your data plan allowance in some hours.

Not so with third-party Web browsers. When minimized (with Backgrounder, using the Home button) or when you press the Power button, they continue running. They also result in keeping Wi-Fi connected in when the device is (seemingly) sleeping, resulting in a big hit on the battery life.

I’ve tested the following browsers in this respect (using the latest versions of all of them):

  • iCab Mobile (unfortunately, it also keeps running scripts on a page in another, currently invisible tab. This is also true of Safari, though.)
  • BigBrowser+
  • VanillaSurf
  • Journey Web Browser

All in all:

  1. Make absolutely sure you do keep this in mind when suspending your phone for more than a few minutes with a running third-party browsers. Not many pages use page refreshing; but if there is any page you keep currently open (in any tab), it’ll result in the Wi-Fi connection being kept open. If you do know a given page does this, kill it (either close its tab or load, say, Google instead) before suspending your iPhone.
  2. Make sure you do close other, currently invisible tabs if you do know in one/some of them there’s a page continuously fetching new data / refreshing itself. You can easily see this based on the “clock” and the given page’s refreshes.

Note that tomorrow I also post some YouTube videos showing all these in practice. Not today as it’s pretty late in here and I need to upload some 200 Mbyte hi-res stuff to YouTube, which can’t be done quickly.

UPDATE (8/26/2009 18:16 CET): as promised, I've updated the videos showing the suspension behaviour of Safari and iCab Mobile.

The first video shows Safari rendering the test page. Before starting it (at 05:00), you can clearly see there are no new numbers displayed in the “Tomcat” background window. After starting Safari, a new number is displayed a second. At 09:00, when I pressed Home, the numbers also stopped meaning there’s no background execution when Safari is minimized. When I restarted Safari at 0:14, I had to manually tap the “Refresh” icon to restart execution; before that, even with Safari already running in the foreground, there were no page refreshes (that is, resuming the browser doesn’t automatically restart pages with auto-refreshing code). At 0:19, I’ve minimized Safari again to check any kinds of page refreshes are suspended. At 0:22, I resumed Safari and, at 0:24, I’ve tapped the refresh icon to restart execution. Immediately after this (at 0:26), I’ve suspended the entire iPhone by pressing the Power button. As you can see, the flood of new numbers stopped, meaning suspended execution. At 0:30, I resumed the phone and at 0:32, by tapping the Refresh icon, I resumed the execution of the Web page; this is why it’s only then that the Tomcat window in the background started displaying new numbers. After this, I re-tested the execution suspension at 0:38 when minimizing Safari by pressing the Home button (and restarted execution at 0:43). At 0:45, I re-tested suspension by pressing the Power button (suspending the entire phone).

The second video shows Safari continuing to execute page refreshes when you open a new tab. Right at the beginning, I started executing the script; immediately after that, I’ve tapped the “Tabs” icon in the lower right corner and created a new tab by tapping “New tab” in the lower left corner. After this, I just waited still to see the execution to go on. (See the rolling numbers in the Tomcat window in the background Tomcat window.)

The third video shows iCab’s NOT suspending execution when minimized (with Backgrounder) / the entire phone is suspended. At 0:04, I suspended the phone; as you can see, the Tomcat window still shows activity. That is, iCab still continued executing the code (and also kept the Wi-Fi connection active, which is, otherwise, deactivated when suspending the iPhone.) After this, I resumed the phone and, at 0:14 (note the “Backgrounding enabled” status message), I’ve minimized it by long-pressing Home. The flood of the new status messages didn’t stop at this, unlike with Safari. Note that this video doesn’t have any demonstration of iCab’s behavior when executing the web page in a background tab (it does the same as Safari; that is, it keeps these pages executing.)

UPDATE (9/27/2009 22:16 CET):

The new version, 1.3, of Journey has just been released with the following changes:

That is, there have been several (welcome) changes; therefore, I’ve given it a very thorough ride to see whether it can be recommended more than iCab Mobile, the current king of iPhone Web browsers. In a word: no.

The biggest problem with this browser, the stuttering animation, which is pretty annoying even on the super-fast 3G S, is really a problem – particularly on earlier (and much slower) iPhone models. That is, while you may want to prefer giving it a try on the 3G S (if you absolutely hate iCab Mobile or you’re absolutely sure you do need the easiest way of iterating between tabs), if you “only” have an iPhone 2G or 3G, stay aay from it. The kinetic scrolling is really marred by the stuttering – even as of the current version. This, in my opinion, is really annoying – not only with Journey, but also with a lot of other Web browsers.

It also has some other, annoying problems and limitations. For example, if you tap a link in full screen mode, there isn’t any visible feedback on whether this has been successful and the page is indeed being loaded. In iCab Mobile, you see in these cases a clock in the upper left and a progress bar at the bottom. With Journey, there isn’t anything like this – you simply can’t know whether anything is loaded until it’s actually displayed (or switch back to non-fullscreen mode).

Some additional screenshots of the entire Settings (invokable by touching the screen with three fingers at the same time) showing, for example, the just-added User-Agent rewriting capabilities:



All in all - stay with iCab Mobile - it's capable of everything that Journey is - and a lot more.

UPDATE (10/19/2009):

1. The most important piece of news is that, at last, the built-in Safari Web browser has received an add-on tool that makes it possible to completely disable loading images (to speed up loading or and/or lowering data use). This, so far, hasn’t been possible with the browser – all you could do was using third-party Web compression / script and image removal services like Skweezer. Or, of course, use an alternative Web browsers supporting disabling images; for example, iCab Mobile.

The tool, ImaSafari, is free and is only available via Cydia. This, unfortunately, means you will need to jailbreak your phone to get access to it. Please see THIS for links to some 3.1.2 jailbreaing tutorials.

To install it, in Cydia, enter “ImaSafari” to search for:

The main page of the utility (you’ll, of course, see “Install” instead of “Modify” in the upper right corner; you’ll need to tap it in order to install the app)

2. Mango Browser has also received some updates:

3. So did BOLT. Nevertheless, neither Mango Browser nor BOLT are worth even checking out. They certainly can’t hold a candle to iCab Mobile, currently the best .

4. Note that there is another Web browser out there, MyDesktop (iTunes link). After carefully evaluating it and discussing the matter with the developer, I’ve opted for not to review it yet. When a new version is released with new functionalities, I might publish a review.

UPDATE (10/24/2009):

1. Perfect Browser has been updated:


It seems a complete review & re-evaluation is in order.

2. I’ve also spent quite a lot of time with the $2 iNetDual, which was released after first publishing my roundup (this is why the roundup doesn’t discuss it) and found it pretty interesting. Particularly the scriptlet support is considerably better than in any else browser; for example, it has a built-in mini-editor for them. In addition, you can instruct scriptlets to do anything with the currently selected (no copying / pasting is necessary) word(s). This is way superior to how iCab (and other browsers) work. Furthermore, you can freely put the icons of your scriplets next to the address bar.

It also supports mass downloading of images in a given Web page (and even on pages directly linked from it). There’s also folder (here, they’re called ‘categories’) support in the app; one of these folders makes sure the links in the folder are automatically displayed in the upper bar. You can assign two categories to each bookmark.

However, it has major drawbacks too when compared to iCab Mobile; for example, the lack of any kind of download manager; lack of more than two tabs (nevertheless, at least here you can open a link in the other tab); lack of any kind of address auto-completion (there’s, however, a history section in the bookmarks) and even the lack of real full screen mode (you can only hide the address bar – by default, with a shake towards you – but not the lower one). That is, it does surely have some disadvantages, which still keep me from recommending it as the new iCab Mobile-killer. Nevertheless, the scripting capabilities / support is very nice; hope either iCab Mobile comes up with something similar or iNetDual receives the same goodies (multiple tabs, download manager, real full screen mode etc.) as iCab Mobile.

Some screenshots:

A sample page (that of Digital Chocolate)


After downloading all the images of the above page, this is how they look in in Pictures


It’s in this menu that you can instruct iNetDual download all the images of the current Web page (or all the Web pages linked to from it)

Image downloading/ saving in action; it can take quite a lot of time


Browse history (again, there’s no address bar auto-complete at all; that is, this is the only way to re-visit already visited pages)


Editing a bookmark; here, it’s a scriptlet. At the bottom, you can see the (individual) category setter lists; next to the bookmark URL, there’ s a right arrow taking you to the scriptlet editor shown in the next screenshot:

When adding / editing a bookmark and deciding where it should belong to, you don’t need to stick with the pre-defined category names, but can also define your own; here, it’s “myowncategory”:

A quick shot of the bookmark folders: as you can see, the new tag is indeed put in there:

The system-level Settings with fine-tunable, among other things, image downloading parameters:

It’s also here that you can fine-tune what shaking towards the X, Y and Z-axis should do:

This is the functionality you can assign to each of the three shaking directions:

UPDATE (10/25/2009 15:40 CET):

As I promised yesterday, I’ve pretty thoroughly scrutinized Perfect Browser (iTunes link HERE). It has indeed become a decent app; however, in my opinion, it still can’t really compete with iCab Mobile; nevertheless, it’s pretty close and is indeed worth checking out.

1. In-text search has been made much faster. Note that, however, it’s been entirely made by scriptlets (see my dedicated article HERE). Unfortunately, this also means it completely messes up HTML if it finds hits inside HTML markup tags (and not plain text). Two examples showing this:


Other iPhone browsers (including iCab Mobile) also having built-in text search don’t have this problem.

2. On-screen tabs have been added, which is great news for anyone liking them (personally, I don’t as they take up valuable screen estate, particularly in landscape orientation – and have never preferred browsers (e.g., NetFront on Symbian / Windows Mobile or the current early beta of Opera Mini 5) on other mobile platforms). You can also open a link (by tap-and-holding it) in a new tab.

I find the following problems with the multitab / multidocument approach of the browser:

  • It’s pretty easy to close a tab inadvtartedly by tapping the cross in the upper right corner; this is particularly true with the last opened one when opening a new tab by hand (as the “New tab” tab is dangerously closely put to the “Close” cross of the last tab)
  • There’s no “Open in a background tab” functionality. Sure, on-screen tabs make it possible to much more quickly switch back to the original page (even counting in the time needed to scroll the tabs if there’re too many of them); nevertheless, this approach is still more time-consuming than the one followed by, among other browsers, iCab Mobile.
  • Adding insult to injury, you need to wait until the system-level link context menu comes up if you would like to prefer opening the new page in a new tab. In iCab Mobile, if you select “Ask” instead of the default settings under “Open Links to the same domain…” and “Open Links to other domains…”, you’re shown a context menu right after you tap a link – you don’t need to tap-and-hold the link and wait for the system menu to be displayed.

3. There’s a very nice, new mode called “Hyper Scroll” built-in. You can activate it under + / Activate Hyper Scroll:

It displays a large scrollbar next to the right edge of the screen; with that, you can quickly scroll up and down. This way, you can avoid having to jailbreak your phone to install QuickScroll (2) and/or use scriptlets to quickly scroll, say, to the bottom of the page. (Quick scrolling to the top of the page is supported in non-fullscreen mode.)

Currently, to my knowledge, no other browsers support this kind of built-in quick scroll. The current beta version of iCab Mobile does have the “Touchpad” functionality (a three-fingered tap brings up a large, virtual, transparent “touchpad”, where you can quickly set your position, also seeing where you currently are); however, the currently officially available one (1.7) still lacks this.


The “Touchpad” quick positioning / scrolling feature of the new iCab Mobile

4. There are some other niceties supported by the new version; for example, built-in support for site compression and all the goodies that this also means (for example, drastically reduced data use. Note that there’s no way to just disable loading images, unlike in iCab Mobile and, with the Cydia- based ImaSafari under Safari, though). An example:


(the built-in Settings; enable the uppermost switch to enable compression)

(the same in the current beta of iCab Mobile - note that it's NOT present in the currently available AppStore version!)

(before, also showing the Hyper Scroll vertical scrollbar)

(after)

This is still missing from the currently available, official iCab Mobile version (1.7) – while it has long been implemented (after my explicitly asking for it) in the beta version (1.8.9) under development, using Google Mobilizer (see screenshot above).

5. It also supports scriptlets. Note that it will always display the return value of scriptlets (and this can’t be suppressed); this can be a bit annoying as you need to issue another tap after executing the script:

Some of the important functionalities missing (excellently implemented in iCab):

  • Complete lack of auto-complete
  • Download manager
  • Export / import favorites
  • etc.

Verdict

With all the new functionality, this browser has become a decent alternative to iCab Mobile. If you don’t miss the missing functionality, you may really want to give it a try. I, myself, stick with iCab as I still find it better (particularly because I also have the current beta version, which is substantially better than the currently available AppStore version, 1.7); nevertheless, you may want to give it a try – you won’t lose much ($1) if you find it insufficient.

UPDATE (10/28/2009): Frontpage at iPhoneMVP.com

Let me show you the picture accompanying the iPhone MVP article:

No comments are needed ;-)

UPDATE (11/28/2009 2:48 CET):

Just like with my Multiplayer Gaming Bible (see THIS), I’ve been working on a brand new, up-to-date, way more comprehensible version of the entire article.

So far, I’ve finished updating and heavily extending the new chart (it’s HERE; for comparison, the old one, dating back to June, is HERE). Most of its contents are final (there may be some changes I’ll do) and it also has the same dynamic column hiding mechanism I’ve first implemented in the chart of the Multiplayer Gaming Bible. That is, if you untick a checkbox at the top, the given column (here: they belong to browsers) will be completely hidden. ou will frequently want to do so as I've listed and compared some 19(!) Web browsers for the platform.

I will hopefully be able to publish the new version of the entire article this weekend. However, in the meantime, feel free to scrutinize (and comment on) the new chart. It has a LOT of new and great information.

UPDATE (29/11/2009):

a full tutorial to the recently-released "Safari Download Manager" has been posted to http://www.iphonelife.com/blog/87/tutorial-download-any-files-inside-safari-other-tips   

UPDATE (12/01/2009):

1. Some hours ago, I’ve posted an entire tutorial to adding scriplets. In addition, the new article has a lot of additional goodies:

  • Find in page with the long-awaited Next functionality (!)
  • New versions of the lifeclever.com scriptlets deployable right on the iPhone, even in Safari
  • A complete report on all (scriptlet-capable) iPhone Web browsers’ compliance of handling purely Javascript (clickable) links (that is, ones that don’t start with http:// but with javascript: )
  • Another scriptlet that increases the distance between text rows (excellent for pages messed up by the earlier "make text bigger" scriptlet)

Please see THIS.

2. lately, the Oceanus Web browser (iTunes link) has received a lot of great features. While I still don’t consider it as good as iCab Mobile (the, in my opinion, currently best Web browser for the iPhone), it’s certainly getting closer, which is also reflected in my recently-rewritten chart. The just-released 3.1 version boasts the following (the second screenshot shows the 3.0 updates):


UPDATE (12/12/2009): before I publish the fully updated and rewritten Web browser bible, let me recommend another: I’ve just published a huge tutorial on utilizing multitabs to their full potential. Please see http://www.iphonelife.com/blog/87/multitab-web-browser-videos

 

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Werner Ruotsalainen is an iOS and Java programming lecturer who is well-versed in programming, hacking, operating systems, and programming languages. Werner tries to generate unique articles on subjects not widely discussed. Some of his articles are highly technical and are intended for other programmers and coders.

Werner also is interested in photography and videography. He is a frequent contributor to not only mobile and computing publications, but also photo and video forums. He loves swimming, skiing, going to the gym, and using his iPads. English is one of several languages he speaks.