A couple of weeks ago I was talking with another legal technology colleague about the iPad and I mentioned using a browser other than Safari - he asked, "so there are browsers other than Safari for the iPad?" His question made me decide to visit various iPad browsers, compare their features, and declare my own winner. So get ready for "Browser Week" on iPad 4 Lawyers - I'll feature 5 browsers over the course of the next few days, and on Thursday wrap it all up.
The five browsers I'll be covering are those that I have most recently used, and I like them all. In the past year I have tried a couple of other browsers, including Mercury. I also have both Skyfire and Photon browsers for those times I need to view Flash-enabled websites - but I have to admit that doesn't happen very often. I hardly use those browsers at all anymore.
So what features are important to me in an iPad browser? Generally, the same features I like in the browser I use on my desktop and laptop computers - right now, I use the Chrome browser on my other computers - it's fast, pretty minimalist in design, and easy to use. Here are the main features I'll be looking for in the iPad browsers:
- Bookmarks Bar
- Sharing Capabilities
- Private Browsing
- Synchronization of Bookmarks and Settings
- Other Cool Features
I'm going to assume that all browsers give you the ability to clear your History/Cookies/Cache, and all of them have tabbed browsing - so those areas won't be evaluated. I'm going to rank each feature on a 1-10 scale, so 80 is a perfect score. Let's get started!
I used Safari as a browser for a long time, and there's no way you can make another browser app the "default" browser for the iPad - so you're going to be using it anytime you click on a link on your iPad (unless an app has a special "open in [X] browser" option).
The original version of Safari was pretty basic, but in iOS 5 it was upgraded to compete with a lot of the other iPad browsers on the market. However, it's still the most basic in terms of options and customization.
Bookmarks Bar: when you save a bookmark in Safari, you can choose to save it in the standard Bookmarks list, or on the Bookmarks Bar. I like this feature a lot, because I don't have to go through a lot of steps to get to a site I want to see. Score = 10
Customization: This is the area where I think Safari lags behind a lot of other browsers. To customize Safari, you'll need to go into Settings, then Safari. You get the minimum options I would want to see in a browser, but not much more. Score = 2
Sharing: there are not a lot of sharing features built into Safari. Here are your options:
You can share by email or Twitter, or you can add it to your own Reading List, which is built into the iPad. You can also install a "bookmarklet" in the Bookmarks Bar, which will then send the page you're reading to a specific service - I have a "Read Later" bookmarklet set up to send articles to Instapaper (see below). Beyond that, not many more options for sharing. Score = 3
Search: In Safari's settings, you can choose between three search engines: Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. Score = 3
Private Browsing: You can enable Private Browsing in Settings-->Safari. Score = 10
Synchronization: You can use iCloud to sync your Safari bookmarks. You can also sync the iOS Safari with Safari on your Mac, or Internet Explorer on your PC. Score = 8
Cool Features: Safari is the least "cool" browser in this competition - it's a good, basic browser tool, but there's just not much that's interesting about it. Score = 0
Total Score for Safari: 45 (out of 80)
Until recently, Atomic was my browser of choice - I still think it's among the most powerful of the iPad browser alternatives.
Speed: Most of the time, Atomic is a very fast browser. Sometimes it gets a little slow, but not very often. Score = 8
Bookmarks Bar: Like Safari, you can save bookmarks to a bookmarks bar. Score = 10
Customization: Atomic *rocks* with customization options. When you press the Settings button, here's what you see:
Look at all these settings, and you're not actually even at the real settings page! To get there, press the Settings button at the bottom of this menu.
This screenshot only shows about half of the settings - it divides setting up into General Settings, User Interface, Actions, and Other Controls. The options here are truly impressive. Score = 10
Sharing: When you press the + button, you can see the default sharing options: Email, Facebook, and Twitter. If you go to Settings-->Find Bookmark Scripts (under Actions), you can also install scripts to save pages or articles in Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, and Delicious. Score = 6
Search: By default, Atomic allows you to set one of the following as your default search engine: Google, Amazon, Bing, eBay, Wikipedia, Yahoo, or YouTube. But that's not all - under Actions in the Settings area, press Find Search Engines and you can add up to 20 other search tools - Ask.com, How Stuff Works, IMDB, UPS/USPS Tracking Numbers, and many more. Score = 10
Private Browsing: As you can see above, the Settings button has Enable Private Mode as its first option. Score = 10
Synchronization: Atomic has no built-in synchronization options. Score = 0
Cool Features: I don't even have room to show the number of cool options in the Settings area, but the User Interface is pretty cool - you can set a color theme, enable full screen options, set up specific actions for finger gestures, and a lot more. There's a download manager that will keep track of the files you download with the browser; you can also set Atomic up with your Dropbox account, so files you download are automatically sent to a Dropbox folder. Score = 8
Total Score for Atomic: 62 (out of 80)
That's it for today - tomorrow I'll put two more web browsers to the test, and see how they stack up against Safari and Atomic. Stay tuned!