Over the past two days we have taken a look at four of the most popular browsers for the iPad, and ranked them based on criteria I believe is important for a valuable browsing experience on the iPad. Before we declare a winner, however, there are two more contenders to review.
I wasn't originally going to review Opera, but on Tuesday someone mentioned it to me on Twitter, so I thought I would take a look. I suppose I have blinders on about Opera - it has always seemed to me an also-ran in the desktop browser race: a good, solid browser, but nothing to really get excited about. For me, anyway, the iPad app feels much the same.
Speed: Of all the browsers I reviewed, Opera seems the slowest, by a lot. When I first installed it, I couldn't get to any site - it kept timing out. I uninstalled and reinstalled the app, and while it started working again, it takes a lot longer to get pages to load. This may be, as I have been told, because Opera's iPad version is basically a proxy to its servers. Whatever the reason, the experience slower than the others. Score = 5
Bookmarks Bar: No bookmarks bar here - in fact, although Opera claims to have tabbed browsing, the "tabs" here work differently than all the other browsers. I would expect tabs to be visible - after all, they're tabs. With Opera, you need to press a button to access all the available tabs - it's just one more button to press, but that's still one more than the other browsers. You can save favorite pages on Opera's Start Page (also known as Speed Dial), but as I've mentioned before, I would prefer a visible, directly accessible bookmarks bar. Score = 7
Customization: Not much in the way of customization here, seemingly less than Safari or Chrome. Score = 2
Sharing: Again, similar to Safari and Chrome - you can share to Facebook, Twitter, My Opera, or by email, but that's about it. Score = 3
Search: Google is the only standard search engine offered in Opera. You can also use the search bar to search Amazon, eBay, or Wikipedia, but no other search engines. There's an area where you can Manage Search Engines, and there is room to add more search engines...but no actual mechanism to add them. Score = 3
Private Browsing: I think Opera is the only browser without a Private Browsing feature. If it has one, I can't find it. You can clear your browsing history, passwords, and cookies, but all the other browsers allow that too. Score = 0
Synchronization: The Opera iPad browser offers a connection to Opera Link, which synchronizes your bookmarks, Speed Dial and search engines between all Opera-installed computers. Score = 8
Cool Features: I hate to say it, but I can't find anything about this browser that stands out as cool to me. It's an average browser, with below-average features. If you are a fan of Opera on your desktop, then you'll probably like it more than I do. Score = 0
Total Score for Opera Mini: 28 (out of 80 - yikes!)
Google is the latest to the iPad browser fray, and it comes with a lot of street cred. I use Chrome as my primary desktop/laptop browser, and I much prefer it to either Internet Explorer or Firefox. Will it provide me with the same great experience on the iPad? Let's find out:
Speed: I've seen some reviews complaining about Chrome speed, but so far I think it's pretty zippy. Probably not as fast as Dolphin, but definitely better than the others. Score = 9
Bookmarks Bar: Like Dolphin, it's a bit hard to score this one. Unlike its desktop counterpart, there's no visible bookmarks bar. However, when you open a new tab, you get automatic access to your Most Visited Sites, and a push of a button brings you to all of your bookmarks. So, not as convenient as having a bookmarks bar at the top, but better than nothing. Score = 7
Customization: Alas, iPad Chrome - where are your desktop settings? Granted, the settings in the desktop version aren't amazing, but they're pretty good - they give you everything you need to get under the hood and make changes. With the iPad version, you get very few options for customizing the browser. Score = 2
Sharing: Believe it or not, Chrome has the worst sharing settings of any mobile browser I've reviewed. The only way to share a web page is by email - you would think that a browser from Google would at least allow you to share out to Google+. Score = 1
Search: When the browser comes from a search provider, would you expect more or fewer search options? If you guessed fewer, you'd be right - Chrome offers the same three search engines as Safari - Google, Yahoo! and Bing. Score = 3
Private Browsing - The iPad version of Chrome uses Google's "Incognito" feature directly from the main menu - just select New Incognito* Tab from the menu, and anything you do on that tab won't appear in your browser or search history, and won't leave cookies behind. Score = 10
Synchronization: Finally, an area in which Google excels! It's probably because I'm a Google user, but being able to sync to my desktop Chrome browser is insanely useful. Within seconds after connecting to my Google account, I had access to all of my bookmarks on my other computers - even the bookmarks I keep on my desktop Bookmarks Bar. Even better, just press on the Other devices button, and you will see a listing of those sites that are currently open in any other instances of Chrome. Yes, Chrome only syncs with Google - but since that's what I use, I'm going to give it a slightly higher rating than the other browsers - it's my contest, after all. Score = 10
Cool Features: If Google really wanted a high score from me in this category, it should offer access to its great library of extensions, like I have on the desktop version. Extensions make Chrome so much more useful, by bringing the power of other services into the browser, where they can work together to provide a benefit. Unfortunately, no extensions for iPad Chrome (yet), and not much else in the way of cool features. Other than the synchronization features, which are cool, this is just a pretty average browser. Score = 2
Total Score for Chrome = 44 (out of 80)
I can't believe that Google score less than Safari - I actually prefer Chrome to Safari because of its synchronization options. Unfortunately, it comes in a dead last in my less-than-scientific matchup.
So, Who's the Winner?
After the scores are tallied, the winner is.....iCabMobile!
Keep in mind that these scores are based on my own judgments about the browsers I reviewed, and you may have completely different experiences with the iPad browser you use I hope, however, that some of this information will prove helpful when figuring out the best browser to use on your iPad.
So which browser is your favorite? Sound off in the comments.