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Battle of the iPad Browsers - We Crown a Champion

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.

Opera Mini

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

Opera's Main Menu; Tabs are handled to the left of the address bar (I have 3 open)

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 Chrome

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

Tabs currently open on my desktop Chrome.

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.


Battle of the iPad Browsers - Day 2

We're on to Day 2 of our Battle of the iPad Browsers.  Yesterday we took a look at the Safari and Atomic web browsers - today will see a match between two of my favorite iPad browsers - Dolphin and iCabMobile. As with yesterday, the criteria I'll be using are:

  • Speed
  • Bookmarks Bar
  • Customization
  • Sharing Capabilities
  • Search
  • Private Browsing
  • Synchronization of Bookmarks and Settings
  • Other Cool Features


Speed:  I started using the Dolphin browser a few months ago, and the first thing I noticed about it was its speed - it's really lightning-fast on my iPad.  Although we have to assume Safari will be fast because it's baked-in to the iPad, I still think Dolphin is faster.  Score = 10.

Bookmarks Bar: I'm not sure how to score this one.  Dolphin does not have the same bookmarks bar as Safari, Atomic, or iCabMobile. However, it does have a "Speed Dial" on its Home screen, which you can set up with 8-10 favorite sites.  I would prefer my bookmarks be on the main browsing screen, so I don't have to keep going back to the Home Screen to get to my favorites.  Score = 7.

Customization:  With a few notable exceptions (see Cool Features, below), the Settings in Dolphin are comparable to Safari - not very extensive.  In fact, the Dolphin settings menu is almost identical to the Safari settings menu, and leaves a lot to be desired.  Score = 3.

Sharing:  Dolphin also has very few sharing options, just like Safari,  There's a Share Page option, but you can only share with two services:  Facebook and Twitter. You can also share a link by email.  Score = 3.

Search:  Dolphin offers four search options:  Google, Yahoo!, Bing, and Wikipedia.  The address bar also serves as your search box, which is nice.  But compared to Atomic, the options here are below average. Score = 4.

Private Browsing:  To browse without tracks, you can enable Private Mode in Settings.  You cannot save passwords or restore tabs in Private Mode.  Score = 10.

Synchronization: With the Dolphin Connect service, you can sync your bookmarks between the iPad and the Chrome browser on the desktop (this only works with Chrome right now).  Score = 8

Cool Features:  Yesterday, I gave Atomic an 8 in this category because of all the options it offers.  I'm going to give the same score to Dolphin today, even though it doesn't offer quite as many options.  But there are a couple of interesting features worth mentioning.  The first is the Home Screen, which is divided into two areas:  Speed Dial, which offers quick access to your favorite sites, and Webzine, which creates a Flipboard-like magazine page of stories from a number of sites, including TechCrunch, National Geographic, ESPN, and more.

Another really cool feature is the ability to create gestures that help you navigate the browser.  Just press the hand symbol and you'll get a touch pad where you can enter a gesture with your finger. Press the gear in the lower right to get a listing of your current gestures.

When you press the Create Gesture button from this screen, you'll see that you can automate a bunch of different actions:  create a tab, close a tab, add a bookmark, search a web page, copy the page URL, and much more.  Creating a gesture is easy, and is a really nice way to get around the browser.  When you combine this with the Home Page, the ability to handle downloads, and other features, I'm changing my mind, and giving a higher score here.  Score = 10

Total Score for Dolphin:  55 (out of 80)


I just started using iCabMobile in the past few weeks, and it has quickly become my favorite browser.

Speed:  While not as fast as Dolphin or Safari, the speed is decent for a tablet browser.  Score = 8.

Bookmarks Bar:  iCabMobile has a bookmarks bar just below the address bar.  In addition, there's a tool called Quickstarter in the bookmarks bar, which is just another fast way to get to web pages you want to save.  Score = 10.

Customization:  Atomic is the only serious competitor to iCabMobile in this category - the customization features are just tremendous:  below is a shot of the Settings screen, with only a portion of the General Settings visible.

There are even more options in the Open In... menu in the upper-left of the browser window, making iCabMobile just about the most feature-rich browser out there right now.  Score = 10.

Sharing:  iCabMobile's sharing options are far and away the best of any browser I use; for me, this is what sets iCabMobile apart from the other browsers.  Here are the different ways you can share, or send web pages to other services:

  • Save to Amazon Wishlist
  • Convert an online media clip to a downloadable format
  • Clip to Evernote (my personal favorite)
  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Share to Google+
  • Add to Instapaper
  • Convert to PDF
  • Open in GoodReader
  • Pin on Pinterest
  • Add to Pocket
  • Save to Readability
  • Create a shortened URL for the page
  • Bookmark on Delicious
  • Convert to ePub
  • Bookmark on Pinboard

And I didn't even list all the options.  If I could give a 20 for this category, I would.  As it is, iCabMobile gets a 10 for Sharing.  Score = 10.

Search:  iCabMobile offers 12 search engines, which is better than Safari/Dolphin, but not quite as comprehensive as Atomic.  Score = 9

Private Browsing:  iCabMobile offers Private Browsing from the General Settings screen.  It also provides a "Guest Mode," if you want others to use your browser without getting into your saved sites. Score = 10

Synchronization:  If you use the Firefox browser, you can use the Firefox Sync extension to sync your iCabMobile bookmarks.  Score = 8.  (Note:  for those browsers that offer synchronization, I am hesitant to give a 10 to any browser that only syncs with one desktop browser - thus, that's why so far all the apps that sync only rate an 8).

Cool Features: Like Atomic, what makes iCabMobile a cool browser is the sheer number of options; there aren't any "wow" features that I haven't already mentioned.  So I'll give it the same score as Atomic.  Score = 8

Total Score for iCabMobile = 73 (out of 80)

One more browser left to judge, and we'll take a look at it tomorrow - along with the final scores for all browsers in each category.  Stay tuned!


Battle of the iPad Browsers - Day 1

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:

  • Speed
  • Bookmarks Bar
  • Customization
  • Sharing Capabilities
  • Search
  • 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.

Speed:  Safari is probably the fastest browser, which is Apple's advantage - it uses the Nitro version of javascript, so it's going to be faster anyway. Score = 9

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)

Atomic Web Browser

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 -, 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!


On the Lecture Circuit.....

These days, most of the seminars I present are on the iPad, and how lawyers can best use them as a productive tool in their practice.  Over the next few months I'll be giving quite a few talks around the country as well as online.  Here's the rundown:

On Thursday, June 21 I'll be presenting "From Typewriters to Tablets:  Mobile Apps for Attorneys," for the 2012 State Bar of Arizona Annual Convention.  It's at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa.

On Thursday, July 26 I'll be giving a webinar for PIABA, the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association.  As you might guess, the session is titled The iPad for Lawyers, and I'm presenting along with attorney Peter Mougey.  Unfortunately, the webinar is open to PIABA members only.

The very next day Friday, July 27, I'll be presenting at the San Antonio edition of the 35th Annual Advanced Civil Trial Course for the State Bar of Texas.  The topic is "There's an App for That:  Using Technology in the Courtroom," and I'll be presenting with Judge Dan Hinde.

At the 2012 ABA Annual Meeting, I'll be presenting "Developing Your iPractice: How Lawyers are Using the iPhone and iPad" with my good friend Paul Unger.  We'll be speaking on Friday, August 3 from 8:30am to 10:00am, at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, in the Gold Coast Room (Bronze Level, West Tower).  I'll also be signing copies of my two books, iPad in One Hour for Lawyers and iPad Apps in One Hour for Lawyers on Thursday, August 2 at the Law Practice Management Section Booth (#1009) in the EXPO Hall.  I'm excited about this meeting, because the 2nd Edition of iPad in One Hour for Lawyers should be available at that time.

As you can see, I'll be very busy the next month - if you're around during any of these meetings, I'd love to see you!


Security App for the iPad - VirusBarrier

I read a lot of articles and online posts about the iPad - and I mean a lot.  So if you asked me, what kinds of security apps are available for the iPad, last week I would have told you, "I'm just not aware of any - Apple won't provide security services with root access to the device, to make security apps worthwhile." Well, thanks to my LPM friend and colleague Dave Ries, I now know better.

There are certainly more security apps available for the iPhone than iPad, and many of those are only for devices that have been "jailbroken" (removing limitations imposed by Apple to run software not authorized by the folks in Cupertino).  As far as I know right now, there is no malware written for the iPad today - but there are still some tools that can keep you, and the ones with whom you digitally communicate, safe from future threats.

VirusBarrier ($2.99) works as a manual virus scanner for email attachments or other documents you want to save on your iPad.  When I say "manual," that means you have to run the app yourself - it doesn't work automatically, like your average desktop antivirus product.  Once you install the app, it becomes one of the options in your Open In... menu in email.  So if you receive an email attachment you don't recognize and you absolutely have to open it, press down on the attachment until Open In..., appears, and then select VirusBarrier:

The "Open In..." menu in your email app.You'll be taken to the VirusBarrier app, where the document is scanned.

VirusBarrier says the PDF file is A-OK!That's it - that's really all there is to the app.  It's a nice security blanket to have if you absolutely need to open attachments you don't recognize (or even ones you do).  That's not actually all there is, but it's the feature you'll probably use the most.  You can also add a "Remote Location," to scan files in other locations before you decide to download them to your iPad.  Right now you can add a Dropbox or iDisk account, website, and FTP or WebDAV server.  In the image below I added my Dropbox account, and am looking at my folder of Articles.

You can select individual files to scan, or you can select Scan All at the top to scan everything in a folder.  Once you're done, you can press the  button in the upper right to either open the file in another app or send it via email to yourself or others.

The Logs button will show you a listing of all the apps you've scanned recently, and the results of each scan:

For $2.99 you get a years' worth of malware definitions - presumably I'll need to pony up another $2.99 this time next year.  You can configure the app to automatically update the definitions daily, weekly, or monthly - the updates will occur on schedule, the next time you connect to a wireless network.

In all, I really like VirusBarrier - it's pretty basic, but that's really all you need for a little extra peace of mind.  Like I said before, there's currently no known malware for the iPad - but VirusBarrier can definitely protect you from passing on an infected file - nothing like being known as the "Typhoid Mary of iPad users" to ruin one's reputation.....