Review: Mobile Browsers Challenge Safari’s Dominance

Thu, 04/15/2010 - 10:41am
Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

Opera Default ViewFor years, Apple rejected iPhone apps for “duplicate functionality” (apps that resembled default Apple software like Safari, iTunes, etc.). Thus, well-reviewed apps like MailWrangler (which duplicated the iPhone’s built-in mail app) and Podcaster (which duplicated iTunes’ podcast functionality) were forthwith denied. Color me surprised, then, that Apple recently approved a slew of browser apps. I had the chance to play with two of those: Opera Mini Browser and Perfect Browser 3.

Of the two, Perfect Browser is far superior. With its generous display and tabs functionality, PB comes closest to duplicating a desktop browser. The default view resembles Safari’s, but the toolbar on the bottom adds options like “search” and “fullscreen.” And as mentioned, the tabs in PB (situated below the address bar) closely approximate a desktop browser. With Safari, you need to click on the tab icon on the toolbar, and bring up a separate menu.

Perfect Browser has two options that really set it apart. As its name implies, “Hyper Scroll” adds a giant scrollbar to the right, making it a cinch to speed through a long webpage without lots of swiping. “Web Compression” makes any page WAP-enabled. Most popular sites have mobile-friendly versions, but others require lots of swiping and “pinching.” Web Compression eliminates most pictures, tables, and formatting from a page, making it load faster, and in a more accessible format. Observe the “before” and “after” below—standard display and with Web Compression.

Web Compression Comparison

Opera Mini Browser has a similar compression tool with “Mobile View.” But the overall rendering is poor—if a page isn’t WAP-enabled, the text is completely unreadable, even with the font set to “large.” WAP-enabled pages like Facebook are the opposite—large and clunky (see pictures). By contrast, Perfect Browser (and Safari) strikes the perfect balance between size and accessibility.

Facebook Comparison

My only complaint with Perfect Browser is that it doesn’t seem possible to bookmark pages onto the home screen (though this may be a limitation imposed by Apple).

We may never know why Apple approved browser apps that could conceivably be labeled “duplicate functionality.” In all likelihood, they could suddenly disappear one day. Either way, Perfect Browser is an excellent alternative to Safari. As of now, you can download PB for $0.99 from the App Store. Opera is a free download. I suppose you get what you pay for.


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