Mobile Safari has it’s good points, but there are several places where it leaves a lot to be desired. There are speed issues when loading, the lack of any real multitasking (resulting in windows constantly reloading when you exit the app and return), no background tab or window loading, etc., etc., etc. To compound these issues, the last few iPad versions of Safari (including the current one) are unstable at the best of times, their regular crashes making browsing a chore.
There are several Safari alternatives for iOS, all if them trying to overcome the shortcomings of the stock iPhone and iPad browser. The best of the lot, however, considering features, usability, and price, is Atomic Web Browser.
Atomic Web Browser has been around since December of 2009 and while it has floated back and forth between $0.99 and $1.99, it has held steady at $0.99 for nearly a year. It also has a Lite version which has nearly all of the same features, but for $0.99, getting niceties like the ability to set a homepage isn’t a bad deal. Anyone who’s read my work on 40Tech before knows that’s high praise, too. It takes a lot to get me to shell out money if I don’t have to, and I’ve found it to be completely worth my while so far.
It used to be that Atomic and other mobile Safari alternatives were sought after for real tabbed browsing and the ability to switch User Agents and view mobile pages as if they were served on a full-sized computer. Those are minor features these days, and Atomic has become useful for so much more. Here are the highlights (go here for the full list):
- Load tabs in background
- True multitasking
- Share links on Facebook and Twitter
- Configurable swipe and tap gestures
- Save pages for offline viewing
- Download manager with Dropbox, iTunes and email support
- Import/Export bookmarks
- Jump to top/bottom of web pages
- Change and lock font-size for specific sites
- Full-screen browsing with configurable buttons
- Launch homepage, last session, or last viewed
- Bookmarklet that sends pages to Atomic Web Browser from Safari
There are a ton of other features as well, such as setting the colour of the browser, ad block, private mode, air print, web compression (for faster browsing), search engine plugins, on-page search, view page source code, and more.
There are a few other browsers that compare with Atomic, the closest in both price and features being Mercury Browser, which I have been using on my iPhone for the past while. Mercury Browser is almost identical in features and has a few interesting possibilities like a library of common bookmarklets that can be installed (which is a bit buggy), a bookmarks springboard, and speed-dial-like dashboard for your favourite sites.
Mercury Browser’s extra features are great, and combine well with an interesting and pretty interface to make for fantastic browser, but I find that Atomic is easier to navigate. The Atomic Web Browser’s look and feel is more minimalist and straightforward in its approach, and for me — and more importantly, my wife — that translates into a better overall experience. Both have free and very functional Lite versions, though, so you should give them a try to see what suits you better.
What’s your favourite browser for iOS?