- A tad faster than Safari
- Offers tabbed browsing
- Custom gestures are easy and accurate
- Can download files
- Built in Twitter, Facebook, and RSS support
- Can't import Safari bookmarks
- Twitter and Facebook clients are limited compared to standalone apps
- Doesn't support many of the features that Dolphin offers on other platforms
- No native iPad version
Once you've tried Dolphin, you may never go back to using the iPhone's built-in Safari web browser. Thanks to its speedy performance, unseen-in-Safari features, and general power, Dolphin is well ahead of the already-very-good Safari.
Tabs and Fullscreen
The Dolphin browser may start from the same foundation as Safari--Apple's WebKit web browser engine--but from there it layers on many features that differentiate it from Safari and make it more like a desktop than a mobile browser.
Dolphin offers tabbed browsing, as opposed to Safari's multiple windows. Though functionally the tabs aren't hugely different from windows, being able to swipe across the list of tabs to select new ones, rather than having to tap the window button, swipe, and select (as in Safari) is a nice touch.
Also nice is Dolphin's fullscreen mode, which removes all the extraneous items--browser bar, bottom buttons, etc.--from the screen to give the website you're viewing more room to breathe. This allows Dolphin to make better use of the limited screen real estate on the iPhone and iPod touch. As a result of removing those buttons, though, you have to exit fullscreen mode to do much of anything other than tapping links and reading pages.
To make getting to sites quick, Dolphin includes what it calls Speed Dial options--buttons that are shortcuts to your favorite websites. Safari offers something similar in the form of Web Clips, but those live outside the browser, not in it like Speed Dial.
It would be nice, though, if Dolphin could import my Safari bookmarks or let me create bookmarks that have two words in them (there's no space bar available when naming a new bookmark).
One Fast Dolphin
Since they use the same engine, you might assume that Safari and Dolphin perform at the same speed. It turns out, though, that Dolphin is slightly faster. I tested both browsers over Wi-Fi and 3G on my iPhone 4 and found the following:
Speed on Wi-Fi
Speed is in seconds to load the full desktop (not mobile) page, Dolphin is listed first.
- Apple.com: 5 vs. 5
- CNN.com: 5 vs. 6
- ESPN.com: 6 vs. 5
- HoopsHype.com/Rumors.html: 5 vs. 6
- iPod.About.com: 3 vs. 4
Speed on 3G
Speed is in seconds to load the page, Dolphin is listed first.
- Apple.com: 4 vs. 7
- CNN.com: 7 vs. 7
- ESPN.com: 6 vs. 6
- HoopsHype.com/Rumors.html: 5 vs. 5
- iPod.About.com: 5 vs. 7
As you can see, Dolphin isn't hugely faster (though over 3G it does load some sites a second or two faster), but it does have a slight edge in many cases.
It Does What Safari Doesn't
The things that really help Dolphin stand apart from Safari, though, are the things it does that Safari doesn't. These include allowing you to download files to a file manager and then open them in compatible apps (Safari allows the same choice of what app to open the file with, but it doesn't allow the file to be saved in the browser's Downloads area), the ability to restore tabs from your last session if the browser crashes, and swiping from the left of the screen to access bookmarks and the right to access other features.
Among those other feature are built-in Twitter and Facebook clients--these won't replace dedicated apps since they lack features like @ replies, direct messages, and posting images, but they're nice to have--and gestures.
Gestures is probably the most unusual--and neat--feature of Dolphin. Tap the gesture button and a window appears for you to draw in. Choose either from the list of built-in gestures, or create your own, and when you draw them in the window, they trigger actions. Whether that's jumping to the top of the page, bookmarking a site, or loading a specific web page, gestures make it happen.
Ideally you'd be able to draw gestures at any point in using the browser, rather than having to pull up the gestures window, but perhaps that will come later. For now, gestures are a pretty cool add-on, and are pretty hard to fool. I spent a decent amount of time intentionally drawing the wrong gestures or bad versions of them and Dolphin was pretty intelligent about either loading the right one or, when it couldn't tell what I was drawing, not loading any at all (much better, in my opinion, than loading the wrong thing). It's certainly not foolproof when it comes to interpreting gestures, but it's very good.
The Bottom Line
Dolphin is the most comprehensive and powerful iPhone web browser I've used (as of Sept. 2011). If you've ever felt like Safari doesn't do enough, or have just been interested in seeing what else is out there, give Dolphin a try. There's a good chance it will become your new first-choice browser.
What You’ll Need