- Best fullscreen mode I've seen on an iPhone browser so far
- Gesture support
- Imports bookmarks
- Gestures can be buggy
- Download manager seems not to work
- Occasional rendering problems
- Taps sometimes don't seem to register with the app
- Alternative themes are unappealing
Mercury is another alternative iPhone web browser vying for Safari's crown. In one area--speed--Mercury handily bests Safari. And while it offers many features Safari doesn't, bugs and a generally unrefined feeling mean that as of this writing (version 5.0; Sept. 2011) Safari is still the better choice.
Full of Features
When comparing its features to Safari's, Mercury wins hands down--it's got many more features than Safari and many useful ones. From fullscreen browsing to tabs, from ad blocking to gesture support to downloads, you'll find it all here. But while some of these features are great, others have real problems.
On the positive side, Mercury's fullscreen browsing mode is the best I've used to date. Not only does it show more of the website (crucial for devices with limited screen real estate like the iPhone and iPod touch) while providing access to common functions like back/forward, the address bar, and other configurable options, you can also pop a set of other buttons up on the screen without leaving fullscreen. This allows you to add tabs, switch between them, select a bookmark, and more all from within fullscreen mode. Not having to toggle in and out of fullscreen mode makes it much more useful and less of a hassle.
Also generally well-implemented is the bookmark-import feature. To add the bookmarks from any desktop web browser, you just export them to a file and then use iTunes' built-in file-sharing feature to sync the file to your iPhone. Point Mercury at the file on the phone, tap Import, and you're good to go. It would be nice, though, if the bookmarks were imported as part of the main set of bookmarks, rather than in a separate folder, since that requires a few unnecessary taps each time you want to select one.
While these features generally work well, some of Mercury's other features are buggier.
Mercury's gestures feature allows you to assign any number of actions--including go to last page or tab, go to top of screen, and close tab--to a limited set of gestures. While this isn't as versatile as Dolphin's create-your-own-gesture interface, Mercury lets you use the gestures at any time, not only in a specialized window. The ubiquity of the gestures is somewhat undercut but some interface issues. First, there's a lag after each gesture that may cause you to think nothing's happening (just wait a second; it is). More importantly, the app sometimes misinterprets gestures. More than once during my testing, I tried one gesture but got an entirely different action (one good example is when I tried to jump to the top of the page but instead opened the URL bar).
The buggiest feature of the browser in my testing was its download manager. Like many other alternative iPhone web browsers, Mercury allows you to download and save files within the app, which is missing from Safari. However, when trying to use it, I ran into major problems. While Mercury was able to successfully download local copies of the websites I visited, I was never able to get it to download a file (I tried with eBook files, mostly).
Speedier than Safari
One area where Mercury unquestionably has an advantage is speed. In almost cases during my testing, it loaded sites faster than Safari.
Speed on Wi-Fi
Speed is in seconds to load the full desktop (not mobile) page, Mercury is listed first.
- Apple.com: 4 vs. 4
- CNN.com: 4 vs. 7
- ESPN.com: 7 vs. 6
- HoopsHype.com/Rumors.html: 4 vs. 5
- iPod.About.com: 3 vs. 3
Speed on 3G
Speed is in seconds to load the page, Mercury is listed first.
- Apple.com: 4 vs. 9
- CNN.com: 5 vs. 8
- ESPN.com: 5 vs. 7
- HoopsHype.com/Rumors.html: 6 vs. 5
- iPod.About.com: 4 vs. 5
The Bottom Line
Mercury has the makings of a very good iPhone browser, but it's not there yet. From its bugs to occasional problems rendering websites, it has a generally rough-edged feeling that's missing from the best browsers. It's not a bad app, but if you're looking for a non-Safari browser for your iPhone, I'd look elsewhere--for now. If Mercury's developers can solve some of these problems, it could be a great app.
What You’ll Need