Last Updated: Aug. 1, 2012
The iPhone and iPad may come loaded with Safari, but that does not mean you're stuck with just that browser. Several good iPhone browser apps have been released, giving you more options for your mobile browsing experience. We found iPhone browsers that can play Flash video (sort of) or navigate web pages significantly faster than Safari. There's even a browser app that can stream audio and video to an Apple TV. See which iPhone browsers earn a recommendation.
Tanya Menoni, a former Contributing Writer to this site covering apps, contributed to this article.
Chrome (Free) is the first of the major desktop browsers (besides Safari, of course) to debut on the iOS--and it's a welcome introduction. This version of Chrome offers tight integration with Google accounts and services, search built into the menu bar, and some nice user interface options. Due to Apple's rules for web browser apps, it's essentially Safari with a new design on top, but it's still nice to see competition among iOS web browsers kick into high gear. Overall rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
Dolphin (Free) is hands-down the best browser on this list. From the things that it does better than Safari--it's a little bit faster, it offers download management and crash recovery, it has tabs and fullscreen mode--to the things it does that Safari doesn't like a gesture-based interface (draw a design on the screen and load a website!), it's powerful, innovative, and free. It's not a perfect browser--lack of native iPad support and the inability to import Safari bookmarks are two strikes against it--but give it a try and you may not go back to Safari. Overall rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
The Opera Mini Browser (Free) is a terrific alternative to Safari. It is significantly faster than the iPhone's built-in browser app, and you can really tell the difference when browsing graphic-heavy websites. Opera Mini is so much faster because it shows you a compressed version of the web page that is routed through its servers (according to the developers, all data is encrypted beforehand). The large navigation buttons are also easier to use than those on Safari. However, pinching and zooming isn't quite as elegant using the Opera Mini Browser -- content seems to jump all over the place. Overall rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
While not quite ready to be a full-time Safari replacement, Atomic ($0.99) is close. Its fullscreen mode is more useful than Dolphin's and it offers tabbed browsing, the ability to import bookmarks from Safari, a native iPad version, gesture support, and many other useful features. If you like to customize your apps, or want a web development testing environment, you'll love Atomic and its huge number of options and settings. A few interface peculiarities and slightly slower-than-Safari 3G speeds hold it back a bit, but Atomic is a very solid browser. Overall rating: 4 stars out of 5.
Mercury ($0.99) is a solid browser held back from being even better by a few bugs. It offers a terrific fullscreen mode, tabbed browsing, bookmark importing, and gestures--and backs those features by being very fast as well. Its download manager is buggy, and gestures can be too, but if the kinks can be ironed out, Mercury will be a contender for a top spot. Overall rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
Photon ($3.99) makes the best claim on delivering Flash to the iPhone of any browser on this list. It does this by streaming a remote desktop session from a computer that runs Flash to your iPhone. Needless to say, this can sometimes be a little slow or cause some user interface weirdness, but overall, it works. Over Wi-Fi, in particular, Hulu videos may be a bit pixelated, but they play smoothly and audio stays in sync. This isn't a desktop Flash experience, but it's the best I've seen on the iPhone so far. Overall rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
Switch (US$4.99) is an iPad-specific browser that offers a host of nifty features. Not only does it include multiple user accounts -- so each user can access his or her own bookmarks and maintain their privacy -- but it also supports AirPlay and HTML5 video. Switch is also a bit faster than Safari when loading web pages. Unfortunately, it has a few stability issues and lacks the ability to import bookmarks from other browser apps. And while it supports AirPlay, the browser doesn't work with AirPrint and you can't send web pages via email. Overall rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
If you have an Apple TV, the WebOut browser (US$0.99) is definitely worth a look. Unlike Safari, WebOut can stream both audio and video to a second-generation Apple TV using the AirPlay feature (Safari only outputs audio at this time). In our testing, it was easy to stream HTML5 video to an Apple TV, and videos loaded quickly. WebOut also holds it own as a regular iPhone browser app, with snappy navigation and a pleasant, streamlined interface. It does throw up some random error messages, however, and it's missing a few features like auto-complete for web addresses. Overall rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
To get around the problem of the iOS not supporting Flash or Java, CloudBrowse ($2.99, plus subscription) uses a neat trick: it runs a full desktop version of FireFox on a server and then streams that session to your iOS device so you get all the benefits of Firefox. However, because it's a desktop browser, not one specifically designed for the iOS, you also can a lot of rough edges and odd interface experiences. Plus, Flash audio and video get out of sync easily and playback is jerky. Good idea, but the execution isn't there yet. Overall rating: 2.5 stars out of 5.
10. Knowtilus Pro
In the quest to add more features, and differentiate one app from another, developers sometimes go too far and forget to concentrate on the basics. That's the case with Knowtilus ($5.99), a browser app that packs in a huge number of features but whose interface isn't refined enough to merit a recommendation. While it offers a suite of interesting features--an RSS reader, a barcode scanner, text-to-speech capabilities--the basic experience of using it is harder and less efficient than other browsers on this list. Overall rating: 2 stars out of 5.