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The Browser War on Android is On

The Browser War on Android is On

June 01, 2013 at 01:01AM

The Android web browser market is as competitive right now as it ever has been. Every major player is trying to get their noses ahead and gain that little advantage over the rivals to become the undisputed king of browsers in the Android world.

With Opera and Firefox recently upgrading their browsers to give a visual overhaul and facelift, the Go Launcher dev. team entering the competition with their Next Browser, and the likes of Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox well established players, the race to mobile browser dominance seems far from over.

In fact, it looks like the competition has just got that little bit stiffer and interesting. A typical user normally would have two browsers on his Android smartphone — the default browser and a suitable alternate one to it. With so many browsers out there, the task to cherry pick one can be extremely challenging. To help you make a good choice, we put some of the best browsers on the Play Store out against each other in a comparison. So, which Browser came triumphs over the other? Let’s draw the swords and gather the helmets and find out, as the Browser War rages up on Android.

Creating the First Impression

With so many browser options available to the user, it is increasingly becoming difficult for the developers to come up with distinct functionalities and User Interface designs to differentiate from each other while still standing out and giving a unique experience to the user.

Chrome, Firefox, Opera and the old default Browser stand apart the most from the competition, along with the newly released Next Browser when it comes to the interface. And it’s a tough job choosing a favorite among them, given each of them has a fairly nicely designed UI with subtle differences.

Google Chrome Next browser Opera

However, there’s a strange similarity among Google Chrome, Next Browser and Opera — they all look strikingly similar, it is as though they are the painting from the same artist, just made on a different day. They have similar looking address bars and menus. The only difference one can find among these browsers is their responsiveness. While Chrome for Android used to be a super butter smooth browser until recently, it has now become quite cranky, with stutters now an often uninvited guests in the app. Opera too isn’t the smoothest of all, but is certainly a lot better than Chrome. Next Browser is the smoothest of the trio, but

FIREFOX IS A STEP AHEAD OF THE GAME FOR ITS UBER SMOOTH ENGINE

Firefox, on a contrasting note, is the most distinctive of them all. It has a great UI design that is unique and nowhere similar to the other browsers and boy is it smooth — it’s just incomparable, even on heavy and media loaded websites. If you haven’t used Firefox yet, you need to download it now. We cannot recommend Firefox highly enough. And if you do feel a little bit more adventurous, then you can also try out the Firefox Nightlies here. In our experience of testing most of the well known browsers out there, the Firefox nightlies often bettered the performance of already buttery smooth official build of Firefox.

With Nightlies though, it’s a little like winning a big fat prize money in lottery, you might strike lucky on a good day. But, it is definitely worth going ahead with that little bit of extra effort.

Firefox Dolphin Browser

Dolphin and the good old Android browser are good too, but the former has a bit bland UI design which for some odd reason looks like it was made for a very low end Android device, while the latter is no longer being continued and has been ditched in favor of Chrome on most of the high end Android devices.

If we were to pick a favorite among these six browsers in terms of their visual design, appeal and responsiveness, it would be undoubtedly Firefox for its über smooth rendering engine, followed by Chrome in a close second for its cards UI.

Who’s the Fastest?

We’ve seen lots of JavaScript, HTML and CSS benchmark scores for various browsers, but they mean very little to the average user. What actually matters more is how fast the browsers can load web pages. We made the browsers load the desktop version of our website on numerous occassions, clearing their cache on each restart in order to ensure that they load all the resources from scratch and recorded their loading time for both, first load and second reload (hot reload) for a fair comparison.

load time comparison chart

These tests were done on a slow connection capped to 256 Kbps so that the differences in their loading speeds could be clearly plotted*.

*I’m lying. My FUP had reached.

Winner

We found Chrome to be the fastest player of the lot, it took 33.173 seconds on an average to load our website while Firefox emerged as the slowest one at 39.547 seconds on an average. The difference might not sound much for website, which weighs less than an MB in size, but it becomes extremely significant when you’re browsing heavy websites rich in JavaScript and multimedia.

Who’s the Most Efficient?

HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript — three elements that make the most of the web. And for any browser, it is important to render them with as much efficiency as possible. Next in our labs, we put the top 6 browsers through various tests for finding where they stand.

1. The HTML5 Test

HTML5 is probably the most interesting and important standard right now for any browser, with a majority of the websites transitioning from Flash to it.

The HTML5 test for the browser tests how well does the browser support the HTML5 elements and related technologies. Although the HTML5 specifications are not set in stone just yet, to get a bit of perspective and make a comparison we ran the HTML5 test for all the browsers on our various devices.

Before we get into the details of results, a quick heads up on interpreting the results. The HTML5 scores are out of 500, so higher the score, better the performance. There are bonus points awarded too which basically give the idea for the multimedia capabilities of the browser out of a maximum of 15.

HTML5 Test —Higher is better

HTML5 Test – Higher is better

The result shows that Opera Browser performed best when it came to the HTML5 test and was followed closely by the Firefox Nightly Build and Chrome. Rest of the browsers such as Dolphin, Next and default Android Browser were left way behind in the race. To just put the results into perspective, the Chrome Browser on my Macbook Air scored a 463 as compared to 410 on the device.

2. The CSS3 Test

The CSS3 Tests show how comprehensively the browser provides support for CSS3. The test gives an idea of how well the browser is able to produce the format of structured contents. So higher the score, more tests the browser passes, and better it would be, or better the content will be formatted on it.

So, let’s look at the results of the CSS3 Test.

CSS3 Test

The result puts the Opera Browser and Chrome in the pole position when it comes to the race to finish line of CSS3 Test. Just like the HTML5 test though, Next, Default as well as Dolphin Browser finished last in the race. The CSS3 results were ditto same irrespective of the device we ran the tests on for various Browsers, so we have not included results form the Xolo 900 and Nexus 4.

3. SunSpider Test

The SunSpider test benchmarks and measures the real time Javascript performances of the browser. Many believe that the SunSpider Test is one of the most comprehensive browser benchmarks out there.

So how well did the browsers perform when it came to the SunSpider test? The answer lies in the graphs below:

Tegra 3 (HTC One X)

HTC One X_SunSpider Test

(Lower is better)

Unlike the first two tests, we found Sunspider scores to differ depending upon the devices tested on. The pattern, however, remained the same. On Dolphin Browser things started getting really interesting though, we ran the test about 4 times on the HTC One X and the results really fluctuated worse than Stock Market. As a result we had to settle on pushing in an average score. The Screenshots below show the variation we experienced.

SunSpider Results_one x_2 SunSpider Results_one x

This result did indicate to us that Dolphin may not be most consistent in performances over a period of time and could well be the best browser one minute and the worse at others. This sort of inconsistency obviously put us off and although we did try to investigate, we could not really put a finger on the reason for this fluctuation. The other devices such as Nexus 4 and Xolo 900 were a lot more consistent though as seen below.

 

Nexus 4 (Snapdragon S4)

snapdragon-sunspider-test

Xolo X900 (Intel x86 Medfield)

Sunspider Test_Xolo 900

 

Opera performed most consistently over the three devices closely matched with the Firefox browser. For some reason Firefox was way slow on the HTC One X though. The official build greatly improved the performance so we perhaps have to give this round of test to Opera and Firefox closely matched by Chrome and Default browser over the span of three devices.

Winner?

The most important test for a browser is perhaps the JavaScript test, which determines how fast can it render JavaScripts on a web page and thus how fast it can load web pages. And this is the area where Opera and Firefox outshine other browsers with lower scores in the Sunspider JS test. We obviously did not consider Dolphin due to consistency issues.

Furthermore, they lead the other two tests, HTML5 and CSS3, as well. So, as much as we tried to separate the two — Firefox and Opera jointly stood on the podium proudly posing as the winners, with champagne bottle in their hands, as the very best browsers in terms of rending efficiency out there for Android followed by Chrome in third. It does burst the myth though that Chrome is the most capable browser out there. Most popular, yes, not the best. And before you point the finger, believe us, this match was not fixed, no where near.

Overall, it’s a bit tough to choose a browser that stands out in all areas. If a few seconds of loading time can be sacrificed, then Firefox is an incredible option, followed by Opera. However, if you prefer a super fast browsing experience and can tolerate stutters, then Chrome is your buddy.

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