7 best iPhone web browser apps

Is Safari really the best iPhone web browser? We still think it is. In this article we put the 7 best iPhone web browser apps to the test to help you find the best for you - and explain why Safari remains the best option for most iPhone owners

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  • Best browsers
  • Dolphin
  • Chrome
  • Opera Mini
  • Opera Coast
  • Ghostery
  • Atomic Browser
  • Safari
  • Verdict
  • More stories
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Which is the best iPhone web browser app?

Which is the best web browser app for iPhone? Safari is the default web browser pre-installed on every new iOS device, but there are plenty of alternatives, ranging from Google Chrome and Opera's various mobile offerings to Dolphin, Atomic and Ghostery. In this article we rate each iPhone web browser for speed, features, user-friendliness and other key factors.

Find out which iPhone web browser is best for you in our browser face-off: in the following slides we test and rate the 7 best iPhone web browser apps on the market.

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Which is the best web browser app for iPhone? Safari is the default web browser pre-installed on every new iOS device, but there are plenty of alternatives, ranging from Google Chrome and Opera's various mobile offerings to Dolphin, Atomic and Ghostery. In this article we rate each iPhone web browser for speed, features, user-friendliness and other key factors.

Find out which iPhone web browser is best for you in our browser face-off: in the following slides we test and rate the 7 best iPhone web browser apps on the market.

What's the best iPhone web browser: Dolphin

Dolphin is a feature-rich alternative to Safari with some impressive gesture support.

Dolphin supports tabs (just as Safari does) but we find it easier to navigate between them. Swipe from the righthand edge to bring up the tabs page and pick an option: an approach we prefer to the showier but generally less informative and intuitive '3D view' offered in Safari on the iPhone. (If you'd rather see tabs along the top, like on a larger-screen browser, there's always Classic Tab Mode in the settings.)

A horizontal swipe from the lefthand edge allows you to access bookmarks and navigation shortcuts.

Dolphin's gestures can be used to navigate to a page or refresh the current one, or open a new tab, among other things. The app lets you draw your own custom gestures directly on the screen, and we've found its gesture recognition consistently accurate.

Night Mode dims the screen to a suitable level for nocturnal browsing. There's a one-button QR reader feature next to the URL bar. The sharing pane has Facebook, Twitter and Evernote options, as well as AirDrop and a proprietary device-to-device web-syncing feature called Dolphin Connect. And there's a neat Sonar voice control option (with a clever 'shake and speak' approach) if you're willing to pay 79p for the privilege.

Dolphin's range of features is hugely impressive, although this can be overwhelming for new users.

Advantages: Feature-rich; gesture support is both convenient and cool; various modes (Night Mode, Private Mode) are handy and easy to access

Disadvantages: Larger range of features makes interface more confusing than that of Safari - especially at first

Free | App Store link

What's the best iPhone web browser: Chrome

Google's Chrome browser for iOS is well made and a pleasure to use, particularly if you're deeply entrenched in Google's ecosystem. If you use Chrome on the Mac, for instance, you can sign into Chrome on both and sync your tabs.

Like Dolphin, Chrome includes a voice-search mechanism, but this time it's bundled with the browser for free; and we all know how good Google is at voice control.

Chrome's tab management is excellent, if currently quite similar to Safari. You can quickly create new tabs, rearrange them and move between them in a 3D manager view; unlike in Safari's equivalent, swiping any tab to the right closes it.

The general interface is strong, too: back in the main view swiping right takes you to the previously viewed tab, and we like the user-friendly 'drag down to refresh' that you get on all web pages – a nice echo of the increasingly standard method of refreshing your mail or Twitter client.

As with Dolphin, it's easy to invoke 'private browsing', although in this case it's called Incognito Mode. And like Opera Mini, Chrome offers to cut your data usage with a Data Saver optimisation mode. According to Google the reduction may be as much as 50 percent.

Advantages: User-friendly tab organisation and navigation; many useful features

Disadvantages: Google-phobes may dislike the company's tendency to track and sync, and if you don't want to sign in you lose some of the advantages

Read our full review of Google Chrome for iPhone.

Free | App Store link

What's the best iPhone web browser: Opera Mini

Opera is widely understood to be the connoisseurs' choice of web browser software. It occupies only about one percent of the web browser market on desktop, but its users claim (not without some justification) that it's the best product around.

On iPhone, Opera has two browser apps to choose from.

The first we'll look at, Opera Mini, takes the approach that speed is key. By some clever trickery involving proxy browsers returning static pages (don't worry about it) Opera Mini is quicker than the most popular browsers.

In (very unscientific) tests it appeared to return pages in about half the time it took Safari and Chrome (oddly enough, Dolphin was the slowest, although it has the habit of returning a page fairly quickly but then sitting with the progress bar virtually finished for another 10 seconds, so the experience isn't significantly worse).

It's also an economical browser, reducing your data usage significantly. You can track the savings you're making on a dedicated analytics page.

Opera Mini makes compromises to achieve these savings, but you are able at least to choose how extreme you want these compromises to be. There are three settings - Mini, Turbo and Off, of which the fastest, confusingly, is Mini - and you can choose to load or not load images, and at what quality you want them to appear.

The tab manager view is 3D, as is apparently industry-standard now, and like Chrome allows you to simply swipe a tab to close it. The tabs are arranged horizontally, though, and therefore swiped upwards. This horizontal layout also means (in this user's humble opinion) that it's a little easier to see at a glance what's on each page. And again like Chrome, the interface incorporates a handy 'drag down to refresh' that we'd like to see in Safari.

Opera Mini's keyboard, meanwhile, is masterly - the best of any browser in this roundup. It includes two handy shortcut buttons: one to input a QR code, and another to switch between default searches in Google, Wikipedia, eBay and Amazon. But its triumph is the central slider/rocker switch that deftly moves the cursor in the URL bar and, if you hold it down for a moment, selects text too. The only thing missing is a '.com' or 'co.uk' autocomplete button.

Finally, like a few other browsers here, Opera Mini boasts a 'Smart night mode', which claims to reduce blue light and help you to sleep better after browsing late at night.

Advantages: Fast; saves on data consumption; fantastic keyboard helps handle fiddly URL text on a small screen

Disadvantages: We've found it a tiny bit crash-prone; compromises in image quality etc required in order to achieve big speed/data improvements

FREE | App Store link

What's the best iPhone web browser: Opera Coast

This one is also by Opera but it's an entirely different approach to what a web browser can and should be.

Compared to Opera Mini, Opera Coast's attitude to data usage is positively profligate, and it's quite happy to slow things down (very slightly) by introducing the odd fancy animation. Whereas Opera Mini is a stripped-down browser for speed freaks, this is a heavily designed (if still quite minimal, in its own way) browser that's designed to look good. It also likes to recommend online content it thinks you might like, based on the terms you search for.

Opera Coast can be baffling initially: it takes a while to grasp what's going on and even how to access a new web page (there's no conventional URL bar, for instance - you enter the name of the website in the 'search the web' field and it will attempt to autocomplete its address). But that's an inevitable side effect of the app's bold design.

Every aspect of the user experience has been re-evaluated from a mobile point of view; instead of trying to replicate a desktop experience on a smaller screen, Coast starts from scratch. The result is a highly mobile-optimised, beautiful one-thumb browser.

Advantages: Looks great; very user-friendly design - once you've got past the initial stage of 'where's the URL bar? - that's heavily optimised for small screen

Disadvantages: Confusing at first; less economical with data than its Mini cousin

FREE | App Store link

What's the best browser for iPad and iPhone: Ghostery

If you don't like advertisers tracking your browsing habits, Ghostery is the browser for you.

The app is designed with privacy - and anonymity - as its primary aim. There are no cookies, no signups and no collection of user data by the app itself (unless you opt in to provide anonymised data to help Ghostery compile its database). And if the web page you're on is using any ad trackers, Ghostery will spot them and warn you with a red icon: tap this to see a list of trackers and block the ones you don't like the look of.

The devs have also added an experimental feature called WiFi Connection Protection which is designed to monitor ad trackers in any app you use on a particular Wi-Fi network.

Advantages: Very strong privacy and anonymity features

Disadvantages: Interface doesn't look great

FREE | App Store link

What's the best iPhone web browser: Atomic Browser

Last of all, a paid-for option. Atomic Web Browser provides an alternative for iPhone power users. The £1.49 browser app is neither flashy nor beautiful, but it packs powerful features into a truly customisable experience.

Atomic is highly flexible and useful, allowing the user to set up advanced privacy controls, choose from several colour themes, activate an ad-blocker, customise the search engine bar, view the source of a web page, and even make web servers identify Atomic as another browser.

The main downside, of course, is that you have to pay, whereas all of the other browsers we've looked at are free.

Advantages: Extremely deep feature set: appear as another browser, customise search and appearance, view web page source

Disadvantages: Not free; interface currently looking out of date, with a number of iOS 6-esque skeuomorphic graphical elements

Read our full Atomic Web Browser review

£1.49 | App Store link

What's the best iPhone web browser: Reasons to stick with Safari

What about the built-in Safari web browser? Safari is behind its rival on certain features (and Opera Mini on speed) and certainly has its knockers. But there are some big reasons to stick with Apple's own browser.

The first and the biggest is the simple fact that you can't change the default browser on your iPhone (unless you jailbreak). This means that links in emails and similar will default to Safari when you click them. Links in Facebook or Twitter will open in a web view that remains inside the app, but offer the option to open the page in Safari - not other apps.

And Safari is integrated into iOS 8 in more intangible ways - in the overall design aesthetic, for example. This means that Safari feels like a natural extension of the iPhone and its menus and settings. (Mind you, most of the other browsers have largely caught up with Apple's design language by now. iOS 7 was a big shock to the system for a lot of mobile app developers, but that was coming up on two years ago now.)

Finally, there are the advantages held by any incumbent: it's the easiest option, since it's preinstalled and you don't need to invest any time looking into alternatives; and it's comfortable, because you're already used to the way it works. All of the other browsers here will require some getting used to - but if you find one that's worth sticking with that'll be a one-off investment.

Advantages: Is the only iPhone web browser that can be the default - therefore all email links etc. will open into Safari; based on the same 'design language' you will experience throughout the rest of iOS, so many features and defaults will feel more natural to use

Disadvantage: Behind rivals on some features - gesture support, speed, ad tracking (although iOS 9 will introduce ad blocking to Safari)

FREE/pre-installed

What's the best browser for iPad and iPhone: Verdict

The advantage that Safari holds over its rivals at the moment - that it's the only browser you're allowed to have as the default - is so huge (and, you could say, so unfair) that we still don't feel able to recommend switching to a rival.

Opera Mini is quicker - significantly so - than Safari and most other browsers; Opera Coast is a fascinating and slick user experience; Ghostery is brilliant in its specialist field of expertise - ad-tracking; Dolphin has great gesture support; Chrome offers useful syncing with other Chrome-based devices; and Atomic has the best feature set. But Safari isn't as far behind on the features front as it used to be, and there simply isn't a big enough reason to switch.

Still, all but Atomic are free, so you can take a look for yourself. If Apple removed the restriction on default browsers, we'd probably be inclined towards the fast simplicity of Opera Mini, although Opera Coast may yet win us over.

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