Which is the best web browser for the iPhone? Safari is the default browser pre-installed on every new iOS device, but there are plenty of alternatives, ranging from Google Chrome and Opera Touch to Dolphin and Ghostery.
In this article we rate each iOS browser for speed, features, user-friendliness and other key factors. Find out which is best for you in our browser face-off.
If you want to replace some of the other stock iOS apps, check out our guide to some of the best alternative apps. Or if this inspires you to try a new desktop browser too, find out what we think is the best Mac browser.
Pros: 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
Cons: Behind rivals on some features
What about the built-in Safari web browser? Safari is behind its rivals on certain features and certainly has its critics. But there are some big reasons to stick with Apple's own browser.
The first and the biggest reason 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 in more intangible ways - the overall design aesthetic, for example. This means that Safari feels like a natural extension of the iPhone and its menus and settings. We love that we can create a link to a particular web page and have it as an icon on our Home screen for example. (To do that tap on the Share icon and choose Add To Home Page). If you want to surf the web incognito you can (just tap on the tab in the bottom right to open the tabs view and then tap on the Private button on the bottom left to open a new private page - you can tell it's private if the url bar is grey).
In iOS 13 (which arrived in September 2019) Safari for iOS got even better. It gained some more features from the desktop app, such as the ability to easily download a file directly in Safari (you'll find the file in a Downloads folder on your iCloud Drive). If you are using an iPad the updated Safari will show you full versions of web pages rather than the mobile version. In fact that last point isn't limited to the iPad, you can adjust settings to that certain websites show the Desktop version (to see the Desktop version tap on the aA on the URL bar and choose Request Desktop Website).
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 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.
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.
Still, they're all free, so you can take a look for yourself.
Pros: User-friendly tab organisation and navigation; many useful features
Cons: 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
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 (below), Chrome includes a voice-search mechanism, but this time it's bundled with the browser for free.
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.
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.
It's easy to invoke 'private browsing' (called Incognito Mode), there's also a Reading List for saved articles, and 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.
If you use Chrome as the browser on your desktop that's a good reason to use it on your iPhone and iPad too. Your browsing history and all your bookmarks will be synced.
One of the problems with Chrome is that it can be a bit of a CPU hog and battery drain. You will also miss out on some iOS features built into Safari, such as Apple Pay and the general integration. And of course the fact that Chrome can't be the default browser.
Pros: Plenty of useful features, great for use with a Windows 10 PC
Cons: Requires Microsoft account to access full feature set; slightly blocky design
If you like Chrome but aren't keen on the whole Google having your data thing you might be interested in Microsoft Edge aka Edge Chromium.
The new version of Edge for Mac (and PC) is based on Chromium and was released in January 2020 (more info here). You can already get Edge for iOS but it had a bit of a redesign in January 2020 so if you haven't used it recently it's worth another look.
Microsoft Edge allows iPhones and Windows 10 PCs to link together and exchange webpages, bookmarks, Cortana settings, and a few other things. Edge also includes attractive features such as tracking prevention (which Chrome doesn't offer) and the ability to block ads. You can also browse in private.
Edge is a fully fledged browser replete with tabs, password manager, reading list, language translator, and plenty of additional goodies.
It's a great browser for Windows users, but pretty decent for everyone else too.
Pros: Slimline design, Cryptowallet, built-in ad-blocker, made for one-hand use
Cons: No bookmarks or online syncing
Opera is widely understood to be the connoisseur's 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 now has its new Touch browser, seemingly replacing all that came before.
The company states that this was designed primarily for use on the go, which explains the rather sparse, but admittedly interesting layout. The controls centre on a purple circle that resides at the base of the screen. Tapping this once will cycle through either the browser's Home screen or the last tab that was open.
Holding the button down opens a quick menu where you can select one of your recent open tabs, the QR reader, or start a search.
Opera has decided to leave bookmarks out of Touch, which is a controversial decision, so if you're heavily reliant on lots of folders and links then this isn't the one for you. It does provide a history of your browsing, plus there's the 'Flow' feature where you can link the Touch app to a desktop version of Opera and send articles and web-links back and forth.
Curiouser still is that while Touch has a stripped back, mobile-first approach to features, the company has seen fit to add a built-in Cryptowallet that can handle cryptocurrency such as Ethereum. Add to this the ad-blocker and pop-up stopper and you have a strange new breed of browser, albeit one we find quite intriguing.
Pros: Feature-rich; gesture support is both convenient and cool; various modes (Night Mode, Private Mode) are handy and easy to access
Cons: Larger range of features makes interface more confusing than that of Safari - especially at first
Dolphin is a feature-rich alternative to Safari with some impressive gesture support. Its tabs are easier to navigate than Safari's - swipe from the righthand edge to bring up the tabs page. 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, Evernote, and Pocket 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.
Dolphin's range of features is hugely impressive, although this can be overwhelming for new users.
Pros: Blocks ads, analytics, social and tracking data, making it one of the most security-focused browsers on iOS; simple to use
Cons: No history, menus or tabs; very basic browser
Firefox Focus is a browser that puts privacy at the top of its agenda, and we found it did exactly what it said on the tin (or App Store), in that it blocks a wide variety of trackers, allows you to easily clear your history and puts you in control of your internet history.
However, it is limited - you lack a history, menus, or even tabs! This is a major drawback, but if security and privacy are the most important things on your agenda it's a compromise you may want to make.
Should this be too much of a sacrifice, there is still the normal Firefox browser that boasts a full compliment of features and plenty of additional tools.
Pros: Very strong privacy and anonymity features
Cons: Interface doesn't look great
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.