Which Browser Should You Be Running On Your iPad And iPhone?

Welcome to our first ever mobile Web Browser Grand Prix! How do Web browsers on iOS, the world's number-one tablet platform, compare? Today, Yahoo! Axis, Google Chrome, Dolphin, Maxthon, Apple Safari, and Sleipnir vie for supremacy on the third-gen iPad.

Before we begin, we have to touch on one key fact that makes iOS unlike any other popular operating system today: the strict walled garden. You see, Apple mandates that any third-party Web browser sold in the App Store must use the stock WebKit rendering and JavaScript engines.

That's right folks, they're all WebKit browsers. And not just different WebKit browsers like Chrome and Safari on the desktop, either, but complete mobile Safari clones. Think of third-party iOS-based Web browsers as Safari wearing different clothes. Sure, some of them have totally different syncing features, bookmark mechanisms, on-screen keyboards, and even user interfaces. But when it comes to a Web browser's primary function of rendering Web pages, they are all just re-spins of Apple's stock, default mobile Safari.

So all iOS Web browsers are going to be the same then, right? Not entirely.

While Apple demands that third-party browsers use the stock engines, Safari has access to the newer Nitro JavaScript engine, while the rest are left with Safari's old JS engine. Apple's mandate doesn't even the playing field; it stacks the deck in Safari's favor.

As recently as this August, Opera aired its opinion regarding the App Store rules to The Times of India:

"Opera believes the Web is best when consumers can freely choose the browser they use. We wish that the rules are changed in the future to allow Opera Mobile (our full-fledged mobile browser) in iOS store, just as it is possible on other platforms like Android.”

"Right now we offer Opera Mini on the iOS platform. The way Opera Mini gets around this issue is that all the processing is actually done on a proxy server and not on the iOS device. If we had not used a proxy-based solution in Opera Mini, then we would have been required to use the native browser engine."

Shwetank Dixit, Opera Web Evangelist

We have to imagine that everyone else in the business of creating Web browsers is in agreement. After all, iOS is still the tablet platform.

Unfortunately, Opera Mini and the other “mini browsers”, such as Dolphin Mini and Skyfire, are resistant to most traditional benchmarks due to the manner in which they function. Unless the benchmarks are nearly instantaneous, the remote server times out mid-test.

Although the differences between Safari and third-party browsers is going to be the key match-up on this platform, we've seen that page load times and HTML5 performance don't always fall into rendering and JavaScript engine expectations. So, perhaps we'll see one of the third-party browsers rise to the top.

But before we can move onto the benchmarks, let's take a quick look at the iOS-based contenders, and then go over how the desktop Web Browser Grand Prix benchmark suite has changed to accommodate mobile tablet computing.

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  • esrever
    All of them are the same since apple doesn't give developers any freedom.
  • LuckyDucky7
    Was this review even necessary?
    There is no choice of browsers on iOS. None. Every "browser" is just a sub-par Safari wrapper.

    It's not like people buy iOS devices for the ability to tailor the device to their liking, after all- it's not called the "reality distortion field" for nothing.
  • Other Comments
  • esrever
    All of them are the same since apple doesn't give developers any freedom.
  • ksampanna
    I mean, c'mon ... bt obviously
  • LuckyDucky7
    Was this review even necessary?
    There is no choice of browsers on iOS. None. Every "browser" is just a sub-par Safari wrapper.

    It's not like people buy iOS devices for the ability to tailor the device to their liking, after all- it's not called the "reality distortion field" for nothing.
  • victorious 3930k
    You may have forgotten the useful extra features category, where Chrome for iOS wins by MILES.
  • murzar
    Quote:
    But Tom's Hardware, I hate Apple. What about Android?


    Such condescension! What about people who actually like Android more? Or find its features more beneficial?

    Not every Android user hates Apple.
  • barathn
    I like the last paragraph
  • gamecube
    I hope next week we see not only tablet review. I'm more interested in the phone part of Android.

    And Ubuntu just release 12.10. This is a good time to have another Ubuntu Web Browser Grand Prix.
  • Anonymous
    I'm curious what the benchmarks would be like if they installed the Nitrous Cydia tweak, which allows third party apps to use the Nitro engine. Any chance we can get a follow-up?
  • Anonymous
    no IE ?
  • amdfangirl
    Quote:
    no IE ?


    On iOS?
  • amigafan
    No iCab mobile and no Atomic Web Browser :(
  • blackmagnum
    Hey Apple... This is unfair!
  • Anonymous
    why should you buy apple products to begin with?
  • abbadon_34
    hmm...this article seems to imply I can stomach any Apple product post-Apple II
  • jaquith
    If you don't have an Apple iOS product then frankly go away, you're talking out your 'back side,' and go Troll somewhere else. Keep in mind all but two of the TH Editors have an iPhone and a slew of other Apple products - fact.

    I've tried Chrome and Dolphin and keep coming back to Safari. Most of these benchmarks are within milliseconds so ± <0.05~0.10 seconds or ± <1~2FPS in the real world is negligible, so it comes down to features. Chrome isn't bad but it still needs some improvements in it's UI and features which still aren't ready for prime time.
  • monkeysweat
    I have noticed on iOS 6 the newer Safari is much faster than it used to be, but speed isn't everything here,, how about features? I use chrome because it is better at blocking popups, quicker to switch to 'incognito' for banking, etc, also it syncs with my desktop history and favorites --- AND in my opinion has a better way of managing the tabs,,, Safari doesn't do any of this. I get lots of popups and redirects which I don't get on Chrome.
  • jaquith
    I like that Chrome syncs with my PC but where's the history (aside from recently closed tabs)? As far as pop-ups (even with Block Pop-up - 'on') and ad bars I've seen little differences between Safari and Chrome; try TH site. I do agree and I do like the 'incognito' but most of my e.g. banking is done on either my PC or Bank's App.

    On some sites Chrome isn't recognized as mobile friendly but it's not Chrome's fault, it's the site's fault.

    I have little doubt and look forward to later versions of Chrome that will solve many of these odd problems and fine tune their App.
  • drip50291
    um...what about Opera? Its faster with one bar of 3G than Safari is on Wifi.
  • blackened144
    murzarNot every Android user hates Apple.


    Maybe not but they yell the loudest.
  • kajunchicken
    What about web browsers available through Cydia? You know... the ones that AREN'T stuck with Apple's crappy limitations.