May 4, 2011 — by: Karl Johnson
Categories: iOS Applications, Review

Update: See Best Alternative Browser for the iOS

One of the main reasons people buy smart phones these days is to browse the web while on the go. Beyond Phone and Mail apps, it is probably the third most used application on the iPhone. It is just as important on the iPad as well.

The built-in browser on the iOS is Mobile Safari. While it is a good browser, it lacks many features its bigger brother Safari for the Mac has. Some of the noticeable features lacking in Mobile Safari include a tabbed interface and the ability to save files. For those who want more than just a basic browser, we look at two alternatives.

Atomic Web and iCab Mobile are two popular alternatives to Apple’s Mobile Safari. They are both universal applications and Atomic Web sells for $.99 while iCab Mobile is $1.99. The main features that are missing from Mobile Safari, but in both of these browsers include:

  • Tabbed browser interface.
  • Ability to download files to the application, Photo app, clipboard, and Dropbox.
  • Gestures for webpage navigation.
  • Full screen view option.
  • The ability to change the browser ID from Mobile to other browsers like iPad Safari, Mac Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer. This feature lets the user choose which version of the site they want to see. Some sites force iPhone users to use their limited mobile version.

Since both applications have many similar features, is iCab Mobile worth the extra $1? Some of the advantages iCab Mobile has over Atomic Web are:

  • One touch save to Dropbox. Atomic Web adds a middle step by downloading files to their applications first.
  • More gestures for 3 and 4 finger swipes.
  • iCab’s interface looks better with a more Mobile Safari feel.
  • Filters allow the users to decide which content should be blocked or loaded.
  • Modules allow quick access to built-in scripts like open in GoodReader, add to Instapaper, view source code, translate with google, and many more.
  • iCab can import bookmarks from a file on the Mac. This file can be created with Safari. Atomic Web’s import method is more difficult.
  • The progress bar is built into the address bar, like Safari. Atomic Web’s progress bar is a separate graphic in the lower left corner.

The only advantage Atomic Web has over iCab Mobile right now is faster access to viewing adjustments like lock rotation, Browser ID, Brightness, and private mode. With a better look and feel, direct downloads to Dropbox, and a better bookmark import method, iCab Mobile is a much better browser and worth the extra $1.

With Safari being the built-in browser, one would think it has some advantages over the rest. But Safari can’t claim and advantage in speed since all three open web pages at similar speeds. The only advantage going for Safari is it is the default browser for opening links. Apple does not currently allow users to change which browser is default, which is doubtful to change anytime soon. Mobile Safari is free, already installed, and probably good enough for many users. If you are looking for something more, take a look at iCab Mobile.

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  1. Ron ~ May. 5, 2011 @ 2:23 am

    ...Most important, Atomic loads sites/pages a bit faster than iCab. #
  2. Tariq ~ May. 11, 2011 @ 6:27 am

    Well, if the iPhone is jailbroken you can make any browser the default by downloading a tiny tweak called "browser changer" from Cydia... Icab is my fav #

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