DLS Review: Dolphin Browser HD is an amazing browser for Android
The stock Android browser is quite powerful and fast. For most users, it should be more than enough. Then again, there are those of us who always seem to need that bit of extra oomph – those power features that many users never find out about, or don't feel they would use.
This is where Dolphin Browser HD comes in. It's an alternative browser for Android that is a study in great mobile UI design. It somehow manages to pack in a ton of functionality without seeming overwhelming.
I took an extensive tour through Dolphin Browser HD, taking lots of screenshots along the way. To see what this powerful browser feels like, keep on reading after the fold.
You can barely see the browser's UI here really, but I wanted to show you it supports address auto-completion, just like the native browser does. This is one feature which might work a tad less well here, though -- when I hit the full URL for Download Squad, the address bar ended up containing both the "www.d" and then full URL.
The keyboard is Colemak, of course, but don't worry -- it doesn't come with the browser.
This is what the mobile version of Download Squad looks like on Dolphin. Note that this is the "standard" mode -- not full-screen, as you can still see the Android bar above the site. Note the little hand overlay on the bottom-right corner -- that's for gesture support, which we'll get to later. You can toggle it off, of course.
And here we finally get to see some browser. When you're at the top part of the page and slide further up (i.e, move your finger down), the tab bar and address bar are revealed. As you can see, Dolphin is totally 'with it' on the new tabs-on-top trend.
The bottom menu slides up when you hit the Menu button on the device itself. As you can see, the buttons are all massive and very easy to hit with your thumb.
When you slide your finger over to the right, the left pane is revealed. This gives you quick access to your bookmarks and most popular Websites. My Dolphin leads to an About screen with links to the documentation. The Windows button confusingly opens the tab menu (which you will soon see). This is one area where the UI does need a bit of a revamp -- I would lose the My Dolphin button or at least rename it to say About, and rename the Windows button to Tabs.
Similarly, there's also a right pane. The top button lets you drag down the tab preview pane while the lower button lets you toggle full-screen mode, which really is full screen.
And we conclude the chrome section of the review with a totally chromeless screenshot -- this is full-screen mode in all of its glory, showcasing a post by Sebastian. This is an uncropped screenshot -- full-screen really does use every pixel your device has. To exit, just slide over to the right, left, or top (or pop up the menu).
By the way, one thing you can't see in these screenshots is that Dolphin supports pinch-to-zoom, which the stock browser does not (at least on my Android 2.1 phone). It works as promised, and is quite smooth.
Here's the promised tab interface. There's just one tab in this particular screenshot featuring the best software blog in the known universe, but you get the point. It slides down, and you get Opera-esque tab previews, too.
And this is what it looks like in "normal" browsing, with two tabs on top and the address bar. I wish there was a way to see just the tabs with no address bar at all -- in the future, maybe?
When you hit the "finger" overlay on the lower-right corner, the screen dims out a bit, and you can use your finger to draw on it. There are gestures for Back, Forward, scrolling to the bottom or top of the page, new tab, refresh, and more. The browser even comes with a couple of pre-set gestures for loading Facebook and Google.
This is the gesture configuration button, reachable by hitting the cogwheel icon in the corner of the gesture overlay screen (the one we just looked at).
It's pretty easy to configure the location of the gesture button. It can go either on the bottom left (default), bottom right (like mine), or you can completely hide it. You can't put it in the top two corners for some reason.
You can configure new gestures to do just about anything, such as close the current tab, close all tabs, clear the cache, load specific URLs, switch to a page's mobile view, and more.
This screen is good not only for configuring new gestures, but also for learning (and tweaking) the existing ones.
This is the bookmark interface. As you can see, for some reason it still has an address bar showing the current website. This is another minor UI oversight -- why would I want the address bar if I'm looking through my bookmarks in full-screen mode?
Other than that, this is a fairly comfortable view. You can also access your most visited links, and the history (with a nice, collapsible day-by-day view).
Dolphin also has an add-on system with some very familiar names, such as Read It Later (woohoo!). The descriptions sometimes border on the ridiculous, with non-descriptive gems such as "Save your time. seize the chance" for the Find on LinkedIn add-on [sic, lower-case seize and all]. Still, there are a ton of add-ons. I think this is a mixed blessing, actually: On the one hand, it's nice to have rich functionality. On the other hand, I bet at least some of these ports are not by the original authors -- so can I really trust them not to mess with my data?
My anti-virus scanner did scan the Read It Later add-on and proclaimed it safe, so that's nice.
Finally, when the time comes to exit Dolphin Browser HD, you get a very clear prompt asking if you want to minimize or exit, and also giving you a chance to clear the cache and history. Clearing the cache and history seems to impact the entire cache and history -- not just the last session. Still, this is a nice touch.
Bottom line: Dolphin Browser HD is not perfect, but I don't know many applications that are. It is certainly a worthy alternative for the stock browser, and I've set it as the default for my own browsing -- at least for now.