When it comes to the web on Apple devices, Safari has been the ubiquitous browser for a while, and the move from the Mac to the range of mobile iDevices has only served to increase its reputation.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with Safari on the iPad. It’s a pretty featureless browser, but it’s sturdy and capable of all things Flash-less whilst retaining many of the traits that make it reasonably popular on the desktop. For this reason, Dolphin Browser HD has been built on top of that basic platform, and added a handful of extras to make the experience a little more…. well let’s just see, shall we?
Gestures, Gestures, Gestures
Apple themselves can be found guilty of paying much attention to gesture-based input, even going to the lengths of launching the Magic Mouse and Trackpad for the Mac. But what I’ve always found with Apple products, is that the gestures are well placed. Necessary and add a lot, rather than make any compromise.
In this instance, I find that many of the ‘gestures‘ are added only to differentiate Dolphin from Safari, and while they succeed in that, they fail at making the browsing experience faster, more comfortable or any more exciting.
The gestures in question aren’t traditional multi-touch gestures, having even removed the pinch-to-zoom feature entirely. Instead, Dolphin operates on a drawing-based gesture input. A tap of an icon residing alongside the URL bar will bring up a grid on which you can literally draw a letter or shape which will be designated to a website or function.
For example, drawing the letter ‘f’ will take you to Facebook by default, but you can also create your own gestures by registering a drawn shape to an URL or pre-defined function such as ‘back’ or ‘forward’. While all of this is very interesting and is certainly different to anything else on the market, the fact you have to tap this button each time and bring up this gesture pane goes only to elongate the browsing experience, and after the novelty wears off, you’ll be crying out for your bookmarks bar back.
Thankfully, there is one saving grace in this department. In the top left of the browser, you’ll see a ‘full screen’ icon, which expands the tab and hides the Url bar and Chrome-style tabs that sit above it. When you’re in this mode, Dolphin allows you to simply swipe to the right to expand a pane full of your bookmarks and history folder, which you can edit from the browser in a typically iOS fashion, and you can even swipe across single entries to bring up a ‘delete’ button. You can swipe to the left, too, which brings up a vertical list of open tabs in a similar pane to the bookmarks on the opposite side of the screen.
The gestures weren’t quite enough to knock me from my noncommittal position on the fence, but here’s where Dolphin Browser falls directly into the gimmick zone. Whilst this feature does add an interesting and attractive new perspective on the web, it doesn’t add anything in the way of simplicity and clarity, which is exactly how I like the web to be.
Essentially, Dolphin Browser’s ‘Webzine’ feature plucks content from many websites and pushes it into a neat almost pin-board style quite familiar to anyone who’s ever used the ‘flipboard’ app for viewing their social streams and news feeds. Yes it’s moderately attractive, and adds a little style to an otherwise bland web, but ultimately I can’t help but remain cynical about how useful it actually is.
From the startup screen, the ‘webzine’ is accessible via a section at the bottom which you can modify, adding more streams from a limited preset list, and removing the defaults such as Facebook and Twitter.
Why You Might Want to Swap
The majority All of this review so far has been quite derogatory, however there is one key reason that you might want to swap Safari for Dolphin. Aside from the aforementioned gimmicks and unnecessary flair, there lies a basic browser operated similarly to any other.
If you’re a fan of the look and feel of Chrome on the desktop, you will be accustomed to the layout of Dolphin, and the tabs sitting onto of the unified url and search bar, are more easily accessible than the grid you get in Safari, which takes an extra tap to reach.
As well as that, the search bar has a useful prediction feature, which basically guesses at the URL you’re typing in, and brings down a dropdown of not only potential Google search entries, but websites too. Again, a useful time-saving feature you might enjoy.
Why You Wouldn’t
As I mentioned earlier, you do compromise on the traditional multi-touch gestures, but other than that Dolphin doesn’t really take anything away. For that reason alone, it doesn’t honestly seem a matter of which is outstanding, but more of personal preference. You might simply prefer plain old Safari for whatever reason and stick with that. That’s where I’m sitting anyway, unwilling to switch browser on the iPad not because Dolphin is bad, but because it’s unnecessary and there’s not any huge attraction.
It is interesting, though, that more browsers are popping up and competing with Safari, but I doubt we’ll be seeing any ‘browser choice’ pop-ups being forced in your face when you boot up as we’ve seen with Windows.
You can Download Dolphin Browser HD for iPad here