Dolphin Browser HD
Wednesday, September 8, 2010; 12:19 AM
As people spend more time online with their phones and as smartphone technology improves, users continually expect better performance from their mobile Web browsers. Dolphin Browser HD (for Android 2.0 and above; use Dolphin Browser for earlier Android versions) very nearly provides desktop-quality browsing optimized for a pocketable device.
Many of Dolphin Browser HD's features seem inspired by the Firefox desktop browser (to which it has no official relationship). Most exciting is the ability to extend functionality with add-ons. Currently 42 add-ons are available for Dolphin HD, but you can expect that number to grow. Some of my favorites include Adblocker (a port of the famous Firefox add-on), Del.icio.us Bookmarks (which lets you post Web pages to the Delicious social-bookmarking service), Tab History, QR Code Share (which creates a scannable QR code image of your current Web page URL), and Bookmarks to SD (which backs up your bookmarks to the internal SD Card and lets you sync your bookmarks to your Google Bookmarks account).
You can install as many add-ons as you like; if you're a heavy add-on user, you can disable the ones you don't use often in order to free up memory. Several themes, which change the appearance (mainly the color) of the browser, are also available.
Like Firefox, Dolphin Browser HD organizes open Web pages in a tabbed interface. Although the stock Android Web browser allows you to have several windows open at once, navigating among them is awkward. Dolphin Browser HD's tabbed interface makes the task simple: You can have up to eight tabs open simultaneously (more than that would probably tie up too much memory), and switching is as easy as touching a tab or swiping the tab bar to bring the other tabs into view.
Dolphin Browser HD has an innovative approach to maximizing touchscreen navigation of its features. To access Bookmarks and History, simply swipe-and-drag the screen all the way to the right, which opens a Firefox-like sidebar. Swipe-and-drag to close it when you are done. Similarly, you can swipe-and-drag to the left to open a toolbar that gives access to installed add-ons and themes. And like Firefox, Dolphin Browser HD has a built-in link to an add-ons gallery.
Gesture-based navigation, another outstanding feature, adds a whole new level of functionality. When this feature is activated, you can draw a predefined gesture on the touchscreen, and Dolphin Browser HD will execute the command. This setup works for menu commands (such as adding a bookmark) or for going to a particular Web page (such as Facebook). You can, of course, add your own custom gestures; to arrange them, press the Menu key and then select More, Settings, Gesture Settings. Now your mobile Web browser can do something that most desktop browsers cannot do.
Dolphin Browser HD supports Flash--the technology that enables most Web videos--if your Android phone has Flash support (available in Android 2.2, aka Froyo). In my tests with a Sprint HTC EVO 4G phone running Android 2.2, Dolphin Browser HD was able to play videos from Blip.tv, The Onion (with some awkward display formatting), Vimeo (though some HD videos choked occasionally), and YouTube. Sadly, however, it was unable to play PCWorld videos. If video playback is important to you, I recommend Skyfire Browser instead--it can play more videos, even on Android phones that don't have native Flash support.
One of the best and most innovative mobile Web browsers available, Dolphin Browser HD offers extremely powerful extensibility, as well as intuitive and finger-friendly navigation. Its video-streaming capability needs improvement, however.