Dolphin: A Worthy Free Alternative to Safari?

There’s just something about the iPad, isn’t there? Things tend to look so good on the iPad, I find that I rarely try to change anything. On my PC, I constantly try to find a better browser, a better reader, but on the iPad I have the tendency to use whatever has been given to me. This is why I never really tried to find a replacement for Safari on my iPad before, even though I often wasn’t satisfied with it.

This all changed when I heard about the new Dolphin Browser HD for the iPad. I’ve heard about this browser for Android, and when it came out for the iPad I simply had to try it. Find out whether it’s worth the switch?

The Basics

Dolphin is a free, good-looking tabbed browser for iPad, which also supports gestures. This, in a nutshell, is everything I’ve been missing in Safari.

Every time you load Dolphin, you get to use the awesome speed dial feature. I rarely use speed dial as a general rule – it’s usually clumsy and adding websites to it is rather annoying. With Dolphin, for the first time, I found myself adding websites to the speed dial and actually using it. It’s very simple and easy to use, which is really important for features like this.

Webzine and speed dial

Webzine and speed dial.

Another very cool feature, right there on the homepage, is the webzine. You can add all sorts of feeds, including Facebook and Twitter, and then read them in Dolphin in a magazine-like interface. It might not be the most convenient way to read feeds, but it sure looks good.

Webzine Interface

The Webzine interface.

Tabs

The thing that really stands out from Safari to me is the inclusion of tabbed browsing. True, iOS 5 has added tabbed browsing to Safari, but this is one feature that’s been integrated into web browsing for years, and was something I sorely missed when using the iPad. I tended to accumulate numerous Safari windows and then forget they exist. Tabs are generally just so much better. It’s no wonder Apple has finally decided to add them.

To browse in tabs, simply open a new tab and enter a URL. When you start typing in the address bar, it will suggest performing Google searches on your strings. I wish there was an actual Google (or other) search box right there at the top, but this works as well.

It can get confusing sometimes, however, like when you want to conduct a new search and it starts typing your query at the end of the current URL.

As you can see, you can open several tabs and switch between them as you normally would. You can also use the tab bar which you can access by sliding your finger to the left. The tab bar probably gets more useful when you open a lot of tabs, and the top section gets a bit hard to follow. Here you can view all your tabs, close tabs or open new tabs, and do it all using a big, bright font.

Tab Bar

The tab bar.

Another great thing about the tabs is that they unload after a short while. If you spend some time on one tab, and then switch to another open tab, you’ll notice that the website is loading all over again. This is a good feature for serial multi-tabbers (like me) that have the tendency to have way too many tabs open, and way too slow machines.

Gestures

The gestures feature might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it sure beats typing addresses or even using bookmarks. In addition to specific website gestures, you can also set gestures to do other tasks for you, such as opening a new tab, scrolling to top or bottom of the page and so on.

To use gestures, simply tap the small hand icon on the top right. This will open a black canvas on which you can draw. If you don’t know what to draw, tap on the “Gestures List” button to see what gestures Dolphin already knows. It comes with several default gestures which you can easily change, delete or add to.

Gestures Interface

The Gestures interface.

Adding a gesture is easy: Tap the “New Gesture” button, select what action this gesture will perform and then draw the gesture.

It’s recommended to draw patterns in one stroke.

More Options

For each website you browse to, there’s a list of actions you can perform. Click the arrow sign on the top right to access all the options. You can bookmark the page, add a gesture for it, copy the page’s URL and even open it in Safari (among other things).

Page Options

Page options.

Dolphin also boasts quite a slick bookmark interface. To access it, slide your finger to the right. Dolphin comes with many bookmarks already built in, but you can easily delete everything using the “Edit” button if you want to start afresh. Also use the edit button to create new folders for your bookmarks, for better organization.

Bookmarks Bar

The Bookmarks Bar.

Surprisingly, there aren’t many configuration options to play with. You can switch modes on and off, such as privacy and desktop modes, but this is pretty much all you can do in the settings.

You can easily erase the browser’s data storage, such as history and cookies. To to this, click the cog icon on the top right and choose “Clear Data”. You will then be able to choose what data you want to clear, and erase it immediately.

Dolphin, like many other iOS browsers, doesn’t support Flash (at least not for now). If you’re looking for Flash capabilities, you can try paid browsers such as Puffin or Skyfire.

Conclusion

I can tell you one thing; I will not be going back to Safari. The only thing that’s really lacking in Dolphin is Flash, and Flash is a known problem on iOS devices. I don’t find it to be a real deal breaker. Safari couldn’t do it anyway, and with Dolphin I get an upgraded browsing experience, and it’s still free.

I definitely recommend Dolphin to everyone who’s been too lazy to try something new, and even to those who already have other solutions – you might find some features well worth the download.


Summary

Dolphin is a tab supported browser for iPad which also features customizable gestures, speed dial and a beautiful webzine. It's a free must-try alternative to the default Safari.

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