Google's Android OS (operating system) is a relative newborn compared to older and more established systems. Since its launch in 2007, however, Android has become the most widespread OS for smartphones, with nearly 60 percent of the smartphone market. Android is increasingly popular for tablets, too, and the flexibility and adaptability of the open-source Android architecture means that both smartphones and tablets can access the Web in a lot of ways.
A Web browser, of course, is the primary category of software needed to surf on any device, be it a desktop computer or a phone. That's also true of tablets. But tablets, by nature of their hybrid hardware and touchscreens, work best when browser developers create apps that capitalize on their aptitude and strengths.
Most browsers downloaded to tablets work exactly like, or at least very similarly to, those installed to Android phones. However, a few are tweaked to work just right in a tablet environment. All in all, there are currently more than a dozen browsers made for Android.
So you definitely won't run short of options. The names will be familiar to anyone who likes to try new browsers. They include WebKit (Android's preinstalled browser), Boat Browser, Chrome, Dolphin Firefox, SkyFire, Maxthon, Miren, Ninesky, NetFront, Opera, OverSkreen, Puffin, UC Browser and xScope, as well as a few others.
More and more browsers appear often as developers release them, and established browsers receive frequent updates that expand their capabilities. All of which means that finding the perfect browser might be a tough task. Keep reading, though -- on the next page, we'll offer a few hints to beat back the pretenders and find the contenders for serious tablet surfing.
Bigger Screens and Better Browsers
When it comes to Web surfing, size matters. Tablets have big, beautiful screens that display online content better than any teensy smartphone screen. That extra real estate can be even more useful when a browser is designed to work with that added space.
Although sometimes it gets written off as too bland, note that Android's default browser, WebKit, isn't a generic or stripped-down app. It's made to work great with both smartphones and tablets. It also happens to be one of the most frequently activated apps on the Android platform.
But because the Android environment is one of choice, plenty of third-party developers throw their hat in the ring, too, hoping to grab your attention with flashier or more functional features. Before you start installing new apps like crazy, understand that not all browsers work with every Android tablet. In some cases, your tablet must have the latest and greatest version of Android installed in order to run the snazziest browsers.
Some of the most popular and widespread browsers include Firefox and SkyFire. And there are others that specifically tout their tablet-ready features, such as Chrome, OverSkreen, Dolphin for iPad, Opera and Maxthon.
Dolphin, for instance, supports gesture-based navigation. Want to instantly access your Gmail account? Just use your finger to write the letter G and Dolphin immediately loads your inbox. OverSkreen lets you resize and minimize its window size, which is a unique capability in mobile browsers. Opera has a reputation for extremely fast launching and page-loading speeds.
The Web-browsing experience, though, tends to be a subjective one. What one person prefers in a browser might exasperate her friend. So your best bet is to try a few browsers until you find one that's intuitive, easy-to-use and fast enough for your preferences.
And if you can't find the perfect match today, don't fret. Because browsers are the most-used app on tablets, you can bet that new and improved versions will be introduced every month for a long time to come.
Author's Note: How many different Web browsers are there for Android tablets?
Web browsing isn't -- and hasn't been -- simply a desktop or laptop activity for a few years now. These days, it's all about multitasking on a mobile device, whether it's a smartphone or a tablet. Given the choice for surfing, I'll take a tablet over a smartphone every time. Who needs to deal with the tiny text and pictures on a phone when you can view full-size stories and multimedia on a tablet's huge screen? But browser makers haven't quite caught up to tablet hardware. The good news, however, is that tablet browsers are hot apps, which means a lot of effort is going toward making them better and better for tablet lovers everywhere.
- Cutlack, Gary. "Best Android Browser 2011: Which Should You Use?" Techradar.com. April 6, 2011. (Sept. 28, 2012) http://www.techradar.com/us/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/best-android-browser-2011-which-should-you-use-940899
- Gadget Advisor. "5 Great Web Browsers for Android Tablets and Phones." (Sept. 28, 2012) http://www.gadgetadvisor.com/mobile-apps/5-great-web-browsers-for-android-tablets-and-phones
- Opera. "Opera Mini & Opera Mobile." (Sept. 28, 2012) http://www.opera.com/mobile/features/tablets/
- Shankland, Steven. "Three Cheers for Android Browser Competition." CNET. July 20, 2012. (Sept. 28, 2012) http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57476563-93/three-cheers-for-android-browser-competition/
- Softpedia. "A New Internet Explorer UI for Tablets Should Be on Microsoft's Mind Ahead of IE10." Jan. 4, 2011. (Sept. 28, 2012) http://news.softpedia.com/news/A-New-Internet-Explorer-UI-for-Tablets-Should-Be-on-Microsoft-s-Mind-Ahead-of-IE10-176158.shtml
- Wallen, Jack. "Multitask on Your Android Tablet with the OverSkreen Web Browser." Tech Republic. July 23, 2012. (Sept. 28, 2012) http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/tablets/multitask-on-your-android-tablet-with-the-overskreen-web-browser/1835
- Wallen, Jack. "Which Browser is Best Optimized for the Android Tablet?" Tech Republic. Sept. 14, 2012. (Sept. 28, 2012) http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/tablets/which-browser-is-best-optimized-for-the-android-tablet/2281