Dolphin Browser is an iOS and Android web browser application from MoboTap. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store and Google Play. This review is based on the iOS version, tested on an iPhone 4S running iOS 6. The Android version is largely similar to the iOS version but has the additional ability to install external add-ons.
Dolphin Browser is designed to be a simple, slick browser experience that makes extensive use of gestural controls to simplify touchscreen navigation. Its basic interface is somewhat minimalist, consisting of little more than the usual address bar and navigation options, but there are a couple of interesting buttons that provide access to extended functionality.
The “Dolphin” button allows access to two of the app’s main features: gestures and “Dolphin Sonar,” the latter of which is a voice-control facility that must be unlocked via a one-time $0.99 in-app purchase. The gestural controls are the main draw of Dolphin, however, as they allow the user to set up their own custom gestures for not only the app’s main functions, but also for quick navigation to specific sites. A number of gestures are already set up by default, allowing users to quickly jump to Google, Amazon and Twitter simply by drawing the first letter of their names, but there are a few noteworthy omissions — particularly gestures for “forward,” “back” and “refresh.” It’s no trouble to set up new ones, however — you simply draw the gesture and then assign it to a particular action.
Aside from the gestural controls, Dolphin Browser has a number of other facilities to streamline its interface and make using it a very pleasant experience. Tabs, for example, are tucked away in a slide-out menu on the right of the screen rather than taking up valuable screen real-estate at the top — though optionally the user may switch to “classic tab” mode if they prefer more traditional functionality. Bookmarks, too, are kept unobtrusively out of the way in a slide-out menu on the left side of the screen, and sites may optionally be bookmarked as “speed dials” that can be summoned with a single tap upon opening a new tab.
The “speed dial” page also provides access to one of Dolphin’s most interesting features, which is its Webzine mode. Here, the user may subscribe to content from a variety of different sources, and see the headlines from that site at a glance. The content can then be read in a text-only view which links to the full webpage, though the exact behavior of this appears to vary according to whether the sites in question put full articles or extracts in their RSS feeds. Links to the articles may then be shared directly to Facebook and Twitter from within the app. This facility is a sensible addition to a mobile web browser, using some of the content curation lessons learned by apps such as Flipboard and Summly, but it would be better if it was guaranteed to retrieve the full articles rather than just extracts.
Dolphin Browser is a well-designed app that is built well for the social Web. Its integrated ability to easily share content on Twitter and Facebook makes it ideal for those who like to discuss the things they read, and its slick interface and addition of gestural controls help make it a simple-to-use browser that is ideal for touchscreen devices. The app also features a number of handy facilities for power users, too, most notably the ability to spoof sites into thinking it is a desktop browser, pop-up blocking and private browsing.
One issue raised by App Store reviewers is worthy of note, however. The app has attracted a number of one-star reviews due to what some have assumed is a compulsory data collection policy. Before using the browser, the user must agree to its terms and conditions, and one of the terms is that if the user agrees to participate in a UX Improvement Program, data will be periodically collected from their device via an agent that runs in the background. Participating in said program is completely optional, though the fact that several reviewers have misunderstood it to be a compulsory part of using the browser highlights the fact that the terms and conditions could perhaps be phrased a little better. It’s a small issue, but one which has attracted some negative feedback via App Store reviews.
All in all, though, Dolphin Browser is a solid replacement for Apple’s Safari or the Android stock browser, particularly suited to highly social Web users who have been looking for an alternative Web-browsing experience — and since it’s a free app, most users will have little cause for complaint.