Dolphin Browser on iOS is solid, but will you use it?

Boasting 9 million users, one the most popular third-party browsers for Google Android devices, Dolphin Browser, is now available for Apple iOS devices. The free software is my recommended way to surf the web on both smartphones and tablets running Android(s goog),and the iOS (s aapl) version retains several of the key features. The app supports true tabbed browsing, easy access to bookmarks and settings through the use of virtual screen space and a new feature that only just arrived on the Android (s goog) version: Webzine mode, which shows blog posts in a pleasing, easy to read format.

I took the iOS version of Dolphin Browser for a spin on my iPod touch and found it useful, but limited as compared to its Android counterpart. I’m a fan of tabbed browsing, and it is faster to navigate through open web pages in Dolphin over the native Safari browser. I also like the presentation of Dolphin’s Webzine view over the Reader function in the upcoming iOS 5 software. Dolphin also supports more than two dozen gestures for browser navigation, toggling settings, or quickly loading a particular webpage, although the gesture function requires a tap before drawing. Full-screen / desktop mode is an option as is private browsing.

Similar to Opera’s browser, Dolphin has a customizable Speed Dial feature where you can set up favorite sites; tapping the URL field on a blank tab brings up the stored sites. Next to the URL address bar is a button to share a web page via Twitter or Facebook. Standard bookmarking is also available and easy to get to. Just like in the Android version, you can swipe the browser “off screen” to the right to see bookmarks. Swiping the browser to the left provides one-touch choices for Full Screen mode, Downloads, a gesture, clearing browsing data or additional options.

Overall, the browser is relatively fast and feature-filled; at least for a first version. Just as Safari does, Dolphin scored the maximum 100 points when I ran the Acid3 test, showing compliance with JavaScript and other web standards. And for the SunSpider test, which checks JavaScript performance, Dolphin scored a laggy 11,512 milliseconds while Safari turned in a far faster score of 3,660.9 ms. Note: Lower is better, indicating that Safari will handle JavaScript much faster. Overall, I found Dolphin rendered pages nearly as quickly, however.

But there’s a huge barrier to adoption for any third-party browser on an iOS device which could keep many from even trying the Dolphin Browser: Apple allows one, and only one, app to be the native web browser, and that’s Safari. That means any tapped links from email, Twitter or other sources will always open up in Safari. It’s an inconvenience that some won’t want to deal with, which is a shame, because Dolphin for iOS looks promising.