Every year we do a comparison here on the blog among what we deem to be the best desktop browsers. Now the time has come to do the same thing but for smartphone apps. We’re going to proceed by measuring the RAM consumption, opening speed, and compatibility of a handful of the more popular Android browsers: Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera Browser, UC Browser, and Dolphin Browser.
The smartphone we used for our tests was an Elephone P8000 running Android 5.1. The versions of each browser are Google Chrome 50, Firefox 46, Opera 36, UC Browser 10.9, and Dolphin 11.5.6 – all updated to the latest version released on their respective stable channels. In terms of selection, we’ve taken into account the number of downloads on Uptodown more than the user feedback on each browser. The indicators examined for each include:
- Memory occupied by the app after installation
- Opening time in successive reopenings
- RAM consumed when the app is running
- Performance across several benchmarks
- A subjective (but equally important) assessment of usability
The browsers’ basic specs fall outside the scope of our comparison, as you can easily check out this data for yourself on the developer websites for each.
The amount of space an app takes up is mega-important, considering how limited lots of devices’ memory is. In principle this won’t take into account the cache generated by browsing itself, as each app has its own cleaning and auto-management system. Below we list both the size of the APK (in parentheses) and the memory occupied after installing the app:
- Google Chrome: 70.77MB (42MB)
- Opera Browser: 43.68MB (32.24MB)
- Firefox: 53.96MB (40MB)
- UC Browser: 47.76MB (16MB)
- Dolphin Browser: 49.50MB (11MB)
Winner: Opera Browser takes up the least space. At the other extreme, Chrome is the heaviest. This data also mirrors the amount of data later stored in the cache.
Another big thing to keep in mind is how long the app takes to open. To get this measure we’ve used the free Android app DiscoMark, which evaluates how long it takes a set of apps to open over several iterations. Here we’ve done a test with 20 opening cycles to get the most realistic figure when the pages viewed remain in the phone’s memory. The results are as follows:
- Google Chrome: 0.178s
- Opera Browser: 0.165s
- Firefox: 0.171s
- UC Browser: 0.102s
- Dolphin Browser: 0.115s
Winner: UC Browser opens fastest, followed closely by Dolphin. That said, don’t confuse app opening time with page-loading time (which we’ll evaluate below).
How much space an app takes up on its own is one thing, and how much it generates with running processes and cache during normal operation quite another. The following values are taken from Android’s own app manager, with the same control conditions for each: the browser with three tabs loaded (Uptodown, Wikipedia, and Google Search) after a clean startup of the device. The values, adding up the basic processes launched by each app, are as follows:
- Google Chrome: 175MB
- Opera Browser: 143MB
- Firefox: 245MB
- UC Browser: 135MB
- Dolphin Browser: 133MB
Winner: Dolphin Browser uses the least RAM while running, although we have to take into account that when it opens it also runs Dolphin Video, its integrated video player, which takes up space separately.
- Google Chrome: 1779.8ms +/- 4.3%
- Opera Browser: 1865ms +/- 3.4%
- Firefox: 1319.7ms +/- 1.6%
- UC Browser: 1240.4ms +/- 2.2%
- Dolphin Browser: 1747.1ms +/- 13.5%
- Google Chrome: 13124.2ms +/- 2.9%
- Opera Browser: 14029ms +/- 1.7%
- Firefox: 12741.9ms +/- 0.7%
- UC Browser: 14093.4ms +/- 0.5%
- Dolphin Browser: 18860.7ms +/- 3.6%
- Google Chrome: 518 (of 555)
- Opera Browser: 507 (of 555)
- Firefox: 485 (of 555)
- UC Browser: 413 (of 555)
- Dolphin Browser: 415 (of 555)
Winner: Taking the net values and doing a measure of the positions in each of the three categories, Firefox gets the best numbers, though we have to consider the benchmarking tool, too: Kraken is a measurement tool development by Mozilla itself. But even if we discard that set of figures Firefox is still the fastest. On the other side is Dolphin as the biggest laggard behind the rest.
Appearance and interface
This section is completely subjective and we can’t really pick a winner as that decision depends heavily on each user’s preferences. But there are still features that can tip the balance one way or another. Below, our comments on each app separately:
- Google Chrome: Unbeatable at the visual level, mainly because it’s the most familiar for those who use one of its desktop versions. Robust, sober, no fancy stuff. There’s a reason the operating system is Chrome’s.
- Opera Browser: Minimalism with no sacrifice to functionality. Opera Browser knows how to differentiate between a clear, unhindered experience and enriched content with bookmarks and recommended items.
- Firefox: Along the lines of Chrome in its level of precision, offering a boost to usability for certain functionalities like managing open (and private) tabs.
- UC Browser: Simple and efficient but with an albatross that keeps it from being on par with its competitors: it has TOO MANY unnecessary add-ons like browser bars, recommended sites, its own integrated app store, sponsored bookmarks, and other items that, though optional, should really come disabled by default.
- Dolphin Browser: Along the lines of UC Browser but much less intrusive. Its lower bar provides quick access to all the features of the browser, while new windows offer the standard array of your most visited URLs. If we had to define it with a single word, we’d underline that it’s balanced.
Winner: We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that Google Chrome provides the nicest feel when browsing and accessing the basic controls to manage your tabs, favorites, and options panel, mainly due, as mentioned above, to the familiarity of the system.
Moral of the story
Well this is an interesting result. On each of the different indicators we’ve looked at a different browser has come out as the winner – which is more than enough reason not to be able to pick a clear victor and come to a rather brilliant verdict: there are currently browsers out there for users of all stripes, whether you’re looking for general performance or all sorts of integrated add-ons. Want something, popular, familiar, and robust? The smartphone versions of Chrome and Firefox await you with open arms. Want a browser that comes with loads of extra integrated tools? UC Browser has your back. Or maybe you want a minimalist experience with a restrained appetite for resources, but without having to opt for a ‘Mini’ version, in which case Opera is the one for you. What marvellous times we live in.