Alternative iOS Browsers for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch (Part 3)

8/15/2013 9:27:32 AM

Atomic WQ Browser

Available in both a stripped down ‘Lite’ version and a $2.21 fully featured version (reviewed here), Atomic is similar to Mercury in that it has a long feature list. The difference is that with Atomic there are no fancy icons on the settings menu or explanations of what cryptic features do (‘Display IDN’?). There are no thumbnail previews of bookmarks either, although you can set up speed dial, which utilizes thumbnails. Ultimately, though, this is a browser for the man (and it will be a man) who likes to work through long lists of options to make things just so.

Features include ad blocking, browser faking (so Atomic appears to sites as a desktop OS), downloading to Dropbox. A bookmarks toolbar, full-screen browsing, and TV-out, provided you use the right cable.

Atomic WQ Browser

Atomic WQ Browser

Unique features that caught our eye include the ability to use Google Mobilizer, which strips sites of extraneous nonsense to make them mobile friendly (including making them low-bandwidth), which, unlike Opera Mini‘s effort, does actually appear to work but results in extremely basic websites (imagine a WAP site on your Nokia circa 1998).

Overall, we were a little underwhelmed by Atomic. Aside from the fact it has a separate URL and search fields, rather than an Omnibar, we couldn't really fault it. Then again, we couldn't find much to praise about it either. It does the job. It just isn’t particularly elegant, and it looks more like an Android app than something that should grace Apple hardware. At $2.21 for the full range of features, it's also relatively expensive considering Mercury offers almost the same feature list for free.


Skyfire is the most expensive browser on test here, not least because its developer pulls the mean trick of producing separate versions for the iPhone ($2.96) and iPad ($4.44). Other browsers reviewed here use a single app approach, meaning that you only pay once thanks to Apple's App Store policies.

Skyfire Updates iPad Browser

Skyfire Updates iPad Browser

Skyfire’s chief trick is to let you watch Flash video, which it does by transcoding them in a data warehouse before sending an i0S-friendly MP4 stream to your device. This has a few drawbacks. It’s not full Flash compatibility, so you can't watch animations or play games. Flash videos that require passwords also won't work.

Additionally, transcoding means there’s a delay of around up to half a minute before you get to see the video, and the video appears in full-screen mode isolated from the site it's contained on (the rest of the site is rendered on the device, as with any other browser).

Even taking these caveats into account, the results of our testing just weren’t acceptable. With exclusive access to a 9Mbit ADSL connection offering sustained download speeds of over 900KB/s, the videos Skyfire delivered tended to be blurry with a lower frame-rate than most viewed via something like the YouTube app, making for choppy action. Some suffered from horrendously out-of-sync audio. These are symptoms of overly aggressive encoding, and while the blurring was less of an issue on an iPhone because of the smaller screen, Skyfire claims to detect the best streaming setup, so we had no way of improving things.

Skyfire web browser for iPad adds support for multiple accounts with HotSwap feature

Skyfire web browser for iPad adds support for multiple accounts with HotSwap feature

Skyfire’s other big trick is Horizon, a scrollable list of icons at the bottom that allow you to share stuff you’re seeing, or get quick pop-up access to news sites. It disappears when you scroll, as does the topmost address bar and toolbar.

Horizon is pretty nifty, but that’s about it for clever features. We liked that there’s a simple toggle to switch between desktop and mobile versions of a website, but the developer of Skyfire has clearly taken the KISS route – there are hardly any settings to tweak, for example.

Your mileage may vary with Skyfire but, then again, you won’t be able to test it without buying it. As with all Flash-equipped browsers for iOS, we get the impression Skyfire works best if you’re in the country where the transcoding servers are located. Skyfire is apparently considering buying server space in the UK. If that happens, our opinion of this app may change dramatically.

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