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There are some pretty good reasons to stick with mobile Safari: it's the iPhone default, so links automatically route to there from other apps, it's pretty speedy, and, even though the app is simple to use, Apple's crammed a ton of functionality into that little guy -- whether in iPhone or iPad flavors. But sometimes... well, sometimes Safari leaves us a little cold, leaves us wanting something a little more full featured, something we don't have to install a bunch of bookmarklets to make work.
RichTech has put together a fine app here with Atomic Web Browser, an app that looks pretty simple at first glimpse. Eight buttons, two text boxes, and the mobile world. The larger text box at top is for URLs while the smaller handles your searches, just like in Safari.
In the iPhone version, across the bottom are seven buttons, all of which lodge up top near the search and address bars in the iPad's roomier version. The familiar navigation arrows, the bookmark/history book, the + sign for bookmarking a current site, the gear for settings, the down arrow for downloading and saving either pages or files, and the diagonal full-screen arrow.
These familiar buttons will show up throughout most browsers
What Atomic brings to surfing the internet -- right out the gate -- is something most alternate browsers zeroed in on, and that's Apple's poor management of tabs. Mobile Safari in either flavor, with its shift to a window gallery of your tabs, a completely new screen being the only means of accessing them, is no one's idea of good design. Atomic lets you run a whole string of tabs, and then tap and slide your finger across the tabs bar to navigate through the ones that run right off the screen.
Tabs with a splash of color
The other innovation these third-party browsers worked on was spoofing. Typically, a site can recognize what browser you're using, so if a mobile version of a website exists, savvier web masters redirect iPhone users to the mobile version. But sometime the mobile version isn't your cup of tea --it's got fewer access points and a stripped down interface. Atomic lets you misinform websites that you're running a desktop version of Safari (or both mobile versions), Firefox 3, and even IE 6-8.
Green and profile with all your buttons down below
To access that in Atomic, you have to tap the settings gear where all the magic is hidden. Atomic features pages and pages of options. Set your level of privacy (including an app passcode), block ads, add in or remove search engines, link with Dropbox, even bring in killer multi-touch gestures. Atomic packs a wallop under the hood, and even better than that, it's speedy where it counts. It loaded fast, but you didn't have time to read it? Save the page to read it later.
Just a ton of settings tucked away inside this baby
Developer Vivek Javvaji is certainly not aiming for modesty points with his pair of browsers, one for the iPad and one for the iPod and iPhone. We will give him this point: none of the other browsers we looked at offered Chrome as a spoofed browser choice, save this one.
More spoofing choices than others
Is that enough to earn the name he's taken for this browser? Weellll, it's not exactly perfect, though outside some minor UI issues, we'd be hard pressed to pin down precisely where it's weak. Like Atomic, we have an 8 button world on both versions if you don't count the tappable arrows that hide the toolbars.
Desktop spoofing gets you more functions -- sometimes
Arrows navigate, + lets you bookmark or save or print (and more), and the star is your screen to manage bookmarks either by adding, subtracting, or importing. Tap the magnifying glass for in-page searching or the gear for settings. We found the different colors for the buttons a bit distracting -- even though there are the same number as in Atomic, PERFECT's coloration made it seem more cluttered.
How do you want to interact with content?
As far as browsing went, PERFECT did its work and did it quickly. It's a sharp little browser with a Speedy Gonzalez thing to prove. It took us several tabs of content to see any significant speed depreciation. That said, there wasn't much in the way of significant improvements over mobile Safari. There were multitouch gestures, Google compression, and finer grained control over cookies, but PERFECT was a far cry from offering a serious, viable alternative.
Multitouch is pretty nice, we must admit
Of course, fewer tweaks and settings in and of themselves is no measure of a browser's strength or weakness. We just feel that if you're going to take such a pat on the back style name, you better offer something pretty special.
iCab Mobile, from Alexander Clauss, decided to take what was good about mobile Safari's handling of tabs, a dedicated management screen, and marry it to a tab bar across the top of the browser. This gives you instant one tap access to quite a few of them, but also lets you see your open tabs as a screen of thumbnails. We're hoping Apple does something like this with iOS 5. Similarly, there's a Quickstarter button that gives you quick access to your most used bookmarks, similar to desktop Safari (and Chrome and Opera). A two finger swipe horizontally slides you to the next or previous tab.
Ways to manage your tabs help with browsing
The usual suspects as far as buttons make their appearance, navigation arrows, bookmark book, gear settings. The real treat in iCab comes from the puzzle piece button -- and here's where you're going to fall in love. iCab has integrated so thoroughly various third party services and solutions that you'll never look at mobile Safari quite the same way.
What do all these buttons do?
Do you have an Instapaper account? Kick articles to there for reading later. Don't have one? Tap the Instapaper Mobilizer button to see what you're missing. Rocking Readability or ReadItLater? Built in. Foreign language page? Tap Google Translate button and your page opens in a new tab, ready to be rendered. Send a PDF to your GoodReader app, post a page to Facebook, tweet it on Twitter, and more. Want to print a page, but not waste ink on color graphics? There's a button to make your page black and white.
Your mobile life is all right here in iCab's modules.
From the puzzle piece you can also change font size, follow an address to Google Maps, push the page's RSS feed to your Google Reader lists, convert a page to an ePub, save it to your delicious account or your Pinboard. And on and on and on.
Tons of settings in there to tweak away
In fact there's hardly a trick iCab is missing. Ever get leery about privacy? Enable private mode, set a password to access iCab, and even set a Guest mode so others can use iCab without you having to worry about clearing your cache of your hours spent on KittenWar.com. In Guest mode bookmarks are disabled, settings are limited to appearance, and all your secrets are tucked safely away.
iCab was slick, quick, and full of tricks. We're not sure we've seen a browser with quite this much juice.
We were long time Atomic users because iCab was a whole dollar more when we saw it in iTunes (yes, we're that kind of cheap), but having given it a chance, we're definitely planning on switching. With as much functionality as iCab has built in and no discernible lag in operation speeds, there's no reason why we shouldn't opt for the most powerful choice out there. We're kicking ourselves, frankly, for letting a dollar stand between us and this much awesomeness. This app, for us, is the real one deserving of the name Perfect.