Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dolphin Browser (Android) Review

A few days ago, I wrote a very minor post giving all of you a heads up post on me reviewing the Dolphin Browser. I was talking about that browser that you can install on Android, and can be set as the default browser for everything. You can also install Dolphin on your Android tablet, a few iOS devices, and you can grab the latest beta release of the browser before it is ready for production and pushed to existing users.

Quick Thing - My Home Screen and other tidbits before starting the review.
This is my first review on Android, so please bear with me if I am not perfect. If you are also interested in seeing what my home screen looks like, then you can go ahead and see the image for that. I have taken over 20 images, so if I do not embed all of them, I still encourage you to view all of them. I took a screenshot of my screen by using a very simple tool that comes built in with the Android SDK - Software Development Kit. In this review, I also alternate between landscape and portrait positions depending on what I am capturing. All images appear here in their actual size.

I am running Android version 2.3, so my device is not up to date Android-wise. All software on the system is up to date.

Icons at the top from left to right in the very top notification bar are the icon alerting USB debugging is enabled (so I can actually access the phone from the SDK tools), USB Charging (because the device is inserted into my computer), and more. After that, normal status icons are there whether the phone is plugged in or not. My device also does not use 4G, it is a 3G only phone. Compared to my home connection, which is much faster then then 3G, the speed on the phone is not as bad as I thought it would be. I always have signal because my phone uses Verizon's cellular towers. If you are interested in the actual phone is that I am using, then let me know in the comments below and I will tell you. And with that, lets move on.

Launching Dolphin

As you can see from my home screen above, my icon for the Dolphin Browser is located to the right of the Outlook shortcut icon, which I will probably be removing due to my recent installation of the Official Hotmail App. Dolphin used to have a green splash screen while loading up, but since the last two updates, the splash screen has been removed to reduce browser start up time. I noticed virtually no difference. Well, maybe .5 of a second. I kinda liked the screen too.
As soon as you launch Dolphin, it will either open the new tab page, a set home page, or the last page opened before you quit the browser. In my case, I have set as my home page, as I want it to load up my email. If you see another image that redirects to -- then what that means that is my real point to address link, and the mail subdomain redirects to webmail, which redirects to my sign in page. I did this so some of my friends can access their mail easier when using the web.

In this instance, I have the new tab page shown. You can easily add new sites to the "speed dial" of the browser, sort of like the highly visited pages sites works in Chrome. You have to set this yourself, in Dolphin. Pinned Sites is my last attempt as a comparison.

Technical Stuff about the browser

Before I go further, I should also talk a bit about the stuff behind the browser. First off, the browser is based off of the highly popular layout engine WebKit. Display issues between the native Android Browser and the Dolphin Browser should be very minimal or non-existent. The user agent of the browser depends on what phone you are using it on. Example image for my phone shown to the right.

User agents are usually found with every browser. There are many popular user agents, but they do vary between the simplest things such as the operating system. Throw in the device (if it is included),and you have millions of user agents. Mobile sites of popular websites often look at the user agent for a set string, such as "Android." If the value returned true, then the mobile site would load. If it didn't, then it didn't.

If you ever wondered if Google has a user agent, it does. It's user agent is called Googlebot.
Like many web browsers, Dolphin includes the ability to add bookmarks to the browser. In addition to that, you can also create folders and manage bookmarks. You can access the bookmarks menu by putting your thumb or other finger at the very left of the screen, then drag to the opposite side, in this case place your finger on the left edge of your screen, then drag your finger to the right. A bookmarks menu would slide out. You can click the gear to expand the box, as well as activate something more advanced.

The same goes for Addons. You put your finer on the right side of the screen, then drag it to the left of the screen. Clicking the gear makes the menu expand across the screen, as well as activates a addons manager.

Addons are installed a little bit different from what you expect. When you install an add on (at least official ones), you have to download them from the Google Play Store. Most addons are not over 1 MB. The good part about this, though, is that you can move the Addons to the SD card, saving space. You can also move the entire Dolphin Browser to the SD card if you wish. Only sad part is if you plug in your phone via Mass Storage, then you can't access the app as the SD card is mounted to the computer.

The appearance of Dolphin is quite pleasing. I do have to say upfront that I went ahead and installed that blue theme, as the default one is green. The appearance of the browser, color aside, is that it looks a lot like Google Chrome. So if you love Chrome, it will feel like you have never left home. The tabs look the same, the close buttons on them, and even the new tab button. Only real difference is that the new tab button is to the right, and not next to the actual tab itself. Like said before. It uses WebKit, so that just adds to the  similarities.

Syncing Data
Dolphin has a service that allows you to sync your bookmarks and other data between your devices. It is a neat service, but it does not allow you to sync your data between your PC. On top of that, there is no official plugin that I know of that integrates with Chrome or some other major browsers to keep your bookmarks between your PC and phone up to date. With that aside, it appears to be a very good and neat feature. To access it, slide your bookmarks menu out, then click the symbol that looks like a cloud. Some supporting images are below.

Menu Bar
If you press the menu button on your phone, you get a menu bar to show up on the bottom of the screen. By default, it does not show up automatically unless you set it to always display in your settings. I personally recommend to keep the setting at its default; that way you can save a lot of space.
Clicking the buttons above do what you expect. The menu shown to the right is when you click the "More" button. You can access settings that way, as well as close the browser, freeing resources. I'd like to take a stab at Android's browser now, because there is no way to close the browser without going to the Applications manager and force-quitting it. Clicking the Addons button does what you expect it too. You can always slide out the right menu if you want.

Settings in Dolphin are straightforward. You can manage a lot of the browser via the settings. You can even change the browser's user agent to wherever you wish. You can change default search providers, and much more. Supporting images below.
You might see some settings, such as Sonar, that might be unfamiliar to you. More on that in the following paragraphs.

Voice Features
One of the biggest features of the Dolphin Browser that sets it away from other competitors is its voice features. When I first looked at Dolphin, I didn't really pay that much attention to the Dolphin icon at the bottom left. I did eventually look at it, and you should too. The voice features of this browser is spot on! I didn't have to train the browser to my voice at all, it literally "knew" what I was saying. I don't know that much on how exactly they get their voice interpreting code works to do that, but I'm not going to ask. It is one of the features on this browser that "just works", with virtually no hassle getting the feature to work. If I am not mistaken, you still need to have an internet connection to use this feature. I believe that Dolphin sends a very tiny voice clip to their servers to interpret what you are saying, and then sends the text of what you are saying back to your client. Privacy wise, there is not much risk.
A rather funny feature is that the browser can and will interpret profanity. What it will do then censor out parts of the word. So if you said the F word, then it would interpret it as "F***." I do not recommend you just start cursing at your phone, though. I'm just telling you that it does work if you desire to start cursing out your phone :).

Setting a bookmark in the browser is very easy. What you do is click the "+" (plus) button to the right of the URL bar, and then you get a popup with info that you can fill in to create the bookmark. Most of the time most of the information will be filled in for you if you are bookmarking a page that has a URL, but with the new tab page you can manually create bookmarks.

This section is here to tack on more info about bookmarks. The first section talked about the bookmarks and how to manage them, as well as how to locate them. This section talks about gestures. When you click the Dolphin Icon at the bottom left, you get a screen that looks like the one pictured above in the other section. Notice the two buttons at the bottom. The microphone indicates voice use, and the other one with a finger indicates gestures.

Gestures is very simple. It is basically drawing symbols in place of typing text or speaking. Symbols can be anything. The one disadvantage is that you have to keep your finger constantly on the screen, meaning that you have to draw one continuous line. If you draw your symbol good enough, then you can even draw it upside down or sideways and the browser will still recognize it.

When you are creating a gesture for a bookmark, you have to draw it, then draw it again so you can remember it correctly. After that, the gesture will be added to the bookmark, and you can then save it or modify other settings such as what folder it in and then save.

Here is some images that I snapped while creating a gesture for my email shortcut, which points to my domain's mail forward.
Downloads/File Manager
Dolphin also includes a very functional download and file manager. The download manger does exactly what it is supposed to do, which is to manage downloads. You can pause and cancel downloads as you feel fit. The other tab contains the file manager. You can browser directories, view properties of folders and files,and delete files. You can't really upload anything to the phone via Dolphin though, except though the web. AirDroid is a good tool for that. Supporting images are below.
Wrap Up
My final opinion is: It is a good browser. It does have its draw backs, but the goods, in my opinion, out weighs the bads of this browser. The team behind it is always working to improve the browser, and a little feedback from all of you, as well as me, can create a better browser for everyone. If you want to see all of my additional photos for this review, you can go here and take a look at it. If you have questions or comments, post them in the thread below.