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Dolphin Browser HD gets faster with backend improvements (hands-on)

Dolphin Browser HD gets faster with backend improvements (hands-on)


Dolphin Browser HD has released a major backend update promising significantly improved speeds when browsing the web, and we've taken it for a spin.

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Dolphin HD One X
Dolphin HD One X

Dolphin Browser HD, long a favorite third-party web browser for Android, is receiving a major backend update, called Dolphin Engine, promising some big speed increases that the company says will make Dolphin's ability to render HTML5 up to ten times faster than the stock Android browser and up to 100 percent faster than the Chrome for Android Beta. We tested a beta version of the new Dolphin with backend updates on an HTC One X and an HTC EVO 4G LTE we found it was noticeably faster at loading and browsing several different websites.

Noticeably faster at browsing several different sites

The Verge loaded in a quick 12.8 seconds (on Wi-Fi) in the new version of Dolphin HD, whereas the Chrome Beta and HTC Sense browser took longer — 18.7 and 20 seconds respectively. Dolphin loaded The New York Times in 8.6 seconds, while Chrome and the Sense browser were a bit behind at 9.2 and 9.9 seconds each. The new Dolphin loaded our sister site SB Nation in 13.6 seconds, again beating out Chrome, which took 16 seconds, and the Sense browser, which took 20 seconds. CNN loaded in 6.5 seconds in Dolphin, but Chrome did it in 5.8 and the stock Sense browser in a fast 3.5 seconds. In a Sunspider test, Dolphin scored a 1949.5, the worst of the three browsers we tested: Chrome scored a 1842 and the stock Sense browser a surprisingly quick 1596.6.

Flash performed surprisingly well, and even full-Flash sites were browsable with minimal lag — we were able to simulate a spaceship launch in We Choose the Moon with no noticeable stuttering. That being said, manipulating a Flash web page on a touch screen still isn't the best idea: we mistakenly tapped when we wanted to scroll (and vice versa) quite frequently. Streaming both HTML5 and Flash videos worked well too, with little to no hiccups. Scrolling and zooming seemed about as good as Chrome for Android, the current standard — moving up around and zooming was fluid even when viewing content-heavy pages like The Verge or CNN. Dolphin also started rendering the first parts of pages faster than its Android-based competitors, but it was still slightly slower than the iPhone 4S.

Dolphin tells us this is all possible thanks to "extensive canvas improvements," particularly to 2D context and text. Dolphin Engine also uses some new GPU technology improvements to offer GPU accelerated canvas rendering and optimization. In the real world, all that means significant improvements in HTML5 rendering and generally better browsing experience.

Opening and closing tabs was a breeze thanks to the tabbed browsing view, which works great on larger screened devices. Sonar, Dolphin's take on voice search, was fun and consistently returned accurate results (although it had some trouble with "The Verge"). Gesture support is another unique addition that differentiates Dolphin from the rest of the pack, and Dolphin is well-known to be incredibly customizable thanks to add-on support.

Dolphin is still around for a reason

While there are dozens of replacement browsers on Android, Dolphin is still around for a reason: it's a solid browser, compatible with phones running Android 2.0.1 or newer — essentially every phone or tablet out there — while Chrome is only available for Android 4.0, a relatively small fraction of the Android universe. The new backend improvements don't drastically change the classic Dolphin UI, but the addition of some fresh speed bumps makes Dolphin feel like a whole new browser. The update is available now as a beta from the Dolphin Browser blog.