The best mobile browser you should be using right now (it's not what you think)

After weeks of testing mobile browsers, Jack Wallen has finally concluded which of those apps is the best of the best.

Stylish senior woman messaging with phone

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Everyone has reached a point where it's simply not possible to function in our day-to-day tasks without a web browser. This is so whether you're at your desk or on your laptop or a mobile device--a good web browser is a must have.

Which one should you use? There are so many of them. Soon I will address this very problem (aka the "Browser Wars"), but you probably have an immediate need for the perfect web browser while on the go.

Let me offer you up a spoiler alert here: The perfect browser doesn't exist. It really doesn't. No matter how much you love your current default, there's something about it that you wish you could change. 

I've gone through the gamut of mobile web browsers. I've tried the standards and enough obscure options to swirl the already muddy waters. I believe I've finally come to a conclusion as to which of these mobile web browser apps is the best of the best.

Before I divulge which browser I landed on, let me explain my criteria. This is where it gets tricky. Every user values different features and has different needs. For some, it's reliability; others might place a higher premium on security. While I believe both reliability and security are very high on the must-have list (with security clearly at the top), I've come to realize that most mobile web browsers do as good a job as the competition at securing data that is always under threat. Some browsers use a VPN, some use encryption, while others rely on a combination of numerous features, but most of them try something. Fortunately, the browser I've chosen as my top does handle security quite well--with a caveat I will explain in a bit.

For me, the driving force behind my choice is efficiency. When I'm on the go, I don't want a mobile app getting in the way of me getting things done as quickly and easily as I can. I want a UI that's going to work with me, not against me. I want speed and usability, not added bloat and complexity. In the end, the mobile browser that won this mobile battle for supremacy is Opera.

SEE: Samsung Galaxy Unpacked 2020: Galaxy Z Fold2, Samsung Galaxy S20, and more (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Feature X or feature Y?

It took me some time to draw this conclusion. I hopped back and forth between most of the usual mobile browser suspects, liking one feature over another, such as:

  • Chrome's Android integration

  • Firefox's Collections

  • Opera Touch's Fast Action Button

  • Vivaldi's Address Bar at bottom feature

  • Brave's beefed-up security 

There were other browsers I'd return to and it seemed almost daily I was switching it up. Monday might have me using Firefox. Tuesday? Brave. Wednesday always felt like a Chrome kind of day. Each time I'd use a different browser, the session would go one of two ways:

  1. "Oh, I forgot about this feature."
  2. "I miss feature X from browser Y."

What was most telling was when I'd open a particular browser and my initial thought was, "This browser isn't nearly as efficient as it should be." More and more, that sentiment popped into mind with every browser, except for one: Opera.

It's all about the flow

Every time I'd come back to Opera, the experience was one of ease. Yes, every mobile browser available is easy to use. In fact, it's a rare occasion that I come across a mobile app that's a challenge to use--that's a clear testament to developers everywhere. Some browsers enjoyed a better flow than others. 

You know what I mean: Some apps just flow well. From task to task, everything is just seamless and simple. You can move from one action to another without thinking or tripping over your own fingers. That, my friends, is where Opera's mobile browser excels. It's not as though the developers and designers cobbled together a bunch of unique features and layouts to make this happen--they simply designed a browser interface that flows well. 

From adding a tab, switching tabs, moving between private and non-private tabs, to adding sites to the speed dial, it's all incredibly easy. Outside of the non-movable address bar, everything can be done with one hand without the slightest stumble. Even with the address bar firmly planted at the top of the app, you can still tap the Search button at the bottom of the screen and start typing, without having to stretch your thumb to the top of the window (Figure A).

Figure A

operaa.jpg

The Opera main page layout.

So even that one stumbling block can be easily mitigated without even having to open the Settings app.

News, news, news

This is going to be a trivial matter to some, but I like to stay current on news of all sorts. Most often, on my Android device, I'll spend time with the Google News app. There's one aspect of Opera that I really appreciate--it's inclusion of news in the main page. According to Opera, the news feature learns from my browsing behavior. 

I know, I know. Privacy advocates are already scrambling to turn that feature off, and I get that. However, I also like news that's geared toward my interests. I frequently come across information that I might not have otherwise. That's an important feature to me. With Opera, I can have that feature integrated into the regular flow of usage, while at the same time, I can block the sharing of statistics with third-party partners and specify how my data can be collected (Figure B).

Figure B

operab.jpg

I turn off everything but data used for the news feed.

You can get fairly granular with how your data is shared and still have that news feed customized to your interests.

That caveat

One issue I have with Opera mobile is that VPN is configured to only work in Private mode; fortunately, the setting is easily changed. If you open Settings by tapping the Opera icon at the bottom of the window and then tapping VPN, you'll find yourself in the VPN Setting windows (Figure C).

Figure C

vpn.jpg

The Opera VPN Settings window.

Tap the checkbox for Use VPN For Private Tabs Only, and you'll then be able to use the VPN in regular tabs, which means that smooth flow of usage won't be interrupted. 

One person's trash

My mother used to say, "One person's trash is another person's treasure." I think that clearly applies to software in that what works for me might not work for you. I've spent a good amount of time using and testing mobile browsers, so when I found myself subconsciously drawn to Opera, I realized it was in my best interest to listen to those instincts. In the end, my gut was right. Of all the browsers I've used on Android, Opera has the best flow. That flow makes this browser the easiest to use on nearly every level.

So there you have it: My conclusion is drawn. That doesn't, of course, mean it's permanent--this is mobile software after all. A developer or designer could change my mind any day. For now, Opera has my vote for the best mobile browser you should be using.

Editor's note: The caveat section was updated to include how to change the VPN setting.

Subscribe to TechRepublic's How To Make Tech Work on YouTube for all the latest tech advice for business pros from Jack Wallen.

Also see

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....