7 alternatives to your phone’s built-in web browser
Protect your privacy, save data, navigate faster, and do more with these lesser-used mobile browsers.
This story has been updated. It was originally published on September 16, 2018.
More than half of the world’s website traffic comes from mobile devices, and we’re willing to bet a lot of that stems from the browsers built into Android and iOS phones. On Android, Google Chrome (of course) takes pride of place, while iPhones rely on pre-installed versions of Apple’s Safari. But these are far from your only choices.
Just like your computer, your phone offers a variety of options to help you navigate the internet. We collected seven feature-packed web browsers that protect your privacy, reduce your data use, boost your speed, and more.
1. Mozilla Firefox
Mozilla Firefox may be the best-known independent web browser. If you like its popular desktop version, you should try the smart and speedy app for your phone. It really excels at protecting you from the web trackers that want to follow you around the internet.
Inside Firefox’s app, you can disable tracking with a couple of taps, or work in private-browsing mode. The Android version of the browser also supports extensions for everything from ad blocking to password management.
In addition to tracking protection, Firefox has a clean, smart interface. The front page provides a list of your most-visited sites, along with recommended reading based on pages you’ve bookmarked in the past. And like its computer-based cousin, the phone version of the browser lets you save your passwords, bookmarks, and browsing history. If you already use the desktop version, you can sync all of this information, allowing you to jump between devices with ease.
Mozilla Firefox is free for Android and iOS.
2. Opera and Opera Mini
Opera has long been a trusted name in the browsing business, and it has several options for your phone. There’s the standard Opera browser for both major operating systems, but Android users also have access to Opera Mini. There used to be a Mini version for iOS, but that became Opera Touch before disappearing in favor of the Opera browser for iPhone.
All versions of Opera’s mobile browser have been designed for one-handed, on-the-go use, but Opera Mini is especially handy if you want to keep data use to a minimum: it has a built-in data-saving tool that compresses websites and page elements before they show up on your smartphone.
By sending you compressed versions of pages, the browser works exceptionally well on limited or slower internet connections. This also prevents you from blasting through your data plan too quickly—open the app to check exactly how much bandwidth you’re saving. On top of that, Opera further reduces your data use with smart downloads that start and resume based on WiFi availability.
[Related: How to find free WiFi when you really need it]
The compression process doesn’t compromise privacy, either: Opera doesn’t log any of your personal information while it puts pages through its compressor, nor does it apply this to encrypted pages. You also get a bunch of other useful features on all Opera apps, including a private browsing mode, quick links for adding websites to your phone’s home page, the ability to sync passwords and bookmarks with the desktop version of the browser, and a night mode to take the strain off your eyes in the dark.
Opera is free for Android and iOS, and Opera Mini is free for Android.
The Brave browser emphasizes security and privacy. To start with, it comes with a built-in ad-blocker (just remember to whitelist the sites you want to support) so pop-ups won’t weigh down your browsing and websites won’t be able to track you as easily. For even more control, Brave features advanced security settings.
For example, you can prevent all interactive scripts from running on a page. When you’re loading a site, you can tell the browser to only make secure HTTPS connections (where they’re available). Brave also comes with built-in anti-phishing protection to keep you safe from attacks.
Developers built this browser on Chromium, an open-source project that also serves as the foundation of Google Chrome, so you might notice some similarities with the look and feel of that app. In addition to stellar security, Brave includes all the usual features you would expect from a mobile browser, including incognito browsing, browser bookmarks, and password management.
Brave is free for Android and iOS.
4. Ecosia Browser
The Ecosia Browser, which also has its foundation in open-source Chromium code, funnels all your web queries through its own search engine, earning money through advertising and referrals on these searches. So why do we like it so much? Because Ecosia spends its money on environmentally focused projects—thus far, it has planted more than 150 million trees.
Of course, Ecosia has more than just a green thumb. It also refuses to save the details of your searches or your personal information. That means as you browse, your taps will be protecting the planet’s natural balance, rather than lining the pockets of a major tech corporation.
[Related: You have the power to protect your data. Own it.]
5. Kiwi Browser
Kiwi Browser focuses on speed, cutting its app down to the essentials so you can focus on zooming around the web rather than sifting through menus and settings.
If there’s one reason to give Kiwi a try, it’s that speed—this browser really is fast. It’s also easy to use—you can even move the address bar down to the bottom so you can navigate more easily on bigger screens. However, it has fewer security features than some of the other browsers on this list, and there’s currently no iOS version of the app.
Like a few Android browsers, it relies on that handy Chromium code, so you’ll get the usual tools for tabs, bookmarks, passwords, and private browsing. But Kiwi adds a few tweaks: You can access features like a night mode to prevent eye strain, an ad blocker that’s enabled by default, support for playing YouTube in the background (so you can keep listening to music while you browse), and a special scanner that helps you avoid any sites that might hijack your phone to mine cryptocurrencies.
Kiwi Browser is free for Android.
6. Tor Browser
The truly paranoid web-searcher needs Tor. Like its desktop version, the Tor Browser for Android doesn’t connect you directly to sites. Instead, it routes you through a series of connected servers, making it much harder for other people—whether that’s your internet provider, marketing companies, government agencies, or identity thieves—to track and identify you.
In that respect, this browser acts a lot like a VPN, only instead of putting your trust in one VPN company and its servers, you’re relying on a decentralized network of nodes run by volunteers who believe in privacy. The good news is that all of this heavy lifting happens behind the scenes, so you can just run your searches and enter URLs as you normally would.
Note that because of Tor’s focus on privacy, you won’t get some of the features you might prefer, such as browsing history or password management. The Tor Browser aims to forget this type of information, not save it. Finally, if you own an iPhone, you’re out of luck—there’s currently no Tor Browser for iOS. That said, the Tor team recommends the Onion Browser for those within Apple’s ecosystem.
Tor Browser is free for Android.
7. Firefox Focus
The second Mozilla browser in our list, Firefox Focus ramps up the ad blocking and tracking protection to offer one of the most secure and private mobile browsing experiences. It started life as an ad-blocker extension for mobile devices, but Mozilla decided to surround it with a minimal web browser based on the original Firefox.
So how does this differ from its older sibling? Firefox Focus leaves barely any trace on the web. Think of it like running Firefox in private mode all the time, without storing any browsing history or cookies on your device. It also blocks most trackers and ads by default, and you might find that pages load faster and the whole internet speeds up because of that.
Of course, because the browser stores nothing between sessions, it won’t let you easily jump back to that website you enjoyed the day before. Every time you visit a log-in site like Twitter or Gmail, you’ll have to re-enter your credentials. If you consider that a worthwhile trade-off for a more private online experience, give Firefox Focus a try.