With all the benefits of Chrome, why would you want to install a third-party browser on your Android device? Dolphin Browser's makers believe that its special features and new web app store will convince Android users to install its latest version on their devices. Released today, Dolphin Browser 10 now features its own HTML5 app store with over 200 titles that could greatly enhance your surfing experience, including Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and Amazon.
We had a chance to go hands-on with Dolphin Browser 10 to find out if the new app store makes it worth your time.
Web App Store
Dolphin Browser's web app store promises to make the browser a "one-stop shop that users never have to leave." You can access it by clicking the Plus symbol in any blank tab, and are brought to a list of the top apps downloaded for the day.
Tapping the list for any title launches that app directly while tapping the plug symbol next to it adds it to your speed dial, a list of shortcuts that appears on any blank tab.
Unfortunately, most of these so-called apps are nothing more than links to the mobile versions of popular websites such as Facebook.com and YouTube.
However, there are a few actual web tools listed including Minimalist, which is an app that lets you make lists of random thoughts.
The one difference between loading a site as a webpage (by typing its url into the address bar) and as an app from the store is that loading it as an app brings up an option at the bottom of the screen to add it to the home page of the browser, in a "speed dial" format.
Dolphin's web app store appears to be useful only as an aggregator of HTML5 apps for now. But it has great potential if it manages to find many HTML5 web tools that are not available on Apple's app store or Google Play, or are for some reason not translating well on iPhone or Android.
Special features - Sonar and Gesture
As you would guess from its name, Sonar is a voice search feature similar to the iPhone's Siri and Chrome's voice search function. You bring up the Sonar function by shaking your device, and speaking your command. Dolphin was able to respond accurately to commands like, "Open Youtube" and "Search laptop". Oddly, it did not respond well to a playback of dolphin echolocation clicks.
Dolphin Browser also recognizes swipes as commands in its Gesture feature. To bring up the Gesture canvas, you tap on the small grey badge with a dolphin silhouette in it on the bottom left of the screen and drag it to the middle of three icons that pop up.
Draw a shape on the full-screen Draw A Gesture canvas to carry out functions such as a left arrow for going to a previous page, and a spiral shape to refresh the page. You can also assign your own Gestures, such as a heart for your online dating site, or a star for your favorite starfish information site.
Gestures is a fun, useful feature but is somewhat tedious to access. It'd be nice to have the browser detect the gestures without forcing you to go to a separate screen to enter them.
Overall, the special features of Dolphin Browser, like Sonar and Gestures, make it a fun and functional browser, and the addition of the web app store certainly differentiates it from its competitors at the moment. However the minimal selection of actual apps as opposed to shortcuts minimizes its utility. We also wouldn't be surprised if Chrome for mobile devices launches a similar service soon, given that its web app store for desktop browsers has been around for years.