For the longest time, I didn’t feel the need to play around with alternative iOS browsers. Why would I, when Mobile Safari fulfilled just about every need that I had? I was content with Apple’s default offering, and would skim through browser reviews just to say I had checked out the competition.
This changed with a review that I read on our sister site, Mac.AppStorm. Joshua Johnson reviewed Sleipnir, a browser that combined WebKit rendering with a powerful, gesture-based navigation system. I immediately downloaded the app on the iPhone and began to play with it. Here are my thoughts.
The Main Attraction: Gestures
If it weren’t for some of the gestures in play here I probably wouldn’t have given Sleipnir a second glance. While I’m as big of a fan of Norse mythology as anyone, naming your application after Odin’s horse isn’t enough to get me to download your app. Maybe. As I said, I was — and continue to be — happy with Apple’s Mobile Safari.
Still, there’s something attractive about Sleipnir that keeps bringing me back for more. Foremost is probably the ability to switch tabs by flicking my finger from the edge of the screen. No longer am I forced to tap on a little square, slide to the window that I want, and then tap it to launch. Instead, I slide my finger once. Easy.
There are other gestures as well, ranging from the useful ability to close a tab by sliding your finger down and to the right, to the awkward ability to move backwards and forwards through browsing history by sliding up and to the left or right. Or, on the other hand, if you’re done with a tab you can go ahead and close it by drawing an L.
That navigation and the Refresh gesture (a clockwise circle) feel like the most awkward to perform, probably because it moves the view around (as it should) and winds up feeling like the gestures are hacks that you get to by breaking what the browser was meant to do in the first place.
Sleipnir feels to be on par with Mobile Safari in my limited testing. In some cases it felt faster (like when I checked out this website) and in others it felt slower (like checking out Game Informer’s website). I’d say that given an average, the speeds would look to be about the same.
The browser also feels faster because of the gesture-based navigation. Where the iPhone might be masking some of its lag by hiding other windows behind a button, Sleipnir lays it all out in the open, giving me the feeling that it’s really up to par.
Let’s be honest though: you probably aren’t checking Sleipnir out because Mobile Safari feels slow. If anything, it’s the opposite; Mobile Safari, especially with iOS 5, is quite speedy.
Keeping it All In Sync
One of the main draws for Safari and Mobile Safari is the automatic syncing of bookmarks across devices. This works out well and dandy if you happen to use Safari as the main browser on all of your devices, but starts to break down if you’re used to using something like Chrome or the desktop version of Sleipnir.
Thankfully, the developers have a free service that one can sign up for called the Fenrir Pass (these guys have a thing for the Nordic people, I guess). Everything works without a hitch, and data is successfully transferred between all three of my devices.
Now, we’ve all had those moments where we need to open tab upon tab upon tab. While it’s fairly easy to keep this to a minimum on the iPhone, there are times that you’ll need to be able to manage tabs beyond Mobile Safari’s window management. Beyond offering fast tab switching via gestures, Sleipnir also goes a step further by offering groups for you to place tabs in.
Let’s say that I want to check Facebook and Twitter (and that I also hate their native apps) but I’m also checking out an interview on one of my favorite sites, and there’s a bit of research for a paper open as well. Under Mobile Safari it’s all on me to hope that I can remember where everything is. With Sleipnir, I can group these items (typically by similarity) and switch between groups in a similar fashion to switching windows with Mobile Safari.
Now I can jump between research, social, and miscellaneous activities the same way that I would jump between windows, but with more control and faster switching. If you keep a lot of tabs open on your iPhone’s browser this will probably be an awesome feature in itself for you.
Sleipnir for iPhone pushes all the right buttons for me, but suffers from one awful, Apple-induced flaw: it can’t be set as the default browser. Until a link that I tap in Tweetbot can be opened in Sleipnir all of the tab management in the world won’t help me remember if I opened something in Sleipnir or Safari.
Besides that flaw — which is beyond the developer’s control — Sleipnir is a great alternative browser that is certainly worth checking out.