When it comes to surfing the web on your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch, Apple's default browser is everything most users need. It's fast and reliable, designed to deliver a great browsing experience, and of course it has excellent support for modern HTML5/CSS3 standards, along with a sprinkling of proprietary features (which are always the subject of much debate in the web community).

But I'm not here to stoke that fire. I'm here to engage in a favorite pastime: exploring software alternatives just because I can. Here's a brief overview of some options for surfing sans Safari.

Opera Mini

The biggest selling point for Opera Mini is its server-side compression that reduces a web page's size by up to 90%. If you need to browse on the go over a cellular network, reducing your roaming data usage by that much is a no-brainer. Install Opera Mini just so you have it there as an option when the time calls for it.

There are some drawbacks, such as fairly limited support for things like web fonts and CSS3 features in general. This is not a browser to design for — but it's great for speed (and those data savings). Learn more about its features and specifications on Opera's site. 

Opera Mini on iTunes

Dolphin

I confess I haven't spent a ton of time surfing with Dolphin, but it seems like a pretty decent browser, and it's certainly gotten rave reviews. It definitely wins the "ooooooo fancy" award though, by offering up gesture bookmarking. I don't know that I would get into the habit of using it all the time, but it is pretty cool to sketch a symbol on the page and have a URL load.

Dolphin's other popular draw is its Webzine feature, which let's you browse news, blogs and sites in a kind of low-end Flipboard layout. It's speedy, I'll give it that, but personally I've never been a fan of this approach to getting through my feeds (even in an elegant UI like Flipboard). I find the speed and simplicity of managing RSS feeds in an app like Reeder (from which I can fire things off to Instapaper) is still the most practical way of getting through the volume of information I run through on a daily basis.

Dolphin on iTunes

Atomic Web

This is a great browser for those of us actually developing web sites. While you can view a web page's source code in Safari by installing a bookmarklet, Atomic makes your life easier by just offering it as an option in the toolbar's action menu. You can also pick from preset user agent options (or enter custom ones), to change how the browser's identified.

When you get into the full settings list, you may find yourself overwhelmed, with 30+ options that let you customize the UI, enable web compression (via Google mobilizer), sync to your DropBox account, and even adjust what tools you want in your action menu (and in what order). The number of options in here make it a worthwhile browser for any user interested in a larger set of features and settings than they get with Safari.

AtomicWeb on iTunes

Design & Code