xScope web browser for Android

As a follow-up to What’s the best Android web browser? I posted last month, I think I have discovered the hands-down best web browser for Android, at least for the way I browse the web on my MyTouch 3G phone. I am not going to post screenshots for it, because I am too lazy to and because, frankly, it’s kind of an ugly browser (yes, even with the different themes you can use on it).

I should start off by saying that even though this is the best browser to use once you’ve learned how to use it, it is not the easier browser to learn to use. This browser is not intuitive in any way. You will have to read the manual to get the most of your browsing experience. So if you’re the type who usually sees “Find out more about how to use X application” and think “I can skip that. I’ll figure it out on my own,” I would ask that you actually give the tutorial a shot this time.

xScope Advantages

  • The first thing that’s great about xScope is that it’s fast. Pages load quickly. They seem to load at a speed a little faster than Steel and a little slower than Opera Mini.
  • In other browsers you have to either choose to have it in fullscreen or choose to show the notification bar. I like to have the browser generally fullscreen but also have the option to quickly check the time (the clock is on the notification bar). xScope is great this way, because it starts off fullscreen, but you can press the Menu button and select to have it temporarily windowed. It’ll stay windowed until you choose to make it fullscreen again or until you restart the browser.
  • My passwords and cookies are actually remembered. With some other browsers, despite what I indicated in my settings, I had trouble getting the passwords remembered or the website cookies to stay. With xScope, that’s not an issue.
  • The browser really is designed with a touchscreen in mind. You can swipe up the address bar if it’s getting in the way, or swipe it down. You can swipe across the toolbar to display the off-screen icons. You can tap once and then quickly tap again and hold and rock your finger back and forth to zoom in and out. After trying double-taps, pinch-to-zoom, and zoom buttons in other browsers, I’m convinced this is actually the best way to do zooming, and, more importantly, it allows me to avoid ever accidentally zooming in or out of a webpage.
  • When you click the Back button to go back a page, that page you were previously on loads instantaneously. There is no waiting for the page to reload (hey, default Browser, that’s what a cache is supposed to be for!).

Tab Management
xScope deals with tabs in an elegant and easy-to-use way. First of all, in terms of design, the tabs themselves are big enough to be usable and touchable, but they also don’t take up too much screen real estate.

To open a link in a new background tab (very important, even if you are on a 3G or wireless connection), just press and hold down the link for a second. If you have only one or two tabs already open, you’ll see the link open as a third tab in the background. If you already have three or more tabs open, you’ll see a very quick notification message saying that the tab successfully opened. I like this way of doing things instead of having the tabs crowd each other and get continually smaller… or to get no acknowledgement at all that the tab opened.

To close a tab you’re already focused on, you can just tap the tab itself (don’t need to aim for an X close button). You can also, if the tab you’re looking at has no previous history, just press the Back button to close that focused tab.

To switch between open tabs, you can swipe left or right very quickly and forcefully. This kind of switching wraps around as well (so if you’re on the right-most tab and swipe hard right, you’ll get to the left-most tab). This is very important for reading Google News, because the Google mobile site doesn’t allow you to open links in background tabs, so you’ll get a foreground-loaded tab, and while it’s loading, you can quickly swipe right to get back to the Google News website and browse for other stories to read.

xScope Disadvantages
Well, apart from the fact that its interface is ugly, there are a few other minor issues:

  • xScope Lite (the cost-free version) is fully functional as far as I’m concerned. It lacks a few features the paid version has that I consider bloat, but instead of hiding those features, the features are included in the menus… you just get a message to get the paid version if you try to select those menu items. I’d prefer they were hidden, but of course I’m not actually paying any money yet for this great app, so I can’t complain about a tiny bit of nagware.
  • Even though xScope is speedy to load up and speedy to use, it’s sometimes very slow to exit. If I exit out of it, I’ll sometimes get half a second of a black screen before my home screen loads up. Not a dealbreaker by any means but just a little lack of polish.
  • As I mentioned before, it’s not intuitive. I have found it easier to use now that I’ve learned it, but the learning curve is definitely there.
  • There’s no way to turn off images. It is pretty fast already even with images, but the ability to disable image loading would be nice to have, especially if I’m in an area that has poor coverage.
  • There seems to be a limit on the number of bookmarks you can have accessible in the start-up page. Odd. I don’t have that many bookmarks myself, but still…

That’s it. Some people may say other browsers have more features, but there is a certain point at which too many features just leaves the browser feeling crowded (try out Dolphin if you don’t believe me). Speed and proper tab management are what matter most to me on a smartphone browser, especially since I am often on a slower connection than I would normally be if I had a wireless broadband connection. Hurray for xScope!

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3 Comments

  1. “There’s no way to turn off images. It is pretty fast already even with images, but the ability to disable image loading would be nice to have, especially if I’m in an area that has poor coverage.”

    The latest version of XScope lite has an option in Settings to disable image loading. This browser is fast and I found it to be very useful and surprisingly more intuitive than this article lead me to believe. I’ve tried them all, this one is the best.

    Thanks for the review!

  2. I wish I couldn’t agree about xScope being the best, but I found a Showstopper issue: when typing on a virtual keyboard, the textbox that you’re typing into is often hidden behind the virtual keys! Despite xScope’s support people pleasantly offering suggestions, nothing fixed this. This issue doesn’t occur on Opera Mini or the default Android browser. If I can’t see what I’m typing, it is unfortunately not a browser for me.

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