Best internet phone: how to choose the right one
26th Nov 2012 | 13:57
Helping you get a top mobile web experience
What makes the best internet phone experience?
Only a few years ago, phone-based internet browsing was a basic, and frankly horrific, experience.
While the original iPhone brought proof that the mobile web didn't have to be a stuttering, monochrome experience, today's offerings highlight just how far things have come.
It's 2012 and that once sparse mobile web has drastically changed. See you later, stripped down sites; hello sites in their full desktop glory, on massive HD screens backed up with quad-core innards.
The modern web is no longer just for PCs; it's a cross-platform convergent media space. The developments in web technologies such as WebM and HTML5, as well as better battery life in handsets, mean that smartphone internet browsing is now a real alternative to turning on a computer.
This shift in perception has really enabled the mobile web to shine, and has inspired some of the well-travelled mobile sites we now have at our disposal. It has also given rise to a new breed of mobile browsers.
Safari, on the iPhone, gave rise to mobile versions of some of the biggest and best known browsers. Microsoft brought along Internet Explorer, Mozilla (eventually) mobilised Firefox and Opera has had its own mobile browsers for a while.
Where does this leave us? We all know not every handset is created equally. Some handsets are far better at carrying out your Internet dreams than others, and finding the best internet experience among the smorgasbord of smartphones can be nigh-on impossible.
We've tested and used every handset out there; finding which mobiles deliver the web wrapped in all its shiny HD glory, and which ones delivered it in little more than a paper bag.
So here's our list of the best internet phones for the four most popular operating systems (including skinned and un-skinned Android), as well as four of the best alternative browsers available should you want a super-charged internet experience.
The best internet phones
Google Nexus 4 by LG
It seemed unlikely that we could create a list of Internet Phones without the official Google phone. Breaking away from Samsung who had given life to the previous two Nexus iterations, LG and Google have managed to produce a super cheap super powerful device.
Being the first Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) phone to hit the market, Google brings along a mobile version of its highly prized desktop browser. Impressive tab management, ability to flip between desktop and mobile versions, and syncing with your desktop bookmarks mean that the mobile web is even easier to browse than before.
If that wasn't enough, with a 4.7" screen, with a whopping 320ppi on the face, and a 1.5GHz Quad-Core at its heart, the Google Nexus 4 zips through providing far more than satisfying experience.
Read our full Google Nexus 4 review
OS: iOS 6
The iPhone 5, the sixth iteration of Apple's popular phone range brings even more features than the impressive iPhone 4S. With every generation of the iPhone the tech world seems to breathe a sigh of disappointment.
That's the price of fame though. The iPhone 5 is still a very high end device. It might only have a dual-core processor, but it still manages to be light years faster than the 4S, which we raved about last year. It even loaded some pages more quickly than the Samsung Galaxy S3. Apple's Retina display makes sure everything is pin-sharp and text is legible even when fully zoomed out.
Unlike a fair few handsets, such as the aforementioned Google Nexus 4, buying the iPhone 5 on the right contract will allow you access to 4G LTE speeds, making mobile browsing even faster than before.
It's important to point out that whilst Flash video doesn't play well with iOS, increasing HTML5 support mean things are getting much better for the mobile video watcher.
Read our full iPhone 5 review
BlackBerry Torch 9810
OS: BB OS 7
RIM's second touchscreen keyboard hybrid takes the erm, torch, from the original 9800. Released at the same time as the Bold 9900, these two phones really highlight our point of not all internet phones being created equally.
The advent of OS 7 is welcome and as is the upgraded 1.2GHz processor. However what made the original Torch so good for web browsing was the screen. The 3.2" portrait screen is even better than on the original. Pages look crisp and the tap to zoom function works well.
But it's now a long, long, long in the tooth phone. If you're DESPERATE for the substandard internet experience on a BlackBerry handset, then sure, buy the Torch. But we'd beseech you to wait until the new BB10 range appears in the next few months - trust us, it's worth waiting for.
Read our full Blackberry Torch 9180 Review
Samsung Galaxy Note 2
OS: Android 4.1 Jelly Bean (TouchWIz 4.0 overlay)
We might have been tempted to put the Galaxy S3 here, but we've opted for the new Note device, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. There are a few reasons for this, but the immense size means that web browsing is that much more of a dream.
The quad-core processor and the 2GB of RAM means that it is noticeably faster than even the S3 and is also 4G LTE compatible. Samsung hasn't opted to put Chrome as the default browser though, despite running on the highly-compatible Android Jelly Bean. That said, Samsung's offering does a great job, with saving pages for offline viewing, as well as syncing your web favourites.
In all, we still come back to mentioning the screen, as the Super AMOLED offering packs in 267ppi, which means that text is clear even when zoomed right in, and on the 5.5" screen, there is less fiddling around when text is looming large.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 2 Review
Samsung Ativ S
OS: Windows Phone 8
Samsung is 'in the zone' with impressive smartphones, with the Samsung Galaxy series proving to be not only some of the most popular Android devices, but the most popular smartphones out there. The Ativ S looks to build upon this success, bringing Windows Phone 8 to the fore.
Powered by 'only' a dual core CPU, Samsung stay true to Microsoft's claim that WP8 doesn't need excessive power, and will only prove to lengthen battery life. The 4.8" AMOLED screen is the same found on the Galaxy S3, meaning amazing sharpness and clarity when scrolling around the screen.
Microsoft also packs in the latest version of Internet Explorer, IE10. Packed with an anti-phishing filter and impressive HTML5 performance, Microsoft's mobile browser packs in just about every feature you will find in the desktop version.
Read our hands on:Samsung Ativ S Review
The best alternative mobile internet browsers
Having a great phone is one thing, and all of our chosen phones' standard browsers are more than adequate. iOS brings Safari, Windows Phone 8 brings along Internet Explorer 10 and now Google brings along Chrome to the mobile experience - and you can pick it up on iOS now too.
That said, on all systems you might prefer an alternative.
If that sounds like a situation you're familiar with, then we strongly suggest you check out our selection of the best alternative mobile browsers.
As an alternative browser, it brings different features for different users. The basic browser provides a raft of features from tabbed browsing, gestures to side bars and a speed dial, all of which make browsing easier and more intuitive.
Whilst tabbed browsing and the speed dial speak for themselves, gestures and side bars don't. A small translucent button in the bottom of the screen brings up the gesture screen, where tracing your finger performs a customised action, from refresh and back, to loading Google.
Side bars are another very useful feature. Swiping the screen to the left brings up a small bar on the right, where your installed add-ons live, and swiping to the right brings the bookmark bar up on the left.
Android users are treated to a fuller web experience, with a variety of add ons. Some of these change the theme, and some add a whole new layer of functionality. There are too many to name so we recommend you check them out.
Opera has had an offering for mobile while most other browser companies were still trying to hone their desktop versions. The browser comes in two main variants, Mini and Mobile.
The Opera browser duo are available across all platforms including Android, Windows Phone 7, iPhone and Blackberry and is reliable and well performing on each OS.
Like similar browsers, you are able to browse the web full screen, access tabbed browsers and all the best features of a good mobile browser. Even text reflow is a dream, working instantly.
Where Opera Mobile really shines is in its ability for sharing. With a simple tap you can share any number of networks including Facebook and Twitter as well as connect and transfer to nearby devices over.
The Firefox mobile browser comes in two flavours, depending on the handset you are using.
Firefox is a fully featured browser allowing for full screen browsing, this is great as it cuts out the toolbars and other rubbish that can often hinder a web experience on a mobile device.
Usability wise, the browser offers tabbed browsing by simply swiping the left hand of the screen to bring up the tabs bar. Firefox also comes with built in Amazon.com, Twitter and Wikipedia searching alongside the usual google search.
Using a simple sync feature, (helpfully called 'Sync') users can also access all their bookmarks, history and even open tabs from their PC browser, meaning you'll only need one browsing session with no duplication.
Like others, SkyFire is available cross platform but we'd be lying if we said its main USP wasn't for the iPhone. Because of the iPhone's inability to handle flash, users are often disappointed by non-loading videos.
Skyfire fixes this issue by serving iPhone friendly versions of web video using its cloud-based technology to convert them to HTML 5.
That said, we'd be lying if we said there was nothing for Android users. Packing in a trial of the paid "Video Optimisation" feature, Android users can save their data plan as videos are compressed up to 75%.
Skyfire also comes with tabbed browsing, full screen mode and easy sharing links. Another neat feature is that you can access your Facebook and Twitter accounts from a small toolbar at the bottom of the page.
The app connects to them and saves your details, allowing for quick access without switching apps.