There are already tons (well, lots) of browsers available on Pandora. Firefox, LightWeight2, Chromium, Arora, Panda, Jumanji and many others. Yet it is hard to find a good comparison of what they can do, and how fast and responsive they are. You have been waiting for it, so here is the ultimate comparison of the browsers available for Pandora in March 2013.
First of all. How to judge if a browser is “good” or not ? Well, good is relative, but there are many things to consider to determine if a browser is “good” or not:
- How fast is it to start up ?
- How fast does it take to display pages ?
- Does it display pages correctly ?
- On the Pandora, which browser gives you the best browsing screen surface ?
- How easy is it to use ?
- How much memory does it use ?
Of course, not all of these characteristics are as important as the others, and it depends a lot, in the end, on your personal stake on these parameters. For example you may not care about the startup time of your browser if you tend to leave it open for long periods of time. Or, you may not care about its extensibility if all you do is simple browsing and news-checking. Or again, you may not care as much about the Memory usage if you have a Rebirth or a 1Ghz model vs a Classic Pandora.
So, all these stupid headlines about “what is the BEST xxx” are usually utter nonsense, because they usually try to give an overall winner while everyone may have different criteria, different needs. This being said, let’s compare what we can compare, and I will give you my two cents at the end as to what I tend to use, and why. Let’s go.
Browsers tested and overall conditions
- Firefox 19 (Repo)
- Arora (Repo)
- LightWeight2 (Repo)
- Jumanji (Repo)
- BabyPanda Browser (Repo)
- QupZilla 1.40 (latest build)
I decided not to test Chromium nor Midori after all. Chromium is broken (extensions do not work, the repo version is obsolete and only works in full screen as a subset of Chrome OS) and Midori has always been very unstable in my experience (crashing for no reason while loading pages and so on). The others are at least functional and not prone to crash, so worth testing.
All are tested with a fresh PND install on a virgin SD Card. No cache data is present at first launch, and their settings are untouched, except that I started them once at least (since some require a kind of setup step). For Arora I removed completely Adblock (including its lists) since it was causing loading problems in my experience.
I used a USB to LAN adapter in order to avoid as much as possible the effect of wifi signal variations, while I expect them to be minor versus the browsers’ actual performance differences. All tests are conducted at the default 600 Mhz on my Pandora Rebirth edition, running the latest stable firmware in early March 2013, SuperZaxxon 1.53 (i.e. not the latest R.C.).
For the timer I used a stopwatch on my Smartphone, and synchronized as well as I could my actions to the stopwatch start and stop. Expect a few variations if you repeat the tests on your own.
A. The Need for (Start-up) Speed!
One of the easiest parameters to measure. Make sure no other application is running in the background, launch the application, and see how long it takes before the windows open. Here goes.
- Lightweight2 – 4.3 seconds
- Jumanji – 6 seconds
- Qupzilla – 8.3 seconds
- Babypanda – 3.5 seconds
- Arora – 7.5 seconds
- Firefox – 21.7 seconds
Winner: While Lightweight2 is pretty fast to startup, surprisingly BabyPanda is even faster, with a little less than 4 seconds to start up. Overall all browsers start up within 10 seconds, except Firefox which is notorious for being slow in that aspect. It takes more than 20 seconds for that beast to display its window.
B. Speed to load and display pages
This is a fairly uncontrollable number, since it depends on your internet connection, the server load at the time of your request, the ISP load, the type of pages, the amount of pictures, etc… Therefore, it cannot be sufficiently said that one needs to test numerous websites in order to have a sense of the actual performance. I chose the following pages:
- Google news (large page with tables)
- OpenPandora Boards Main Page (relatively large page of contents)
- Arstechnica main page (many pictures, relatively complex page setup)
- Pandoralive (because self-advertising does not hurt)
- Anandtech (recent redesign, complex formatting)
The time was measured between the moment I validate the address for loading and the time when the page is loaded at 100%.
Here are the results. First, without Gmail:
- Lightweight2 – 9.7 + 21.3 + 22.7 + 38.9 + 14.5 = 107.1 seconds
- Jumanji – 12.5 + 16.6 + 32.6 + 15.5 + 15.5 = 92.7 seconds
- Qupzilla – 24 + 12.9 + 13.4 + 13.2 + 11. 9 = 75.4 seconds
- Babypanda – 7.6 + 19.5 + 18.5 + 29.6 + 34.6 = 109.8 seconds
- Arora – 16.5 + 9.7 + 16.9 + 15.3 + 13.9 = 72.3 seconds
- Firefox – 15.1 + 12.6 + 13.5 + 27.4 + 14.5 = 83.1 seconds
Qupzilla is impressive in terms of speed. It loads everything relatively fast and wins in most pages, but it took longer on Google news. Not sure why exactly. Overall Arora was also very consistent and could render pages very fast. Lightweight2 and BabyPanda fare very much in the same way: they seem pretty fast to render pages like google news, but when it comes to complicated, style-heavy pages like Anandtech, their performance drops significantly, and worse, they did not even display the text at all in the articles. See example below.
The reason why I removed Gmail from the first benchmark is because LightWeight2 and BabyPanda could not even open that page in the first place, in their default settings.
Once you consider only the browsers capable of supporting all the pages correctly…
- Jumanji – 12.5 + 16.6 + 32.6 + 15.5 + 15.5 + 32.4 = 125.1 seconds
- Qupzilla – 24 + 12.9 + 13.4 + 13.2 + 11. 9 + 33.5 = 108.9 seconds
- Arora – 16.5 + 9.7 + 16.9 + 15.3 + 13.9 + 25 = 97.3 seconds
- Firefox – 15.1 + 12.6 + 13.5 + 27.4 + 14.5 + 31.9 = 115 seconds
Then Arora takes a clear lead (if you can get through all the SSL certificates issues and alerts and so on during the first load!) since it actually opens Gmail pretty fast. Otherwise, Qupzilla seems like an acceptable alternative as well.
C. Support of standards
First, an Acid3 test can help to find out more about the general support of web standards. In the test, most browsers did pretty well on the Acid3 test, but not everything went out exactly as expected. You should expect a smooth animation from 0 to 100 and a final image that looks exactly like the Acid3 reference.
Here are the results:
- Lightweight2: the animation is super smooth from start to end with very few slow downs. The reference is rendered as expected.
- Jumanji: everything is relatively smooth with a slow down at 69/100, and the acid3 title is not rendered correctly.
- Qupzilla: the animation is relatively smooth with slowdown at 61/100 and end up at 98/100, therefore the reference is not perfectly matched.
- Babypanda: the animation is relatively smooth, not as much as lightweight but in the end it does not match the reference, since there is some red text that should be invisible.
- Arora: relatively smooth with a slow down in the 20s, but the final score is a full 100 and matches the reference.
- Firefox19: animation is not super smooth with slow down at 56. The final result is 100/100 and matches the reference.
Here’s what happened with QupZilla:
Jumanji had issues with the title and the scores themselves:
BabyPanda had some issues with some of the text that should be invisible:
D. Screen surface
For best screen surface, Lightweight2 and Jumanji are clearly some of the better options. Their interface is reduced to the minimum to allow for the display of the page, and they include tabs in a smart way without eating up additional space on screen. The other browsers take up more screen space but can be, obviously, put in full screen mode to gain additional visibility. Firefox’s full screen mode is a great example of full screen space usage:
Arora does not fare very well in that area, since its full screen mode is still very much cluttered with the interface. That is, unfortunately, one of its weaknesses…
E. Easy to use?
Browsers are all about the same in this respect. They all for multiple tabs, bookmarks and so on. Some include “dials” to browse to your favorite sites faster (QupZilla, Firefox, BabyPanda). All in all they are about the same… except Jumanji which basically works very much like a command-line client. You need to enter commands such as “o www.google.com” if you want to open google.com on the current page, or “t www.pandoralive.info” if you want to open that site on a new tab. It can be practical once you get used to it, but it is certainly less straightforward than the other browsers available where everything can be done using the mouse. There was also an issue: when on the google search page, typing “o” or “t” did not print the command accordingly, but “o” and “t” in the google search field. Not good.
F. Memory usage
I use the System Info tool from _wb_ to compare the baseline between the RAM usage before and after the application start, under two conditions:
- Opening one tab only, with google.fr (reference 1)
- Opening 2 more tabs on top, arstechnica.com and pandoralive.info (reference 3)
The results speak for themselves:
BabyPanda deserves its name as it does not consume much RAM at all. Lightweight2 is in the same league. Unfortunately we have seen that these two have problems with some pages, so if we consider the ones which can render most pages correctly, Jumanji is the slimest, followed by Arora. Firefox is an ugly beast, taking almost 200 megs even to display a simple web page (and that was with ALL extensions disabled).
There was usually not a huge difference between the different browsers in terms of load between condition 1 and 3, since it took an additional 22 to 24 megs of RAM to open the additional tabs, but for some reason Jumanji and LightWeight2 asked for 30-31 megs of RAM to open the very same pages in the new tabs. I am not sure why. Is FireFox Slim Yet? Huh… no, it is still a fat, obese bastard in need of a bread-and-water diet. 200 megs for one tab… Seriously!?!
Needless to say, if you want to do any kind of multitasking on your Pandora, it is probably safe not to run Firefox at the same time as your other programs.
Conclusion and my two cents
As you could see from all the tests, there’s no clear winner in all categories. This being said, I consider that Lightweight2 and BabyPanda are not appropriate for my daily usage since I may end up on a page that they cannot display properly. Jumanji is a great, efficient and apparently reliable browser, but using it as a kind of command line tool is not really for me either. I enjoy having a proper way to see my bookmarks and access more features. That leaves me with QupZilla, Arora and Firefox.
Honestly, while the new QupZilla is great (better than the previous PND for sure) there is no real advantage of using it versus Arora. Arora is faster, a little bit lighter, and seems to render all pages correctly (with no issue with the Acid3 test). Therefore Arora is my browser of choice, while I remain a bit annoyed by the SSL alerts when landing on new pages.
And Firefox? I used to like it and I used to endure its loading times. But for everyday browsing I now prefer Arora. The only reasons for me to still use Firefox once in a while are:
- the ability of Firefox to use Japanese input
- the extensions
Otherwise, Firefox is really too slow and fat for a decent usage on my Rebirth at 600 Mhz. Maybe the story is very different on a 1Ghz, but until I have one I will not be able to tell. So there you have it!
Do not hesitate to leave comments below and tell us about your browser choices as well.