Those of you who are fortunate enough to have Android 4.0.x “Ice Cream Sandwich” on your tablets will know that the stock browser, despite being better than the stock Honeycomb version, leaves much to be desired. Saying that the stock ICS browser is horrible would be incorrect, but just ‘good enough’ won’t do on tablets where users spend a lot of time browsing the web. With their Chrome browser for desktops, Google started a movement to make browsers less and less minimalistic and more about what is actually being viewed. While having the address and tab bars always shown on larger 13”+ displays of laptops and even larger displays on desktops may be practical, on the comparatively miniscule displays of tablets, it distracts from the experience of surfing the web. Luckily for us, Beansoft has stepped in where the Android developers have fallen short and have created a wonderful browser replacement.
There isn’t much to say about ICS Browser +’s UI, and that’s a very good thing. It carefully mimics the stock browser in both design and features, but improves upon it in a multitude of ways. Firstly, it adds a home button to the toolbar that really leaves us questioning why Google ever removed it. Otherwise, most controls and icons remain unchanged from the stock browser. As the saying goes, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” and the UI of the stock browser is definitely not broken. The app’s icon also mimics the stock browser, but it looks smoother and leaves out most of the additional detail from the stock browser’s icon.
The Tab bar and Address Bar with the additional home button on the right.
In the Honeycomb stock browser, Google added a nifty little feature known as ‘Quick Controls’. This feature hid both the tab and address bar automatically and instead, relied on two rings of controls, which appeared when your finger touched the outer edges of the screen, to control the browser.
The Default Quick Controls on Honeycomb.
Unfortunately, its limited implementation and overall neglect as a feature prevented it from catching on. However, it survived the jump to Ice Cream Sandwich and is available, almost unchanged, in the stock browser. In ICS Browser +, this amazing feature gets the attention it deserves and it is very much improved. The ability to add and customize rings (maximum of 3) as well as control the size and trigger zone, make it possible to personalize it to your liking. With ICS Browser + you can add almost any shortcut to one of three Quick Control rings and have them ready to go at the touch of a finger. With these additions, Quick Controls are wonderful to use and allow for easy navigation of the browser. The additional screen real estate to view webpages is a welcome addition and the browser can be configured to display the Address Bar for a short time by a short swipe down. However, the current method of switching tabs with Quick Controls is neither elegant nor efficient, but this annoyance is easily offset by the convenience and accessibility of Quick Controls. They are also easily accidentally activated when scrolling but this will occur less frequently as you get used to using the Quick Controls. It should be noted that there is no backup/restore facility built in for Quick Control setups and a 3rd Party App such as Titanium Backup is needed to do this.
My Customized Quick Control Set-up.
Accessing the additional menu options from the Quick Controls.
Switching Tabs with the Quick Controls.
Enabling individual rings.
Adding or re-ordering ring actions.
Some of the possible actions that can be added to the Quick Controls.
While Quick Controls are easily ICS Browser +’s best feature, it contains several other enhancements over the stock browser. One of these is the option to invert the colors of the webpage to make text white and backgrounds black and thus make reading in the dark less stressful on the eyes. However, unlike books, the web is not only black and white and this option works best on sites with little to no images. Also added to ICS Browser + are options to control text zooming or make all text bigger by default. All of these options are available in the settings menu under Accessibility. Also, the option to invert the colors is available as a Quick Control action. Other choices such as whether or not to load plug-ins automatically (Adobe Flash) or only on demand are also present.
Some of the available settings and options.
However, not everything got an overhaul in ICS Browser +. Bookmarks, History and Saved Pages are all accessed from the Bookmarks icon on either the Address Bar or the Quick Controls rings. Also present is the option to access both your local bookmarks and your bookmarks synced with Chrome on the desktop via Google account.
Relatively unchanged Bookmarks, History and Saved Pages Sections.
One final feature added to the app is the configuration of ‘gestures’. Compared to other browsers, these gestures seem anemic. You can do little more than set an action to occur when you swipe back or forward. This can be useful as back/forward buttons or next/previous tab controls, or whatever you assign them to be.
Configuring the gestures.
Even now, I still question how such a remarkable app can possibly be free. Yes, that’s right. Free. There is however, a paid version available for approximately $1.00 US, but as of the time of writing, this is labeled as a donate version with no added features. The developer has indicated that one day this will become a pro counterpart to the free version with more features available. Despite the lack of any new features, if you love this app then it would be a good idea to purchase the donate/pro version and support and encourage the developer. One issue to note is that unlike other pro counterparts on Google Play, this is not simply a license app, but a whole new version of the browser. This means that your custom ring setup or other options will not be accessible in the donate/pro version. The only way to get them across is to manually reconfigure it in the pro version. This little bit of oversight on the part of the developer is quite annoying if you have a heavily customized Quick Control setup, but once redone, is no longer an annoyance. Regardless, the free version is wonderful and I do implore you to download it and try it out as soon as possible, you will not regret it.
- Incredibly fast.
- Revamped Quick Controls are wonderful to use.
- Retains all features of the stock browser
- Easy to navigate.
- Options for increasing text size.
- Day/night mode.
- Home button on Address Bar.
- Configurable gestures.
- Free version contains all features as of time of writing.
- Bandwidth management facilities.
- Gestures seem anemic compared to other browsers.
- Pro version does not add any features yet.
- Could use a bit of theming capability, not unlike that of the desktop version of Chrome.
- (Understandably) only available on ICS Devices.
- No extension/add-on system available yet.
In closing, I have only one thing to say: Download this right now, and never look back. My rating: a resounding 5 out of 5 stars.