Puffin Browser full review
With Adobe having withdrawn support for Flash on mobile devices, and neither the latest version of Android nor iOS able to play such content without tweaking, you might think Flash is dead. It's not, and there are plenty of sites and services on the web that still make heavy use of Flash content. So, what happens when you need to browse a Flash website on an Android tablet or smartphone and going elsewhere is not an option?
You could follow our workshop that explains how to add Flash to Android Jelly Bean, which can then be accessed through the Firefox browser. But if you're looking for a quick and easy solution, there's the Puffin web browser from CloudMosa. See Android Advisor.
Puffin Browser: Built-in Flash
Puffin builds in support for Adobe Flash, and is compatible with mobile devices running Android 2.2 and later - including Jelly Bean. A version is also available for iPhone and iPad. The browser itself is free to use forever, but if you want to continue accessing Adobe Flash following the two-week trial you must pay £1.93 for the full version. Or extend your Flash trial by four weeks by referring a friend.
There is a caveat, however: Puffin's servers are in the US, which means some content may be restricted by UK sites. We were unable to catch up with iPlayer TV programmes, for example, and there's no workaround. Other content, such as Flash videos on PC Advisor's Facebook page, worked without issue - you wouldn't even know the OS didn't natively support Flash.
CloudMosa wisely recommends that you make use of the free trial before buying the full version of Puffin Browser, allowing you to learn whether the sites and services you want to access are available.
Flash support is enabled by default, but it's possible to turn it off or access Flash on demand.
Puffin Browser: Amazing performance
If you can get past this limitation, the Puffin browser is well worth the download. It is, quite simply, the fastest web browser we've ever tried. Running SunSpider on a Nexus 10 Android Jelly Bean tablet, we recorded a staggeringly fast 204.6ms. That's against 721.9ms in Firefox, 1,023.9ms in Chrome, and 1,155.0ms in Dolphin.
On our Sony Xperia P smartphone, Puffin's performance just got better: we recorded a tiny 179.0ms. Even over a 3G connection we were able to instantly load the full desktop version of the PC Advisor home page, which we admit can sometimes be trying even in a desktop browser.
It's possible to request the mobile version of a website in the Settings menu but, unless you have a limited data connection or a particularly small screen, with Puffin Browser there's really no need to do so.
Puffin Browser: Touch input
Three buttons at the bottom of the Puffin Browser window let you bring up a virtual trackpad with scrollbar, a virtual gamepad, and a virtual keyboard with options for cutting, copying and pasting text. In the Settings menu you can also elect to put onscreen zoom-in and -out buttons, which will likely prove useful since by default text appears rather small.
The virtual trackpad brings drag-and-drop functionality to Android, or you can simply navigate the web using a familiar mouse cursor. If you're playing a game, you can map any keyboard function to the buttons on the gamepad.
Despite its ability to use a virtual trackpad or gamepad, Puffin browser is decidedly finger-friendly. A swipe in from the right side of the window brings up options to close the current tab, forward the browser or add a bookmark. A swipe in from the left allows you to go back, switch tabs or open a new tab. To close the browser you simply double-press the device's Back button.
Tap on a link in a web page and a small blue circle appears onscreen. This seems odd at first, but when a web page fails to load it can be useful in ascertaining whether you've actually clicked on a link or your connection is at fault.
From Puffin's Home screen you can toggle between your favourite and recent sites.
Puffin Browser: Add-ons and security
Puffin Browser has an Add-ons menu, although it contain few options. Here you'll find the functionality to share pages with Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, or add a page to Pocket (read our guide to using Pocket). More interesting is the Readability add-on, which strips the images and adverts from a page to leave only text. Readibility will be useful on smaller-screen devices, and particularly when accessing the web over a cellular connection.
Lacking are some privacy options: Puffin Browser doesn't offer any sort of private browing mode, although you can clear the cache, cookies, saved passwords, form data and so forth from the Settings menu. CloudMosa claims that its servers do not track or store your personal information, and because there's no need to log in or register your device the service is entirely anonymous.
What Puffin does claim to offer, however, is a virus-free environment. According to CloudMosa, Puffin Browser places code in an isolated sandbox on cloud servers, meaning no malicious code escapes its control, nor gets anywhere near your smartphone or tablet. We weren't able to test this feature.
Puffin Browser: Verdict
Puffin Browser is the fastest web browser we've ever seen on any mobile device. It also builds in Flash support, although its US servers will prevent UK users from accessing certain content. What it lacks in options such as a private browsing mode it more than makes up for with intuitive features such as an onscreen trackpad and virtual gamepad. If you don't need Flash it's completely free; if you do, Puffin Browser is an absolute steal at £1.93.
Puffin Browser: Specs
- Android 2.2 or later
- 10MB storage Also available for iPhone and iPad