There are many factors that make up a good internet experience on a mobile device, but one of the most crucial ones for me is how long it takes for a website to load. Navigation, page rendering, Flash support, zooming, scrolling, and other features are important too, but I usually prioritize faster over fuller when it comes to quick on-the-go browsing.
Although a true desktop-like experience on a handheld device often seems to be the goal of mobile browsers, I don’t need to see a site’s Flash ads to enjoy its real content or watch an embedded YouTube video when a stand-alone app will automatically open and play it for me before bringing me back to where I was in the web browser.
That’s why one of the first things I did after becoming a smartphone whore was to take my iPhone 3GS, Nokia N900, HTC HD2, and Nexus One, strip them of their flashy bells and whistles, and throw them down to see how quickly each one could get thing done using what they came with (stock browsers) and what I strapped on to them (third-party browsers).
Since it wasn’t my first time measuring devices against one another, I reused my old tricks:
- This was not a scientific study or professional lab test.
- All accessed pages were full versions (not mobile versions) of the website.
- Load times were measured from the same location, on the same day, and connected to the same WiFi network from the click of the OK/Go key to the complete page load according to the progress bar/loading icon.
- All devices are running the most recent firmware as of today.
- Each website was loaded three times after an initial cache clearing and the results were averaged.
- Flash was disabled in browsers that support it.
Some have argued that timing how long a page takes to load completely isn't an accurate measurement because portions of the site are often readable/usable before then, but I think it's one of the most objective methods. Timing how long a site takes to partially load is much more subjective, as someone who only wants to view the second story on a website will often be able to "use" the page much sooner than someone who wants access to the tenth story.
Load times vary by location, time of day, ad servers, content, etc., so your results will not be identical to mine.
The iPhone 3GS and Nokia N900 are both powered by a 600MHz ARM Cortex A8, while the HTC HD2 and Nexus One run on a 1GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon. As you can see from the results, the processor doesn’t make as much of an impact on website load times as the web browser (which we already knew).
I don’t know why Firefox on the N900 and Internet Explorer on the HD2 choked when accessing Engadget, but I redid the test several times to confirm the times and the results were always the same. The Firefox load time could’ve been sped up by using an ad blocker add-on, but doing so would’ve given it an unfair advantage that the other browsers didn’t have. Other N900 users have told me that Engadget loads faster for them, which is why the italicized note beneath the chart is important to keep in mind, but the times I got were the times I got. And before anyone asks, I bought all four phones with my own money so there’s no reason for me to skew the results in favor of one device.
I’ve got more comparison articles on the way, including one about the whole web browsing experience of the stock browsers, but if speed is all that matters to you when surfing on a smartphone, then you can’t go wrong with the Nexus One.