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Last Updated: March 13th, 2011

Dolphin HD, one of the most popular Android browsers, has been pretty unusable on large tablet screens due to choppiness and lag caused by the CPU having to work with a much bigger area. For example, when we got a demo unit of the Galaxy Tab, the problem was quite apparent to the point of Dolphin being downright frustrating on relatively complex sites.

Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" came to the rescue with hardware acceleration capabilities, which allowed shifting all the UI processing from the CPU to the GPU. However, since the first Honeycomb tablet, the Motorola XOOM, launched 2 weeks ago, only the stock browser has been offering the benefits of hardware acceleration and allowing for very smooth scrolling, zooming (xooming?), panning, etc, while Dolphin remained as choppy as before.

Thankfully, as Google engineers pointed out during the Honeycomb run-through, it is relatively easy for developers to add hardware acceleration to existing applications, and the new Dolphin HD 4.5 seems to prove just that. Among other not nearly as interesting features, I spotted the following item that I've been waiting for since the XOOM launched: "Add Hardware Acceleration support for Android 3.0 device."

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Having upgraded and tried the new version, I can tell you that it is, indeed, much smoother, albeit with its own oddities that the team behind Dolphin will hopefully work out. For example, compared to the stock browser, Dolphin seems to under-draw off-screen content a lot, meaning scrolling up and down will likely yield a blank area for a split second, rather than show the actual content right away. Swiping left and right also seems to briefly squish and stretch the content in a Jell-O-like fashion.

Nevertheless, the Dolphin experience is a lot smoother overall, and I can finally switch to it as my primary browser. "Why would you do that?" you might ask, and I'll tell you. Dolphin's features far outweigh those of the stock browser (though, not as much as they used to due to the improved Honeycomb stock browser), and the ability to permanently set the user agent to Desktop pretty much seals the deal right now. While it is possible to do the same in the stock browser by fiddling with "about:debug," the feature does not survive reboots and reverts back to Mobile until you type in "about:debug" again. Until the stock browser is capable of remembering my Desktop setting without having to jump through hoops, I'm sticking with Dolphin HD. Plus, that add-on and gesture support is quite nice.

I shot a quick video to show you what hardware accelerated browsing with Dolphin HD 4.5 looks like. Compare it to the video from the Galaxy Tab (I promise you, it looked pretty much the same on the XOOM before this update), and you will see just how much hardware acceleration rocks:

And now the Galaxy Tab:

Source: Dolphin HD

Artem Russakovskii
Artem is a die-hard Android fan, passionate tech blogger, obsessive-compulsive editor, bug hunting programmer, and the founder of Android Police.
Most of the time, you will find Artem either hacking away at code or thinking of the next 15 blog posts.

  • TareX

    Damn why is the default Android browser so laggy on Tegra 2 and Honeycomb?

    • Lucian Armasu

      Did he show the stock browser? I don't think he did. That's Dolphin, which also has had tabbed pages since forever, so it may look similar.

      • crasher

        Actually, he did. Watch the second part of the video.

        • Kaik541

          That second video was of the Galaxy Tab (which DOES NOT run honeycomb, it's 2.2). To add a little more to this, the Galaxy S line (i9000, Captivate, Vibrant, Tab, etc) are all NOTORIOUS for using a terrible filesystem from samsung known as "RFS." It's basically FAT32 + POSIX support + journaling.

          The easiest way to alleviate a lot of this lag is to use custom kernels (such as the Overcome kernel available here: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=932082 ) that replace the crippling file system with ext4. Based off of voodoo lagfix, originally developed by Supercurio.

          I know this solution isn't for everyone (and especially not the average consumer) and it's EMBARRASSING for the android platform to see a device like this, but using this kernel within a week will make you recommend it to your friends pretty quick.

        • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

          As crasher said, in the 2nd part of the 1st video, I'm also showing the stock browser. The 2nd video is there only to show what Dolphin's performance was like before hardware acceleration - as I mentioned, yes, it's on a Galaxy Tab, but it looked just as choppy on the XOOM.

  • p3ngwin

    any chance you can include a link to the update, as it's strange to have an article that reports on something without helping the reader FIND the subject being reported.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      The update is in the Market, and if you're talking about the links to Dolphin HD, is the widget at the bottom of the post linking to Appbrain and the Market not enough?

      • Ruben

        Can't please them all Artem.

      • b1ll

        Heh, trolls be trollin

  • Lucian Armasu

    Is this the same sort of hardware acceleration that Chrome and the others are getting on the desktop? I suppose not, and this is only to improve the smoothness of scrolling. I'd like to see full hardware acceleration for the mobile browsers too in the near future (this year).

  • The_Omega_Man

    Frankly there is too much stuff on this web site. I would recommend making this web site less busy per page, in general.

    • Lucian Armasu

      I agree. I think I'd visit this site more often if it wasn't one of the slower Android sites around. Things got especially worse with the new design. And why is the website optimized only for the 1366x768 resolution, anyway?

      • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

        New design? This is the same design that's been in place since the site launched.

        • The_Omega_Man

          Good information on the site, but it is just too busy.

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