Developer: NicheVision Labs
Price: $1.99
Version: 1.3

Design Rating: ★★★☆☆
Features Rating: ★★★★½
Integration Rating: ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Aarde, developed by NicheVision Labs, is a third-party web browser built for the iPad – aiming to minimize the gap between desktop and mobile by offering a number of features not seen in Safari’s iPad browser. These features include: AdBlock, a tool to block advertisements from appearing on screen (which has the side effect of also loading pages faster); private browsing; tabbed browsing; customizable brightness like in the iBooks application; notepad; in-page search (coming to Safari in iOS 4.2); font resizing and the ability to view the source code of the website in hand. For a full list of features, see here or view the screenshots attached below.

Certainly, most of these features already exist on desktop clients. Yet Safari for iPad is lacking in all of the above, providing a focus solely on websites at hand, rather than customization and development. Indeed, with the newly launched Safari Extensions Gallery, one would like to hope that Apple are beginning to branch out into third-party offerings and that such features may soon be available for iPad. Until then, Aarde fills the gap between desktop and mobile browsing with its intuitive browser and selection of tools. On a similar note, the application features “Desktop Browser Rendering” – a tool that tricks websites into thinking that you are browsing the website from a desktop browser, thus avoiding low-bandwidth and low-feature mobile versions of websites.

Most of the features and settings are accessible through a one-tap master settings options, found to the left of the tabs. With such features in one place it makes it easy to find what you’re looking for, something that a number of other applications fall short on by offering numerous, complex settings pages.

Where the application advances in features, I do feel it fails in design. The heavy stroke and lack of iPad integration – in the sense that all buttons and designs are completely to different from what typical apps offer – makes it feel like it was built first and then ported over to iPad, giving it a less professional feel. However, I can see where the developers are coming from – many of these features do not exist elsewhere on Apple applications, thus requiring a new design. The application’s biggest drawback, which is a result of Apple’s platform rather than the developers of Aarde Web Browser, is its lack of primary choice. Whenever you click on links in other applications, if it doesn’t have a web browser built in, it will load Safari. So much of the iPad is integrated with Safari that it just isn’t practical to use two browsers to do one thing. For obvious reasons, it seems unlikely that Apple will ever offer the users to branch away from Safari. In addition, unlike Safari, Aarde has no web caching feature, meaning all tabs will have to reload manually upon startup.

Nonetheless, there are some compelling features in Aarde that make it a worthy adversary to Safari for iPad. If within the extended list of features you find just one or two that are of use to you, Aarde could very well be a worthwhile purchase. At $1.99, it certainly has its price right.

Posted in: iPad Apps and Games, iPad Productivity, Reviews

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