What REALLY is the Best iOS Browser? Addendum: SnowHaze

Two weeks ago, I decided to pit all of the commonly-promoted “privacy-respecting” iOS browsers against each other to see if I could determine empirically which one was actually the most private. Unsurprisingly, within minutes of posting I received feedback. Surprisingly, most of it wasn’t “you suck and you’re wrong because I’m loyal to my browser.” Rather, it was “you forgot one.” Allow me to remedy that situation. This week, I will be reviewing SnowHaze. If you need a reminder of my methodology, you can check the blog in question here.

Privacy Policy

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SnowHaze starts off strong out the gate by claiming to collect absolutely no information about you, anonymous or otherwise. In this respect, SnowHaze easily usurps Brave to win the privacy policy category.

Winner: SnowHaze

Loser: Safari

Not to much say here. SnowHaze is the obvious winner and Safari is still abysmal.

Browser Fingerprinting

Things get really weird in this section. SnowHaze offers an ungodly amount of granular control over the browser’s privacy settings – which I will discuss in the “Features” section. When highly configured, I was unable to run Cover Your Tracks at all, which leads me to assume (without evidence, for the record) that this means fingerprinting you at all has become relatively impossible for most sites, or at least quite difficult (from what I understand, many common fingerprint methods rely on Javascript). However, this also causes significant breakage across many sites. After tinkering for a few weeks, I finally found some settings that mostly work across most sites. The particular settings that seems to matter for testing sites like Cover Your Tracks and Speedometer mostly seem to boil down to the Content Blockers section. At the time of this test, I was only able to disable Fonts and still get a score. Remember that as always your results may vary, especially depending on how you configure the vast settings options.

SnowHaze: 17.96

Winner: Safari

Loser: Brave/DuckDuckGo

Based on this score, SnowHaze ranks second worst just above Safari. However, it’s worth noting that I suspect this score is not truly reflective of my average browsing experience. As I said above, I was only able to get a score by enabling everything except Fonts. In my daily browsing, I usually have Raw/XHR disabled, and often third-party scripts as well. I also have SnowHaze set not to load any Javascript unless I manually approve it on a per-site basis (another Feature we’ll discuss later). And last but not least, SnowHaze can be set to spoof User Agents, so much like Brave's fingerprint is large but fake, I suspect that SnowHaze works in a similar fashion. While this score seems particularly bad, I suspect it's not.

Browser Speed

SnowHaze: 48.35 (+/–.47)

Winner: SnowHaze

Loser: DuckDuckGo

Once again, I had to severely dial back the number of content blockers I was using in order for Speedometer 2.0 to finish its test without stalling. I assume part of the test includes loading XHR and third-party scripts. From what I understand this means that with more aggressive content blockers your speed should actually improve because you’re loading less content. Either way, SnowHaze easily comes in on par with or dramatically ahead of Brave, the previous winner, who had a score of 49 (+/–.53).

Features

Alright, this is where SnowHaze really puts the rest to shame. SnowHaze has granular features for controlling the browser that I have never seen before on a mobile browser. While Brave and DuckDuckGo do offer some good features like control over what data is retained, the ability to add protected sites, and stuff like that, SnowHaze goes all out. SnowHaze offers the usual general features like search engine selection and appearance, but also the ability to lock your browser with a passcode, the ability to spoof your User Agent (and to select which agents to spoof), granular history and tracking control, additional content blockers that I alluded to above including CSS, third party javascript, fonts, etc, and even has an experimental Tor integration feature (which I don’t recommend but it’s cool that they offer it). And those are just the highlights. You have the ability to disable Javascript by default and then enable it on a site-by-site basis, and you can even easily add custom search engines like SearX! Hands down SnowHaze has the most features out of any browser I reviewed for this study, and the amount of control it gives you over your browsing experience makes it laugh in the face of lesser browsers. SnowHaze offers all the same features that any other given browser would and then some.

Winner: SnowHaze

Loser: Firefox Focus

Final Verdict

Winner: SnowHaze

I can think of one situation where I would recommend Brave over SnowHaze: ease. Because of the massive amount of of options, setting up SnowHaze can be a bit daunting. The default settings are – in my opinion – not ideal. I understand the desire to create a browser that’s basically ready to go out of the box, but I think SnowHaze could afford to tighten up their default settings a bit and still retain functionality for the average person. Even so, I commonly recommend that any time you set up a new account or download a new app you should make time to go through the settings and tweak them. This means any person downloading SnowHaze for the first time can quickly become overwhelmed by the exhaustive number of options to be examined, interpreted, and possibly changed. Even moreso, those settings will likely change as they browse and realize a certain functionality they want/need broke. I personally pretty much only use my browser to surf webcomics and Reddit when I’m bored (which is rare) and to make quick, important searches when I’m away from my desk. Despite that limited usage, I quickly found myself changing settings to make more and more sites work properly as I went, finally finding a mostly-happy medium after about a week or so. The average person may be frustrated by the constant tweaking and want something that just works.

Hands down, I think SnowHaze is the most superior iOS browser I’ve found so far, and thank you to the multiple readers who alerted me to overlooking it. This has been a lifechanging experiment. I highly encourage you to make the switch if you use iOS, and here’s what I recommend: keep Brave for a short time as a fallback. Download Snowhaze, change the settings, get used to it, but until you get it dialed in just right be sure to have a backup for when you can’t afford to experiment to find what’s breaking the site. Once you get SnowHaze dialed in just right, go ahead and delete Brave. That’s what I did. (Well, DuckDuckGo for me if you recall the last blog, but same concept). SnowHaze is truly an incredible piece of work. Well done, devs.

You can find more recommended services and programs at TheNewOil.xyz. You can also get daily privacy news updates at @thenewoil@freeradical.zone or support my work on Liberapay.