Saturday, May 30, 2015

UC Browser Review - Customizable Web Browser with Mobile Sync

   Given its growing fandom on mobile devices, we thought of looking into the desktop edition of UC Browser. This is an intuitive and speedy web browser based on Chromium, which comes loaded with a lot of UI customization features, in addition to cloud acceleration and data compression.
   
   Among other options, UC supports HTML5, data synchronization across multiple devices, Google Chrome extensions, bookmark and download managers, mouse gestures, keyboard shortcuts, page saving, and cloud storage space. It has several interface themes, two styles that borrow the speed dial system from Opera, and we have noticed some button design similarities with the new Project "Spartan" upcoming browser from Microsoft that will replace Internet Explorer.

Installation

   UC's desire to stand out from the crowd is visible early: the installer adopts a slightly unusual, yet attractive window (the Windows 7 and Windows 8 looks are different). Before rushing to press the "Install" button, you should visit the "Settings" area since UC intends to set itself as the default web browser unless told otherwise.

   This isn't mentioned in the setup stage, but because it's based on Google Chromium and is compatible with most Chrome extensions, the app automatically imports any extensions you have set up in Chrome (as long as they're supported). Likewise, it imports all bookmarks from Chrome without asking for permission.

Interface, styles and themes

   At its first launch, the browser gets launched in maximized window mode and loads two tabs: one serves as a quick presentation and looks cartoonish while the other invites you to select a preferred UI style. One of the styles resembles Opera's speed dial feature in appearance while the other has an identical structure but different look: instead of neatly stacked rectangular tiles, it shows circles unevenly spread across a background image.
   When it comes to the styles' structure, UC Browser provides a search function on Google, Bing, Yahoo!, AOL or ASK, along with several default shortcuts to popular websites (e.g. YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Pinterest). It's possible to move the tiles around in any order by dragging them with the mouse cursor, add new websites, remove the current ones, or edit their properties (web address and tile name).


   The layout can be reset while the background photograph can be changed with another wallpaper after exploring the rich online library or adding a custom image file from the computer (.png, .jpg or .jpeg format only). This online library also contains other themes for UC Browser.

Menu options, bookmarks, and tools

   Clicking the large button in the upper left part of the screen opens a menu that permits you to launch a new window (normal or incognito), use a basic search function, access bookmarks and tools, view history and downloads, manage extensions, print information, configure settings, set UC as the default browser, as well as save the page as a file or image (.png or .jpeg format).
   Bookmarks can be imported from Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or custom HTML files. It's possible to clear or restore the old ones, add imported bookmarks to a new folder, and export them to HTML format.
As far as browsing tools are concerned, you can apply a proxy configuration for connecting to the Internet, change the encoding after browsing a long list of methods, view the source code of the current page, access developer tools, and view the JavaScript console.

Download manager and data sync

   An eye-catching animation is triggered when making the app download something. Plus, it automatically identifies the type of downloaded files to organize them into different categories, such as software, pictures, torrents, videos, music, archives, and documents. Online storage space is reserved for logged users (up to 2GB).

   By logging in with a UC Browser, Facebook or Twitter account, the tool can synchronize data across all supported devices when it comes to bookmarks, the speed dial, themes, open tabs, extensions, and settings. It lets you scan a QR code to seamlessly install UC on a smartphone or tablet.

   From the status bar, you can mute all webpages.

Customize browser settings
   On startup, the tool can be asked to open the homepage or to let you pick up where you left off. You can change the home page, set or remove UC as the default browser, modify the default search engine, hide the search, extensions or bookmark bar, or disable "Thunder high-speed" download mode.
Regarding tabs, you can double-click or right-click to close a tab, disable warnings when closing more than one more at exit, use the mouse wheel to easily navigate tabs, and more. It's possible to enable link preloading, disable the next page's preloading, and activate autopage scrolling.

   Mouse gestures are enabled by default, and you can customize or disable them, as well as hide mouse movements and hints for the available gestures. Similarly, keyboard shortcuts are supported. Although these cannot be changed, you can enable a privacy hotkey for quickly hiding and showing the browser window.

   A notable aspect about UC Browser is that it comes equipped with a built-in ad blocker, so you don't have to install third-party extensions to block popup windows, filter page ads, and indicate exceptions (it runs on the Adblock Plus model).
   Other configuration settings focus on privacy (such as forbidding JavaScript or clearing browsing data), managing saved passwords, web content font (size, type), user data location, HTTPS/SSL certificates, continuing to run background apps when UC is closed (e.g. music player plugin), and browser startup acceleration.
   All settings can be reset to default.


Evaluating UC Browser's performance
   We put UC Browser to the test against Chrome to evaluate JavaScript performance, on an Intel Core i5-3470 @ CPU 3.20GHz with 12GB RAM on Windows 8.1 Pro. Both browsers were left with their factory configuration.
   We resorted to four popular benchmarking tools available online, namely Mozilla's Kraken, Google's Octane, Webkit's SunSpider and Futuremark's Peacekeeper. For the results interpretation, you should take into account that lower is better for Kraken and SunSpider while higher is better for Octane and Peacekeeper.
   In Kraken, Chrome was first with 1408.9ms, while UC came in second with 1508.3ms. In SunSpider, Chrome was also the winner with 205.1ms, while UC was last with 222.3ms. In Octane, Chrome was slightly better, scoring 25833, while UC listed 25099. Lastly, in Peacekeeper, UC finished first with 4279, while Chrome scored 3730.
   Therefore, our tests haven't shown significant differences in speed between Chrome and UC Browser.

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