Best dapp browser of 2018

We’re in the wild west of the decentralized web, and everything is a land grab - especially the browser market. In this article I’ll review the top browsers and do the dirty work of installing, testing and transacting with them - helping you make an informed decision on which browser to use.

The desktop browsers I’ll be reviewing are Mist, Parity and Metamask and mobile ones are Toshi, Cipher and Trust.

The criteria I’ll be measuring them by are:

  • Setup
  • Features
  • Buying a CryptoKitty & Airswapping a token
  • Performance
  • User experience

All desktop browsers were tested on a Macbook Pro, 2,7 GHz Intel Core i5 with 8 GB of memory. All mobile browsers were tested on an iPhone 7.

Mist (Windows & Mac)

Mist is the official Ethereum browser and the first dapp browser released, dating back to 2015. It’s a full-fledged desktop browser making it possible to use everything from decentralized apps to regular websites like Google and YouTube.

Installation is unintuitive for a non-technical person, with no dedicated landing page. The only way to download it is to head to the releases page on GitHub. Also you will have to figure out what file to download for your specific system. On startup it will sync a Ethereum node and connect to peers - something which never completed on my machine. The project also seems to be riddled with issues. Being a developer myself I know that new and experimental platforms are hard to get right, but the number of unresolved issues really seem to be unwieldy for Mist at this point in time.

After getting the browser up and running it felt slow, underdeveloped and unusable. I could never get dapps such as AirSwap or CryptoKitties running — and the UI is in need of a revamp. I’d love to be proven wrong, but right now I don’t see Mist having any advantage other than being part of the Ethereum organisation.

Mist rating: 1/5

Parity (Windows & Mac)

Parity has a slick landing page which leads you to believe that the browser will be simpler and faster to use than Mist. However that’s not the case since it runs a full node, and you’ll have to wait for it to sync on startup. The user interface will also have to be separately downloaded — causing even more confusion. Because of this I momentarily turned to the Parity Chrome plugin for a more lightweight browsing experience. Or so I thought…

The Parity browser was playing hard to get, so I switched back to the native desktop window, figuring the sync had completed…

What does this all mean?

The syncing had now turned into “Warp restore” and the UI was full of broken images and information which felt irrelevant to the user.

Parity needs user testing (from a non-technical segment) and experienced designers to evolve their product into something attractive. After two restarts and 10 minutes of waiting for the Starship Enterprise to complete its “Warp restore”, I threw in the towel.

Parity rating: 0/5

Metamask (Windows & Mac)

Metamask is a plugin for browsers such as Chrome, Brave and Firefox. It doesn’t require you to run a full node, which increases its usability by 1000%.

Metamask logo, eerily reminiscent of another fox in the browser industry

Installation is straightforward via the Chrome web store and they also have helpful download links on their landing page.

In terms of user friendliness the Metamask website offers a video tutorial, which could also have been included in the start screen for on-boarding. The UI is well thought out, having clear call to actions and taking minimal screen real estate in Chrome.

Having finally installed a dapp desktop browser successfully, I set out to buy CryptoKitties and trade tokens! Purchasing Etherum to be able to run dapps was straightforward as I had my Coinbase account in the same browser. I’m proud to say that Metamask helped me acquire this fine specimen for a cat within 3 minutes of use.

Next I wanted to try trading tokens, so I headed over to Airswap which is a decentralized token trading platform. Metamask made trading tokens just as easy as buying a digital cat, and it was all done on the first try.

Metamask is fast, simple to use and gets out of your way. After Mist and Parity had shattered my faith in decentralized web usability, Metamask restored it and made me believe again.

Metamask rating: 5/5

Toshi (iOS and Android)

Toshi is an open source mobile browser first released in May 2017 for the iPhone. I downloaded the iOS version and the installation was a breeze. Toshi is a product by Coinbase so a lot of focus has been put on the design and ease of use. It comes with a built-in dapp library and search engine, making exploring the decentralized web easier than using Metamask, where you will have to find your own dapp catalogue.

Understanding how the wallet works and purchasing a Cryptokitty was easy. The downside of Toshi is that the bottom footer isn’t always present, leading to a constant switching between dapps and wallet balance. Also accessing the wallet closes down the current dapp. Perhaps a statically positioned “floating menu button” which expands the wallet would be a better option.

There’s also the “chat” feature of Toshi which brings a social factor to the decentralized web. With the chat feature you can send and request payments from other Toshi users. Ingenious in its simplicity, the chat feature still falls short as the people you can interact with with are very few, rendering it useless.

Robert asking me for money again

Another feature is that the wallet has a “collectibles” section which had my newly purchased Cryptokitty in it. Not a major selling point, but it did make my wallet more interesting.

Toshi is remarkably easy to use but needs more refinement in the features area. Its strongest point is the built in dapp catalogue and wallet UI. Weak points are the chat and the browsing experience being somewhat slow (my Airswap never went through, but that could’ve been caused by temporary issues in the Etherum network).

Toshi rating: 3/5

Cipher (iOS and Android)

The Cipher team actually seem to have a person with marketing sensibilities on board as their landing page feels like a polished product. Too many browsers are linking to GitHub or completely lacking product screenshots, but Cipher has definitely the promotional aspect nailed down.

Installation on iOS is simple (thanks Apple!) and the UI doesn’t need too much explaining. The start screen has a “Getting started” button which should be included in all dapp browsers. This market is brand new and a lot of users might not even know what Ethereum is - educate them!

Cipher doing a lot of UX things right!

The interface feels informative without being cluttered, and the core features are located in the footer. Cipher beats Toshi here as the footer is always present, letting you switch back and forth between dapps, your wallet and transactions — without losing state. Way to go!

Cipher also makes you use Touch ID for signing data which gives a good impression of security. It is yet another feature which makes Cipher a strong candidate for best mobile browser and a near perfect rating. But the downside of Cipher, its small dapp catalogue - which lacks for instance Cryptokitties and Airswap - makes it fall just short of perfect. Having a strong dapp catalogue in your browser is key for retaining new users, hence me stressing the point. But with Coinbase acquiring Cipher, I’m sure we’ll see Toshi and Cipher merging, ironing out these issues.

Cipher rating: 4/5

Trust browser (iOS and Android)

Trust started out as a wallet but then expanded into including a browser in 2017. Installation is easy and Trust “just works” out of the box, with zero configuration.

The browser is also good at keeping the user experience fluid, letting me toggle between dapps without having to repeatedly click “open” buttons.

Trust made buying a Cryptokitty very easy and I also managed to trade some tokens on Airswap on the first try. The browser feels like Chrome when it was first released, free of unnecessary bells and whistles and just gets the job done.

The only drawbacks I could find was the dapps catalogue not being searchable, and the wallet lacking a “buy Ether with credit card” integration – but that’s just a matter of putting the Get ETH dapp there.

Trust really delivers on all fronts and will be my mobile browser of choice. It’s fast and smart, yet simple in execution. The wallet is as good as Cipher and Toshi’s, but more intuitive with large call to actions and on the fly conversion to fiat.

Trust wallet

Trust browser rating: 5/5

Conclusion

For desktop dapp usage there’s no need to try any other browser/plugin than Metamask. Mist and Parity both feel like very tech heavy projects with little focus on user experience.

Mobile browsers on the other hand have a competitive advantage as they use the native UI components of the underlying OS (Android & iOS) – making it easier to create smooth and seamless products. My initial gut feeling was that Cipher would be the best browser for mobile, but Trust just did everything a little bit better.