For times when you have a weak signal, there's Instabrowser

Access the Web on your iPhone with greater speed with Instabrowser, a mobile browser that loads only the HTML of Web pages.

Connection slow? Data usage approaching your monthly maximum? To load Web pages more quickly on your iPhone when you have a bad signal or to lower your data usage, give Instabrowser a go. This $2.99 iPhone app loads only the HTML of a Web page -- stripping out all the JavaScript and CSS -- to bring you your mobile content more quickly. There is also a free, ad-supported version of the app called Instabrowser Zero.

Instabrowser, not to be confused with InstaBrowser, is a great app for subway commuters and anyone who spends a portion of the day trying to access Web pages with a poor signal. I found that it loads pages more quickly than Chrome and Safari; the developer states Instabrowser can cut load times and data usage by 90 percent or more.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Instabrowser provides a URL bar at the top of the screen along with a Google search box. Along the bottom are buttons to bookmark pages, navigate forward and backward, load the full version of a page, manage multiple tabs, tweak the settings, and show a table of contents.

In settings, you can change the font size and choose to load images along with text or text only for even faster load times. You can also change Instabrowser's user agent, which is set by default to Mobile Safari, to another browser such as Firefox or IE or choose Safari (desktop) to ask Instabrowser to load the full version of a page if the mobile version is giving you trouble. Deeper in settings, you can tweak paragraph spacing and column padding as well as change the theme (currently there are two, a light blue and a dark red theme).

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Tap the right-most button and Instabrowser will display a table of contents for a page. It uses a Web page's header tags to present a more orderly list of the headlines on a page, but it's not always available because some pages don't use such tags. When it's available, the table of contents makes it easier to find the relevant content on a page. In many cases, the layout of an HTML-only page forces to you to scroll past large sections that are poorly formatted.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

If the table of contents isn't available for a particular, try tapping the lighting button at the bottom of the screen. It displays the original version of a Web page, which is useful for pages that require JavaScript to load properly.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

You'll have to be agreeable to sometimes encountering a page that's a jumbled mess, but Instabrowser does provide a speed advantage. I'm a Cincinnati Reds fan and fell asleep last night before the completion of their game on the West Coast against the Padres, so I woke up and grabbed my iPhone to check the score. (Note: My iPhone 4S no longer connects to Wi-Fi, so I conducted the following test via a cell signal.) Loading the front page of ESPN via Safari and opening a page via the MLB app took roughly 17 seconds each. By comparison, I entered a search term in Instabrowser's Google search box and I found out the Reds lost a heart-breaker on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth in less than 5 seconds. Advantage: Instabrowser (and Chris Denorfia and the Padres).

I also tried Instabrowser yesterday in a part of town where I'm on Verizon's extended network. Unfortunately, I found that Instabrowser had about as much trouble loading a page as Safari and the Google search app.

 

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