Quetta: first look at the privacy-first browser for Android
Quetta is a new web browser that is now available for Android. The developers of the browser promise strong privacy protections and features. In this first look review, we will be taken a closer look at the browser to verify these claims.
Quetta is available for Android at this point. Versions for other operating systems are promised, but not yet available. The browser is based on Chromium, the same source as most Android browsers.
Privacy is the foundation of Quetta according to the website. The browser "does not collect, store or share any data". Built in tools, including an ad-blocker and script controls, protect user data by default.
A feature comparison on the website compares Quetta with other browsers on Android. The list is divided into privacy and smart utilities features. It should not come as a surprise that Quetta is the only browser that supports all listed features.
Quetta includes an ad-blocker and tracker blocker, fingerprint protections and HTTPS Everywhere. The company lists data vault and private downloads, which only it supports.
Data vault protects user data, such as bookmarks, the browsing history or download records, through biometric verification. It is disabled by default but users may enable it in the settings. The private downloads feature is not explained on the website or in the browser.
On the non-privacy side Quetta supports a range of features. Notable are the video downloader, background audio playback, translations, and reader functionality.
Since the browser is offered via Google Play, Quetta's video downloader does not work on Google Play. Google prohibits this for Android apps and also Chrome extensions. It may be used on other video sites, including YouTube front-ends, with a long-tap on the video interface.
Background audio playback does not work on YouTube as well. Quetta displays the play option in the notifications area of the phone. You need to start playback actively when you browse away from the video or audio site to continue listening.
Probably one of the biggest features is not even mentioned by the developers at this time: extensions support. You can visit the Chrome Web Store to install extensions from it. Note that there is no interface displayed when you use the browser; this makes it difficult to control extensions and even renders some unusable. If the extension does not require interaction, it should work fine.
There is no link to the Extensions management page, but you may load it by typing quetta://extensions. Most Chromium-based browsers do not support extensions on mobile. Quetta is not the first browser, but it is one of the few Chromium-based browsers that does. Whether that is an oversight by the developers or a feature that is not yet ready for public use remains to be seen. The extensions system worked well during limited tests.
The built-in adblocker works well and you get some control when you tap on the shield icon. There you see all available privacy controls and some statistics. You can turn off the ad-blocker or tracking prevention for a specific site here. Other privacy options may also be set to custom values for specific sites using the menu. Granular controls, which extensions like uBlock Origin offer, are not supported.
Quetta makes a lot of promises. The browser appears well designed and some of its features are useful.
Some questions remain unanswered at this point. One of the first that always comes to mind is how is the project financed? It is not mentioned and a disclosure on the website might alleviate concern in this regard. It is possible that money is generated through search engine deals or plans to create a "Pro" version. Another red flag, at least for some, is that the browser is not open source.
The feature comparison on Quetta's website is obviously biased. Any browser maker could create a list that only their browser supports 100%.
At least some users may not like that Quetta displays the first few letters of the page title in its address bar and not the URL. The URL is revealed when you tap on the title, but even then it is only shown partially due to a lack of space.
Quetta is a mobile browser that works really well. It is fast and has excellent web compatibility thanks to its Chromium source. It comes with a range of privacy and usability features, including content blocking and video downloading.
The ability to install extensions gives it a leg up in comparison to most Chromium-based browsers, but not against browsers such as Firefox, which also do support extensions on mobile.
All in all, it is a browser to keep an eye on to see how it develops over time. The developers plan to release a version for iOS in 2024 to cover all mobile systems of importance.
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