Review: Thoughts on the SnowHaze Mobile Browser (AUGUST 2020 UPDATE)

SnowHaze is a mobile privacy browser available on iOS. It boasts considerable features, including a built-in VPN.

It's independent from big tech companies, independently funded, and open source.

We'll examine what SnowHaze brings to the table in terms of privacy, security, and notable features.

As of August 2020, SnowHaze has had some major updates. This review has been updated on August 14th, 2020 to reflect these changes.

Overview

This is the SnowHaze browser at a glance...

PROS

  • Customization experience ()
  • Total script blocking ()
  • Individual tab settings

CONS

  • No information on blocked trackers OR HTTPS upgrades ()
  • Tor support is part of the premium subscription
  • Lacks good site whitelisting capability
  • Default settings are not the best - requires attention-to-detail set up before using

August 2020 update

The dev team behind SnowHaze made some big updates at the beginning of August.

These updates include Tor support, a better settings screen, and enhanced VPN support.

Tor support

With this update comes support for Tor.

For the unitiated, Tor is good at keeping you anonymous from the websites that you visit. There's more to it, but that's the gist of it.

snowhaze tor support screenshot

While SnowHaze isn't the first to incorporate Tor into its browser, it's the first time I have seen Tor support for a browser geared towards iOS.

(Not including the actual Tor browsers, such as the Onion Browser.)

The feature is still in an experimental stage. It's also only accessible if you pay for premium.

Organized settings

The dev team also took initiative by organizing SnowHaze's settings.

The settings page is overall easier to digest and navigate now.

improved snowhaze settings screenshot

Instead of hunting and pecking for what setting you need, the privacy settings are clearly separated into "Privacy" and "Security."

It's an overall small change, but it sure does improve quality of life when you're (re)configuring everything.

Major VPN improvements

SnowHaze has expanded its VPN support.

Before, the VPN was only available for iOS devices.

Now, the VPN service includes support for macOS, Android, Windows, and Linux based devices.

To reflect this expanded platform support, SnowHaze has made it easy to use the VPN service on other devices. By going to settings and tapping "Use VPN on Other Device" you can take advantage of this.

Additionally, SnowHaze has rolled out its Zero-Knowledge Auth protocol. The team boldly states that this protocol allows them to be the first VPN that knows zero about its users.

The VPN remains part of the subscription/premium paid upgrade.

What is SnowHaze?

snowhaze browser app logo

The company behind SnowHaze is based in Switzerland. According to its website, SnowHaze was created by a team of 5 students who attended a Swiss college.

SnowHaze makes some big and bold claims.

For starters, its number one claim is that it has "the largest list of sites known to support HTTPS on iOS."

However, what's really interesting about SnowHaze is that it’s a browser and a VPN wrapped into a single app.

The VPN isn't free - it's part of a paid premium upgrade. The SnowHaze browser and its privacy settings are free, though.

Additionally, in order to access the most-up-to-date secure site list, you must subscribe. This doesn't appear to affect the autoloading of the HTTPS version of websites, however.

From what I could gather, SnowHaze was originally a closed-source project. Within the past year or so its opened up; its code is officially open-source.

screenshot of snowhaze desktop website

Download SnowHaze Browser

Before the download

Availability

This is a mobile only browser. There is no desktop version available; this could change in the future but I wouldn't hold my breath.

Note: The Snowhaze browser is only available for iOS devices!

Requirements

Running this browser requires iOS 9.2 or later. It's available across iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

App size

The app size for this browser is just over 110MB.

That's quite a bit bigger than most of the other browsers available on the app store.

Initial launch and set up

Now we download the browser from the app store, evaluate the app's initial launch process, and note our first impressions in this section.

The download and the install were pretty quick on my iPhone 8. Not the absolute fastest install I've ever experienced, but not nearly the slowest either. Guess I'll live, as usual.

On first launch, I was greeted with the option to start or skip a tutorial

When you start the tutorial, you go through about 8 different screens that teach you how to use SnowHaze.

If you choose to skip, well, you skip all of the above.

It was definitely one of the lengthier initial openings/tutorials when compared with the likes of the DuckDuckGo mobile browser or Firefox Focus.

The tutorial shows you the different settings and their toggles, website privacy information, and more information on SnowHaze's VPN service.

Features

I'll be up front: SnowHaze has a ton of different features and setting toggles for many different things.

I'll go in depth with the more significant and unique features here.

Privacy

Tracker blocking

SnowHaze blocks ad, analytics, and social trackers that may be found on the websites you visit by default.

SnowHaze also gives you a ton of options when it comes to blocking different types of trackers.

So in addition to blocking ad and social trackers, SnowHaze can provide additional fingerprinting protection and block social widgets (example: Facebook share buttons).

tracker blocking options snowhaze

What's cool is that all of this is enabled by default.

(In my screenshot, I didn't mess with any of the settings.)

That means you have decent protection against aggressive data harvesting trackers from the jump.

Forcing HTTPS

Like other browsers I've reviewed, such as the DuckDuckGo mobile browser and Brave, Snowhaze will also force the HTTPS versions of sites you visit.

If you're not familiar with HTTPS, just know that it encrypts the data you transmit to a web server and vice versa. HTTPS preserves the integrity of this transmitted data.

SnowHaze will attempt to connect to the secure version of a website with this setting enabled; don't worry, it's enabled as a default!

snowhaze https settings screenshot

When forcing HTTPS is enabled, you don't have to worry about whether you're loading the more secure version of the site you're visiting.

SnowHaze will let you know if the secure version can't be loaded for some reason (I touch on this later in this review.)

Content and script blocking

Content Blocking

SnowHaze provides a lot of options for content blocking.

Content blocking is where you block content - such as images or fonts - from being downloaded onto whatever device(s) you're using.

In this browser, you can block all kinds of content which ranges from images to cascade style sheets (CSS).

content blocking options in snowhaze

Note: While content blocking can be useful on sketchy websites, you should be aware that a ton of websites won't display properly when you block certain content; mostly images, CSS, and JavaScript.

Script Blocking

Script and content blocking overlap a bit, but I still wanted to point out that you can block all sorts of scripts while using SnowHaze.

Some of these script blocking features are found in the "Content Blockers" section of the settings. From this screen you can block both 1st party and 3rd party scripts.

However,JavaScript has its own dedicated settings screen:

snowhaze javascript settings screen

From the JavaScript settings, you can block JavaScript.

JavaScript is a programming language that is used on many legitimate websites. We even use it here on avoidthehack!

Like any script though, JavaScript can be used for more malicious reasons. If you know you're treading unsafe waters, you might choose to block JavaScript.

In fact, SnowHaze has a unique feature that lets you block javascript in individual tabs.

Reminder: Just keep in mind that if you choose to block JavaScript, you run the risk of a ton of sites not loading correctly if they do at all!

Search options

Under the "Search Engine" setting, you'll find that you have a ton of options for search engines.

search options in snowhaze browser

Here's the full list of your search options:

  • Bing
  • Google
  • Yahoo
  • Wikipedia
  • WolframAlpha
  • Ecosia
  • Startpage
  • Swisscows
  • DuckDuckGo
  • Qwant (added in August 2020)

There doesn't seem to be a way to add your own custom search engine just yet.

Security

App lock

Like a lot of other mobile privacy browsers available on Apple's App Store, you can lock SnowHaze.

You have the option of locking the browser with Biometric ID (such as FaceID or TouchID) or a passcode. The passcode can be alphanumeric or strictly numeric.

app locking options for snowhaze

"Warnings"

SnowHaze is unique in that you can toggle certain kinds of warnings for your browser experience.

warning settings in snowhaze

There are only 4 toggles found here:

  • Dangerous Sites
  • TLS Certificates
  • Tracking Parameters
  • Prevent XSS

I will say that I find this section a little weird and slightly unnecessary; many, if not most browsers, will automatically tell you about known dangerous sites and expired/fishy TLS certificates.

I would also imagine that blocking tracking parameters and preventing XSS (cross-site scripting) would be a default for any solid privacy browser.

("TLS Certificates" is the only warning enabled by default. This setting alerts you if a site's SSL/TLS certificate is wonky.)

Updates

This browser seems to be updated on a regular basis, though not as frequently as some other browsers.

The developers seem to be committed to providing ongoing support for SnowHaze, fixing bugs and patching security holes where needed.

Note: The developers also appear to have something big up their sleeves for the next update, so keep posted!

Other

Different settings for tabs

This must be the most convenient feature SnowHaze has to offer!

You can set different settings for different tabs you open in SnowHaze.

You do this by tapping the tabs icon.

tab settings snowhaze first

Then you tap the three dots to the left. This brings up the settings for the tab you're about to open.

tab settings snowhaze second

This is what the tab settings look like:

tab settings snowhaze third

As you can see for individual tabs, you don't get to set every single setting that's found in the general settings.

But you do get to set whether you want to save website data such as cookies or allow JavaScript to run.

Remember when I mentioned blocking JavaScript when you know you're going to be on sketchy sites earlier?

That's where this comes in handy.

Additionally, you can set whether you want the tab to save website data or history. It's like using "private browsing," but just on a tab!

Built in VPN

And this is probably the most unique feature this browser offers.

There is a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service built right into the app.

snowhaze vpn screen

The VPN service is a premium feature. You must pay to access and use it. There is a 7-day free trial if you choose to go that route.

SnowHaze's browser is based in Switzerland. This is a definite plus because Switzerland has strong user data privacy laws and it's not a country involved in the 5, 9, and 14 eyes communities.

The 5, 9, and 14 eyes are countries that share intelligence. Often times this is intelligence includes data collected on regular citizens, like you and me.

SnowHaze also claims to have a no-logs policy, near 100% data leak protection, and dedicated servers in 6 different countries.

At the time of this writing, I've yet to test the VPN.

User agent selection

SnowHaze lets you customize the user agent string the browser shares with the sites you visit.

User agent strings are simple bytes of data that tell a site what browser your running, the version of that browser, and on what operating system everything is running on.

Often, sites will change their display properties based on the detected user agent string.

So, by changing the user agent string in SnowHaze, you can modify how a site "sees" you, and therefore indirectly control how and what it shows you.

SnowHaze gives us a decent number of options for user strings:

snowhaze user agent strings

You should be aware that certain user agent strings won't display websites correctly.

The good

Tons of settings

SnowHaze has many settings.

Like, it has a lot.

Of course, all these settings allow you to configure SnowHaze just how you want to. This means you can get a pretty custom-tailored experience from it.

snowhaze general settings first

snowhaze general settings second

I think these screenshots speak for themselves, don't they?

Script blocking

From my use of SnowHaze, I can say that the script blocking is good.

It's not the best, but that's okay; blocking all scripts breaks your browsing experience as most websites won't work properly.

But for untrusted or unknown websites, it helps that you can block Javascript, other 1st party scripts, and 3rd party scripts that a website might load.

It's also convenient that SnowHaze allows you to configure just which types of scripts you can block.

For example, you might choose to only block scripts that load from a third party (so not directly from the website's servers themselves) when you visit a given site.

Keep in mind that blocking scripts are in addition to blocking ad and invasive social trackers!

Tab settings

Even if the number of settings you can set for each individual tab is limited, I still find this to be an amazingly convenient feature.

As I stated earlier, this probably comes in handy when you want to disable Javascript and/or refrain from saving website data when performing more... sketchy web browsing, so to speak.

It's a pretty unique feature amongst the privacy browsers available for iOS too.

The bad

Tons of settings

All those settings of different settings equal one big double-edged sword.

It also doesn't help that the settings screen can be a little overwhelming.

I mean, just look at the general settings screenshot under "The Good: Tons of Settings," and you'll see exactly what I mean.

I do appreciate that it has detailed information of what most of the toggles do (and don't do). But to put it bluntly, there's too many individual setting screens.

I also appreciate all the option SnowHaze gives us, but I just wish it was better organized. It might help if the developers added some kind of search function to easily find specific settings.

No Straightforward Whitelisting

Whitelisting in SnowHaze is nearly nonexistent.

Why do I choose "nearly nonexistent" to describe this feature?

Because SnowHaze makes an attempt at whitelist creation, but it doesn't quite achieve it.

Instead, you can "Mark as Trusted" when visiting a site, but that's about it.

You'll have to go to each site in the browser and tap the green shield in the upper left corner to mark the site as trusted.

snowhaze trusted website location

What's worse is that there doesn't seem to be a stored list of your trusted sites anywhere.

The only way you'll know if a site is marked as trusted is the tiny green checkmark that appears next to the URL in the address bar.

No Info on Blocked Trackers

I find that SnowHaze is lacking when it comes to reporting what it's done AKA just what trackers it's blocked.

At the most you get this screen, which tells you the total number of HTTPS upgrades, trackers blocked, and deleted cookies:

blocking stats on snowhaze homescreen

Many other privacy browsers will tell you what trackers they blocked and from what site. It helps to know where you're running into super invasive trackers such as those on the Facebook network.

Depending on the types and numbers of trackers you encounter on a website, that might affect your decision to visit it again.

So it definitely helps to know which sites have tons of blocked trackers, if only in the interest of making your own data privacy-related decisions.

SnowHaze doesn't tell you any of that, which is disappointing.

Final thoughts

Overall, I think it's safe to say that the SnowHaze browser is a decent pick.

SnowHaze has many features you'll find in more mainstream full-featured browsers such as tab management and a bookmarking system.

In addition to these "standard" features, SnowHaze offers good privacy focused settings. Of these settings, the different toggles for separate tabs and the VPN service are unique.

I wish SnowHaze was more upfront in the stats it provides; it would help users to make informed decisions about returning or even staying on the websites they visit.

There's also a ton of settings to run through before you can really use the browser to its full potential.

Although, the browser does come with some okay default settings, they're not the best.

As always, stay safe out there!

Download SnowHaze Browser

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