Preview: Skyfire Browser for Windows Mobile Part II

Browsing the Web on a smartphone instead of a standard PC is a lot like living in an RV compared to a real house—while the environment may be somewhat familiar, there can also be some major practical limitations.

The Skyfire mobile browser aims to bridge the gap between PC-based and mobile browsing by providing speedier performance and better content support, which it does by processing Web content on its own servers before delivering it to the mobile device.

When we first looked at an early beta (version 0.6) of Skyfire's Windows Mobile version this past summer, we found it a promising and indeed impressive product, and the latest version is a solid step forward in usability and performance.

SkyFire's beta program has gone from private to public with the latest 0.8 version, making the software available to anyone with a Windows 5 or 6-based device (you can get it at get.skyfire.com). Skyfire's browser can now be had for Nokia's S60-based N and E Series phones too, though as of this writing only the older 0.6 version was available for the S60 platform, but in the words of a Skyfire spokesperson, the 0.8 version is due for release "very shortly".

We upgraded a T-Mobile Dash running Windows Mobile 6 to the latest SkyFire beta. Skyfire 0.8 loads quicker than its predecessor and it now reestablishes Internet links automatically when they go idle.

This feature is particularly welcome when using a Wi-Fi connection that may frequently and automatically go dormant frequently in the interest of preserving battery life. On a few occasions there was a bit of a delay-perhaps 10 to 15 seconds-- before Skyfire realized the connection had gone dark.

Skyfire 0.8 displays—initially in thumbnail form-the same versions of Web sites you'd see with a standard PC browser—a zoom cursor lets you quickly home in a specific area of interest. On the Dash, text was rendered at a high enough quality that story headlines were easily read without needing to zoom.

As with the previous beta, Skyfire not only loads Web pages quicker than IE Mobile, it deftly handles forms of content like Flash-based video or Ajax site components that cause IE to throw up its hands. (When a particular site has a mobile-optimized version, Skyfire now detects it and provides a link to it in the upper left corner of the browser.)

Skyfire 0.8 also offers improved integration with Windows Mobile. You can now configure Skyfire as your default browser so that opening Web links will invoke it instead of IE. Similarly, Skyfire provides a custom Home Screen layout that prominently features a new "Superbar". This single text field will automatically launch Skyfire upon receiving either a Web address or search term (search are provided by Google.)



SuperBar Home

The Superbar can also be found at the top of Skyfire's revamped start page. (A separate Google search box is also provided, though it seems somewhat redundant.) Also available on via the start page are links to various Yahoo news headlines (U.S., World, Business, Sports, etc.) along with a customizable widget that reports local weather.

To make accessing sites easier, Skyfire pre-populates its Bookmarks feature with links to a couple of dozen popular sites divided across four categories—news, sports, social, and video. The browser also makes it easy to save your own bookmarks just by hitting the "4" key while viewing a site (no need to invoke a menu first). Unfortunately, Skyfire doesn't yet have the ability to import existing Internet Explorer bookmarks.



Revamped Start Page

Browsing the Web on a smartphone will likely never be quite the same as doing it from a full-size PC. But browsing with Skyfire is the next best thing, so if you have a compatible device, it's definitely worth the download. We eagerly await version 1.0.

TAGS:

browsers, applications, Web browsers, Windows Mobile, Skyfire

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