Anyone who has owned a Windows Mobile phone can tell you that Internet Explorer 6.0 Mobile sucks! Here, I review two browsers in what I like to call "Battle of the Beta Browsers!!!!!!" (try saying that 5 times fast!)
In the Red Corner...
Our first contestant is Opera Mobile 9.5. Opera Mobile has been around for awhile now (actually since 2000) and it set the standard for mobile browsing, according to their web page. It comes standard on the HTC Touch Diamond, Pro, and HD, as well as on the Samsung i900 Omnia, all very expensive toys without a Windows Mobile OS. Opera isn't just for mobile phones as they also have a browser for computers and Opera Mini, a browser for cheaper phones that don't support Opera Mobile. It holds 4 awards such as Smartphone and PocketPC Magazine's "Best mobile browser for both Windows-based Pocket PC and Smartphones" for 2007 and Mobile Gala's "Best program for mobile phones" and "Best program for handheld computers", both won in 2004. It also features Widgets! The 9.5 browser supports Gears API. Their tagline is "Simply the Best Internet Experience on Any Device", but we'll just see about that, now, won't we?
In the Blue Corner...
Today's challenger is the browser known as Skyfire Beta. Skyfire was founded in 2006 by Nitin Bhandari and Erik Swenson, who are the CEO and CTO (respectively) of the company. Backed by Lightspeed Venture Partners, Matrix Partners and Trinity Ventures, Skyfire has raised $17.8 million in funding. Currently, this browser only runs on Windows Mobile and Nokia N & E Series phones, but they are planning to expand the compatibility to Symbian and the iPhone.Skyfire's hook is that it is the first Windows Mobile browser that can support full Adobe Flash 10 content, meaning that you can actually stream video. It can also support Silverlight and Quicktime without the need of installing extra plugins on the device. Skyfire, like Opera Mobile 9.5, is in open beta and can be downloaded from their website.
Round 1: The Installation
Since every program installed on a Windows Mobile phone installs exactly the same, the biggest thing I was looking for was space efficiency. I was also looking for compatibility. Opera Mobile was a little over 10,000 kilobytes to install while Skyfire was around 2,000 kilobytes. However, Opera Mobile is compatible with more phones as it can be installed on all Windows Mobile phones as well as on Symbian phones. Since this is a Windows Mobile channel, I had to disregard the Symbian compatibility and go with Skyfire Beta. Although it is only able to be installed on a small number of Windows Mobile phones, I loved that it only took up 2 megabytes of space on my phone.
Round 2: Offline Features
Offline features I defined as stuff you can do with the browser while you're offline. The winner here is Opera Mobile 9.5 Beta. While I loved Skyfire Beta's today screen plugin that allows you to type in an address from the Today screen, Opera Mobile had the ability to save pages for offline viewing and also came with Opera Widgets (I'm a sucker for widgets). Unfortunately, Skyfire doesn't work unless you're connected to the Internet. Although I do wish Opera Mobile 9.5 Beta came with a Today screen pluigin...
(get to it, Opera!)
Round 3: Speed
For the speed contest, I used my library's connection and my own phone, the Verizon XV6700 with Windows Mobile 6.0 ROM (old phone, I know, but it gets the job done). I also considered start-up times. Opera took 11 seconds to boot up while Skyfire took around 10 seconds, so the times were almost the same. I defined "finish loading" as the moment the page was displayed and loading bar disappeared, and I did not use Skyfire's Today screen plugin. As i though, Skyfire Beta blew Opera Mobile 9.5 Beta out of the water! This test was done by going to 3 websites: http://www.google.com, http://www.youtube.com, and http://www.myspace.com, 3 sites the average person would visit on the net. While it took Skyfire 2 seconds to bring up Google, it took Opera 6 second to bring up Google. It took Opera Mobile 50 seconds to bring up youtube, while it only took Skyfire 5 second, and for Myspace, Skyfire brought it up in a mere 7 seconds while it took Opera Mobile 80 seconds, and that's after it took me to the mobile version, which Skyfire never did.
Round 4: Touchability
This test was done for finger-friendlyness. Unfortunately, the XV6700 is not a finger-friendly phone. In order to test this out, I went to check my Yahoo! Mail (which I had already done today), my Facebook , and my eBay. The winner here was Skyfire Beta. In Opera Mobile, it was very difficult to press buttons, even with a stylus. I had to calibrate my screen twice in order to get link to work, and then they worked only when they wanted to. However, the double-click to zoom feature was very helpful. The ability of Opera Mobile to turn off and on text selection was great when combines with thumb scrolling. The buttons were big enough for browsing, but not so big that they took up the screen. Skyfire Beta's buttons look as if they were made for small fingers rather than my sausages, and it was hard to go into the menus, but navigating webpages was a breeze using my finger. The scroll was functional but not like Opera's iPhone-like scroll. Still, even without zooming in, I was able to clink links and read my offer 3 Disney Movies for only $1. i was even able to check out my Facebook and buy a new MiniSD card for my XV6700 on Skyfire, while I got frustrated with Opera and quit after not being able to click links on eBay items.
Round 5: Online Features and Functionality
As important it is that it's fast, a mobile web browser also has to actually function, but not just function but function. Online features add to the functionailty,s o i merged the two sections into one. When using the browsers, I gauged how close I was from throwing my pocket pc out of the window. Here, speed or touchability wasn't an issue. I found Skyfire Beta to be the most functional. I liked the mopuse feature. it reminded me of my laptop computer, which died about 3 months ago (Compaq Presario v2000; it was a manufacturing thing where my cords would burn out, but that's another article). I also liked that you can look at Flash videos in Skyfire, and it's better that it was without having to download Flash. Opera, however, had the ability to save webpages, tabbed browsing, and a password manager, all things Skyfire did not have. Opera Mobile took up too much memory for my taste. I continuously got the error messgae "Out of Memory" while using it.
And the Winner is.....
.....SKYFIRE BETA! Although Opera Mobile was sleek in design and had many offline features, it was the challenger that took the gold for this one. I liked the speed and touchability on Skyfire, and the Today screen address bar plugin was a nice addition. The fact that it was only a small 2 megabyte install on my phone was awesome enough for me. The only major downside I saw was that it is only able to run on a small amount of phones. However, my XV6700 isn't listed and it runs perfectly, so it might be worth it to try it out.
NOTE: If you do try it out and it fries your phone, I"m not responsible...although I doubt it will!