Skyfire

28th May 2009 | 10:13

Skyfire

Skyfire is a fast, free mobile browser for Windows Mobile and Symbian - a BlackBerry version is imminent

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

Fast browsing; Supports Flash; Supports Silverlight; Supports QuickTime; Supports Windows Media, PDF, JavaScript, Ajax; Intelligent zoom

Dislike:

No copying from Web pages You're still using a phone-size screen

You don't have to wait for your favourite web sites to develop a mobile version that still has enough of the features that made the site worth visiting; you can get a real mobile browser instead.

The release version of Skyfire comes out this week for Windows Mobile and Symbian (a BlackBerry version is in private alpha) and delivers on the promise of the beta version: full web browsing with Flash, Silverlight and JavaScript that works on a mobile.

Skyfire can cope with normal web pages because it actually uses Mozilla's Gecko rendering engine on the Skyfire servers, not on your phone; that means it can run standard plug-ins like Flash and Silverlight that aren't available on phones or require a more powerful processor.

Like the beta version, Skyfire zooms into the page intelligently when you double-tap (or click if it's not a touchscreen phone), so you get a whole column of text or zoom exactly to the video rather than having to scroll back and forth or zoom in and out.

Unlike the beta, you only see 'guides' for what you're going to zoom in to if you're not using a touchscreen; this isn't quite as clear but there are new on-screen buttons for zooming in and out if you didn't get what you wanted.

SKyfire youtube

YOUTUBE: videos play right in the browser and Skyfire zooms in intelligently

Zooming is faster and you can read the zoomed text straight away rather than waiting for a higher-resolution view to load from the server.

And if you don't need to zoom in at all, you can click links, select buttons and type into fields without having to zoom in first.

Another improvement from the beta is that you no longer need to wait for the start page to load before you type in a URL or search.

When the page does load, it will be the last page you looked at, zoomed in to where you left it; you get the same behaviour when you go back and forward through pages in your history so you're not starting from scratch every time

123

NETWORKING: you can read and send Facebook and Twitter updates or share links from Skyfire, and you can also choose which news feeds you see on the Skyfire start page

The beta of Skyfire was fast at browsing pages but not always at connecting; both are consistently faster in the release version, with pages loading two to five times as fast as on an iPhone or 3G BlackBerry and five to ten time faster than Opera.

It depends on local coverage and bandwidth but in tests on Windows Mobile, the TechRadar home page loaded in 17-25 seconds compared to 30-40 seconds on iPhone, nearly two minutes on Opera Mobile and 2 minutes 15 seconds on the BlackBerry Bold.

Symbian browsing is slightly slower, because most Symbian handsets have less powerful processors that take longer to display pages.

The iPhone isn't the only good mobile browser any more; the release version of Skyfire combines desktop-quality mobile browsing at faster-than-usual speeds with finger-friendly navigation and social networking (you can see and send updates for Twitter and Facebook, read RSS and share links).

We've been using alpha and beta version of Skyfire on Windows Mobile for several months and it transforms the browsing experience.

flickr on skyfire

FLICKR: Skyfire supports complex CSS and JavaScript so even the photostream browswer on Flickr works

You can do mobile banking on the regular web site, pick your seat when you check in for a flight, watch TV on BBC iPlayer (or Hulu for US users), work in Google Docs and use virtually any Web site the way it was intended.

It's not perfect. Some Flash games don't load (Alchemy addicts will be disappointed) and some complex drag-and-drop JavaScript doesn't work (mainly because handsets can't always handle the interaction you'd need to do that with a finger or trackpad rather than a mouse).

silverlight on skyfire

SILVERLIGHT: Skyfire easily copes with Flash and Silverlight on Web pages

And good as the zooming is, it doesn't completely make up for the fact that you're viewing pages designed for a full-size monitor on a tiny screen and using a miniature keyboard to type. That's an impossible circle to square but Skyfire does the best job so far.

Microsoft will finally give Skyfire some competition with Internet Explorer Mobile 6 this autumn and Fennec, the mobile Firefox, promises to up the ante too.

But Skyfire will still have two advantages. Mobile browsers won't improve as fast as desktop browsers and the Web sites that rely on them; because it's based on the full Gecko rendering engine, Skyfire should continue to do a better job on complex pages and plug-ins.

And because it does the hard work of rendering on the server and compresses the page it sends to your phone, it should continue to give one of the fastest mobile browsing experiences.

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