October 27th, 2008
Here is the Skyfire Browser; a browser that tries to bring the desktop browsing experience to your mobile phone.
I used to think Pocket Internet Explorer on Windows Mobile devices was pretty decent. Of course this was years ago. Not much has changed with PIE since. In fact, some manufacturers have started bundling Opera as the default browser on their WinMo devices.
Opera comes in 2 flavors for mobile devices; regular Opera and Opera Mini. The main difference is that regular Opera downloads the entire webpage to your device and lets your device sort things out. Opera Mini is java so it’s generally meant for less powerful devices and uses a proxy server. It’s basically a server that sits between you and the website you’re viewing. The Proxy takes pages, reformats them, resizes the images, compresses files – that sort of thing. This way, some of the heavy lifting is done by the server which is usually more powerful than your phone.
While I prefer regular Opera on my WinMo devices over PIE and Opera Mini, it can run slow at times. Also, it doesn’t really support Flash which means it’s not so useful for YouTube and other Video sharing sites.
Here’s where Skyfire comes in. Skyfire is more geared towards more powerful phones. For now WinMo (professional and personal or PPC and Smartphone) and S60 devices. Where it differs from regular Opera is that it uses a proxy. However, the proxy does a lot more than Opera Mini’s. Besides reformatting pages and images, Skyfire goes another step and supports stuff like Flash, etc.
The Skyfire essentially marries the power of a smartphone with the efficiency of a proxy which allows it to become even more powerful.
I tested Skyfire on my Motorola Q9h. When you install it, it also installs a custom Today screen which has a Skyfire search/address bar – useful.
Skyfire identifies itself as Firefox to websites so servers will send full versions of their sites. Sometimes websites have mobile versions that automatically get loaded. This prevents the mobile version from getting loaded.
When browsing a large regular webpage (like HowardForums.com) it will render the page as an image (I think) which fits the width of your screen. There’s a box which you can move around. When you press select, it will zoom into the box.
Since Skyfire uses a proxy the initial load of a site is faster than normal but this doesn’t take into account the time it takes to scroll around which is sometimes slower since Skyfire only seems to send small part of the page at a time. still, overall Skyfire is faster than a regular phone browser.
When you’re moving the box around, it automatically resizes based on what’s in it. For example; if you’re browsing YouTube and move the box over a video, it will increase in size so that it’s around the video. If you’re reading text, it will resize so that you can read text without having to scroll sideways – very smart.
Again I’m not 100% sure, but I think when you zoom in you’re still looking at an image; this allows Skyfire to be more flexible with how text looks though sometimes it also means text might be slightly fuzzy looking (this isn’t a big deal – more of an observation).
I tried it with YouTube. For some reason, the audio wouldn’t work (remember it’s beta, I’m sure they’ll fix it) but video quality seemed acceptable, however, it did get jerky if I was viewing higher quality video.
What’s neat is that you can view the videos as they would look on your computer rather than having to launch a separate application.
Since the Skyfire server is probably on a much faster connection than your phone, it can download the page, do the reformatting and then send it to your phone fairly quickly.
Feature wise it has bookmarks, ability to send pages via SMS or email, save images, pretty standard stuff.
Skyfire is currently in beta. When you fire it up, it first has to connect to the Skyfire server. That usually takes anywhere from a second to a couple of seconds. If you switch apps or idle the connection for a while, it will disconnect and reconnect when you use it again.
One neat thing about Skyfire is that since it uses a server to send you pages, sometimes the people at Skyfire are able to add features without requiring you to download a new client. Apparently they managed to add SilverLight (some Microsoft thing NBC.com used to cover the Olympics) without requiring a new client – cool!
It’s still in beta so things may change but the only real problem I had with Skyfire is that it doesn’t support tabbed browsing. I also looked around and couldn’t find a way to set a custom homepage. I’m also not crazy about using proxy servers when it comes to logging into sites because I don’t want to send my password information through them (ones that aren’t SSL protected). Also, Skyfire requires a powerful device so you probably won’t see one for say a Motorola RAZR v3 or something similar. Otherwise I don’t really have anything bad to say about it.
That said, for now I’ll probably stick with regular Opera because I’m addicted to tabbed browsing though I’ll give Skyfire another long hard look if they add this feature.
Entry Filed under: Phones