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Review: Skyfire browser for Windows Mobile

The windows mobile platform has plenty of browser options available by now. Besides the big names like internet explorer and opera mobile, there are other windows mobile browser out there which deserve to be taken into consideration. I will start with the review of skyfire today, which is one of the better known browsers on the market, and on the following days I’ll add reviews for the iris and netfront browsers. At the end of this little review series i will compare all options, and evaluate which browser is fitting what kind of user requirements the most.

The default homescreen of skyfire is shown on the screenshot beneath. On this page you can manage your bookmarks, access you browsing history and customize the startpage.

Skyfire homescreen Windows Mobile
Skyfire homescreen Windows Mobile

The first impression of the user interface is not bad at all. As you can see, there are two soft buttons on screen which are easy to reach. But the UI is not completely optimized for finger input, since the submenus don’t always use big icons or fonts, so opera mobile has a slight advantage in this area.

After browsing to a different website you will notice that while the loading time is quite good, the screen does look a little bit blurry. The reason for this is that you don’t see the real html-page onscreen, but actually only a picture of the page which has been rendered by the skyfire servers. Skyfire works like opera mini, where your http request is resolved by a server, which will render a picture of the requested page and forward it to your device.

Skyfire startpage Windows Mobile
Skyfire startpage Windows Mobile

While this method is good to optimze loading times, there are some issues which can’t be denied:

  • security: in order to reproduce your interaction with the pages, every user input will be buffered on the skyfire servers. This means your usernames and passwords will go this way too, as well as every other sensitive information like mobile banking data.
  • picture quality: as already mentioned, the pages all have a blurry effect on them. If you are used to the very clear rendering of opera mobile, this will annoy you.
  • html errors: i can’t say if this is a general issue for sure, but skyfire is the only browser i tested which has trouble with showing the text on my blog correctly. If you take a closer look at the screenshots which show my blog, you will see that there is a huge font size difference between the different paragraphs.
  • zooming/scrolling: the zoom and scrolling is not very fast or fluid

But then again, this kind approach of preprocesseing webpages is a very good option for older devices with less performance. Using skyfire won’t need a lot of ressources like ram and cpu speed. And at the same time skyfire has a very big advantage, it does support flash. And it really works well, i tried different webpages like youtube and all of them worked perfectly.

Now let’s go ahead with the user interface evaluation. Using the right soft button will open the menu, where you can access your bookmarks, different navigation settings (history, startpage, refresh, forward), share functionality (sending pages via sms) as well as the general options.

Skyfire menu Windows Mobile
Skyfire menu Windows Mobile

The general options screen only provides very basic settings. You can set skyfire as default browser, and activate or deactivate the search bar on the home screen. Activating the page drag controls option will show you two icons onscreen, where you can switch between fingerbased and cursorbased control.

Skyfire options Windows Mobile
Skyfire options Windows Mobile

Advanced options contain cookie and history settings, as well as the option to be notified about mobile versions of browsed pages.

Skyfire advanced options Windows Mobile
Skyfire advanced options Windows Mobile

I really heard and read a lot about skyfire, that’s why i decided to finally give it a try. So what’s the outcome? Well, skyfire is not a bad app by any means, but besides the flash support i just can’t see the reason why an average user could prefer it to opera mobile 9.5. Loading times maybe a little bit faster, but it is not nearly as big of a difference as i thought by reading those reviews on the internet. And i really don’t like the fact that the page overview is blurry and zooming in and scrolling isn’t as fluid as it should be. Not to mention the security issues. And even on the user interface subject it can’t compete with opera mobile.

The bottomline is: skyfire can be interesting for users which want flash support on their mobile browsers above anything else, or for people who have devices which don’t have the hardware power to provide real html browsing on data heavy pages.
I keep skyfire on my device as my second browsing option, on the rare instance that i might want to surf on some flash pages on the go every now and then.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Tested on: XDA Orbit II, 400mhz Qualcomm CPU, 128 MB RAM, 320*240 QVGA resolution.