Unless you have been hiding in the dark these past few weeks, you’ll have heard about Apple’s new product, the iPhone. The which I think is most most striking about this new mobile phone is not the cool multi touch interface, or the springy interface, or even its minimalistic look. Rather, it has a web browser that actually works properly!
Sadly, whilst Apple may have seen the light and put the time and effort into making a good web browsing experience, the same cannot be said for a lot of other mobile device manufacturers.
Just to show you how bad things can get, I decided to try out a few web browsers on my PocketPC device, a Dell Axim X50V. For those of you who don’t know, it is one of Dell’s last PocketPC devices which uses Microsoft’s “Windows Mobile” (otherwise known as Windows CE). It has also got a nice VGA screen, giving 640×480 pixels of real screen estate.
The browsers I decided to try out are as follows:
In each instance, I tried 3 of my favorite websites, i.e.:
In addition, to make things a bit more interesting I only used the default portrait mode on my device, meaning the resolution was really 480×640 pixels.
Pocket Internet Explorer
For reference, I used the version bundled with Windows Mobile 5.
This browser comes bundled with Windows Mobile. Like its desktop counterpart, it struggles to correctly render a lot of the pages I visited. It also didn’t help when all the images and whatnot were drawn twice the size.
Although on the plus side, it felt much more responsive than the other browsers I tried!
There were a total of three display modes available, i.e.:
- One column
Another interesting feature of Pocket Internet Explorer is that if you download a plugin from Adobe, you can enable support for Flash movies in the browser. Unfortunately it only supports up to version 7, and even then you will be lucky if you can get it to work properly on your typical run-of-the-mill Flash game.
For reference, I used the 8.65 beta.
I first tried Opera Mobile last year when they released a public beta. In all, I didn’t have any major issues with responsiveness. It also rendered a lot of the pages I visited correctly, and even had a “Fit to Screen” option where I could view the page scaled down width-wise so it fitted onto my screen – great!
Sadly this was the only browser that made a good attempt at displaying each web site correctly, although in Portrait mode everything tends to get a bit squished up.
With regard to display modes, there were three:
- Fit to screen
Unlike Pocket Internet Explorer, it supported tabbed browsing, which pretty much made sense on a PocketPC.
For reference, I used the 0.2 beta.
Essentially, this is Firefox for your Pocket PC. Which considering the hardware constraints, does not bode well. To put a long story short, this seemed the least responsive of the browsers I tried. I also encountered a lot of bugs, such as when I tried typing into text fields using the on-screen keyboard, I sometimes could not get rid of it. There was also the occasional crash, right when I least expected it.
Oddly enough I could not find any way of explicitly changing the display mode, so I was stuck with the default.
Like Opera Mobile, Minimo supported tabbed browsing. Although I couldn’t help thinking that the size of the tabs was a bit on the small side (compared to Opera Mobile).
Unlike Pocket Internet Explorer and Opera Mobile, Minimo could not make use of the Adobe Flash plugin. Considering the relative disappointment with compatibility with Flash content though, its not much of a loss. Still, it would have been nice.
In general, browsing the web on a PocketPC device is a major disappointment. The only browser which stood out was Opera Mobile, which is great if you are willing to shelve out the money to pay for it. Arguably though, a decent web browser should have already been included in Windows Mobile.
Perhaps in the future web browsers on your typical PDA’s and Mobile Smartphone’s will get better. Until then, one can only hope.