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Five of the best mobile browsers

All the alternatives to IE you need...
By Natasha Lomas, Contributor on
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1 of 5 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

All the alternatives to IE you need...

With 2008 bearing witness to both a mobile broadband boom and a proliferation of iPhone-esque devices hitting the market, suddenly surfing the web on your phone has never been more popular.

Here, silicon.com rounds up five of the best offerings out there and not an IE in sight...

Opera Mini

Java-ME-based browser made by Norwegian outfit Opera Software. Self-billed as "the world's most popular mobile web browser" the company claims to have more than 20 million users - and unlike its other mobile browser, Opera Mobile, it's free to download. It offers speedy surfing as the browser requests web pages through Opera's servers and then sends compressed and processed data to the mobile user - speeding up the time it takes to load the sites. Opera Mini 4.2 - the latest release - has also been ported to Google Android, although there's no such luck for iPhone owners.

Features

  • Impressive website download speeds owing to use of proxy servers
  • Dynamic reformatting technology means website text fits onto small mobile screens - avoiding the need for horizontal scrolling to finish reading sentences
  • Support for landscape browsing

Lacks

  • Flash support or streaming video
  • Cut and paste

Click here for page two...

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2 of 5 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Safari on iPhone

The browser preloaded on Apple's iPhone is a version of the Mac-maker's desktop offering Safari, based on open source WebKit tech. Custom tweaked for the iPhone, Safari certainly makes the most of the device's touchscreen - zooming in and out of web pages is effortless, with users able to just pinch to shrink or prise to expand their view. Like a lot of Apple's wares, it's user-friendly but only available on Apple kit.

Features

  • Innovative use of multitouch touchscreen for zooming in and out of web pages
  • Kinetic scrolling making it easier to pan around large pages
  • Virtual keyboard
  • Support for landscape browsing

Lacks

  • Flash or Java support
  • Cut and paste

Click here for page three...

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3 of 5 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Default Android browser

Google's preinstalled Android browser - sometimes referred to as Chrome Lite - is WebKit-based and thus somewhat reminiscent of iPhone Safari, being both easy to use and intuitive. It's not Mountain View's sole foray into browserland (its PC web browser Chrome launched last September) but as yet there's no full-fat Chrome Mobile. The Android browser is currently only available on the HTC G1 but will obviously proliferate as more Android-based devices hit the market.

Features

  • App downloads take place in the background for uninterrupted surfing
  • Links automatically open in new windows and all web pages are represented as mini windows on a separate screen for easy revisiting - the browser's mobile answer to tabbed browsing
  • Kinetic scrolling
  • Support for landscape browsing

Lacks

  • Flash support or streaming video
  • Virtual keyboard
  • Cut and paste - but this feature is due with Cupcake development update

Click here for page four...

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4 of 5 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Skyfire

Silicon Valley start-up Skyfire Labs, which is backed by $17.8m in VC cash, has grabbed a lot of column inches with its mobile browser offering - even though it's still only a beta release and only relatively recently a public beta. Like Opera, Skyfire uses proxy servers to offload the loading of web pages for faster surfing, and also makes use of the Gecko rendering engine. Its biggest claim to fame is Flash and Java support - the likes of iPlayer, YouTube et al work as they do on the full-fat internet, embedded in the page. Currently Skyfire only supports Canada, UK and US regions but it's certainly a browser to watch.

Features

  • Flash, JavaScript and Ajax support, plus other browser plug-ins such as Silverlight and QuickTime
  • Use of a proxy server to load web pages then deliver a rendered image to the user - which can make for speedier mobile surfing. It also means websites are the same as when surfing on a desktop computer
  • Support for landscape browsing

Lacks

  • Worldwide availability (as yet)
  • Various issues/bugs to iron out associated with the proxy method - such as blurred text on web pages, and slowness to load portions of pages in some instances
  • Cut and paste
  • Tabbed browsing

Click here for page five...

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5 of 5 Natasha Lomas/ZDNET

Mozilla Fennec

Fennec is better understood as Mozilla's project to build a version of Firefox for mobile phones. Mozilla's vision for Fennec is a browser with full implementation of JavaScript and Ajax for mobile access to rich web apps and the ability to support add-ons like its desktop big brother, so users can augment and customise their browsing.

However, Fennec is merely an alpha 2 release at this point - downloadable to desktop computers or by owners of the Nokia N800 or N810 internet tablets - so it's early days for this mobile push. The browser is being built with the Gecko open source rendering engine.

Features

  • Support for Flash, JavaScript and Ajax
  • Support for third-party browser add-ons
  • Potential to sync between desktop Firefox and mobile Firefox
  • Kinetic scrolling
  • Tabbed browsing
  • Virtual keyboard
  • Support for landscape browsing

Lacks

  • Full public release (as yet)
  • Cut and paste

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