Skyfire is possibly the most successful attempt yet to deliver the full web experience on a smartphone. It has some quirks, and response times can vary depending on the quality of the network connection, but it is difficult not to be impressed. Pros: Shows full web page with zoom; handles multimedia content such as Flash Cons: Can use up battery quickly; only Windows Mobile and Nokia phones supported at present
The Skyfire mobile browser is a free download designed to give smartphone users a web experience that as closely as possible matches that of accessing content from a PC.
Available to download now, Skyfire enables users to view almost any web page that can be viewed with a desktop browser, including those with Java and Flash content, such as videos on YouTube. It also supports Silverlight 2, making Skyfire potentially interesting for accessing web-based business applications.
We found the release version of Skyfire much improved in its speed of response over earlier betas, and it does indeed allow you to watch video from sites such as the BBC and vnunet.com on your handset.
On the downside, we found that using Skyfire can quickly eat up the battery life of the phone, and we also had to keep a close eye on how much the browser was using up our airtime plan.
Skyfire 1.0 supports a range of handsets based on Windows Mobile 5, 6 and 6.1, both touch-screen and keypad only, plus Symbian handsets with Nokia's S60 3rd Edition. The latter largely restricts Symbian support to Nokia's N and E series phones; Symbian-based devices from Samsung and LG are not supported, nor are phones with the UIQ user interface or earlier releases of S60.
We tested Skyfire on a HTC S730 handset, a phone with a slide-out Qwerty keyboard running Windows Mobile 6 Standard Edition.
Using the phone's built-in Internet Explorer browser, we downloaded the Skyfire installer, a 635Kb .CAB file, from m.skyfire.com. Users can also get the browser by visiting get.skyfire.com and downloading the files to their PC for synchronisation with their phone, or by having Skyfire send a link to their handset by SMS.
In use, we immediately noticed a number of changes over the earlier beta release. Firstly, the browser starts up faster, and you can also start keying a URL into the address bar while the rest of the front page loads.
The front page itself is a portal showing feeds from various sources. Skyfire comes with a number of pre-defined feeds from news and media sites, but users can customise these with updates from their Twitter or Facebook accounts, for example. The front page also has links to bookmarks and browsing history.
On our test handset, one of the buttons immediately below the screen accessed the browser menu, while the other displayed context-sensitive functions, typically serving as the back button while browsing.
As with other mobile browsers such as Safari on Apple's iPhone or the popular Opera Mini, Skyfire renders the web page as it would appear on a desktop PC browser. As this makes the text too small to be legible, the user typically has to select an area and zoom in to read it.