Archive for the ‘ Communication ’ Category

Skyfire Browser 4.0 – Is it Skyfire 4.Woah or Skyfire 4.Blow?

Skyfire Browser 4.0

A while ago we reviewed a beta version of Skyfire and despite its potential it just wasn’t quite up to the task of replacing the default Android web browser. Since that time Skyfire has gone through a number of iterations and has morphed into version 4.0 which brings with it a number of hefty improvements. It seemed like a good time to give Skyfire another chance.

Click the magnifying glass next to your Google results to open this handy results 'gallery'.

The layout makes for a good first impression, it’s feature packed but also tidy and intuitive. The top of the screen includes the address bar and a search box. Below this is an array of buttons for page navigation, home, bookmarks and tab management. Yes, Skyfire does tabs and it does them well. Also included is a handy switch to alternate between Android and Desktop mode which helps with avoiding those annoying limited ‘mobile versions’ of your regular web haunts. There’s also a drop down menu that offers similar choices to your average Android browser (share page, find, select text etc.) as well as the settings menu.
Using the Search box on the top right of the screen opens up some interesting search results. Searching for an item brings you the standard Google results but also displayed is a row of buttons that can scour for your search on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Videosurf and Digg. It a genius idea that turns a simple query into a whole range of varied search results. Excellent stuff.
The biggest selling point of Skyfire is the SkyBar, a customisable tool that is capable of offering all kinds of extra web content with the minimum effort on the user’s part. There are buttons for Facebook and Twitter which allow use of the social networks within Skyfire itself, they’re not as complete as their standalone app counterparts but it’s nice to have them handy if needed. A Facebook ‘Like’ button is also included so you can quickly share while you surf. There’s a ‘Popular’ button that can scan the website you’re currently visiting and show you what content from it is being shared the most and the ‘Fireplace’ button will scan your Facebook news feed for any photos or links your friends have posted.

The 'Popular' button is a great way to find content you may have missed.

These last few features combined are great for those moments of web surfing when you’ve ‘gone blank’ for things to look at. There are also buttons for sharing pages, viewing Google Reader and content related to news, sports and finance. In this latest version Skyfire really goes all out to deliver everything in one package.

Worthy of additional note is the ‘Video’ button, this is a feature that hunts down any video link on a page and optimizes them for playback. If you have downloaded Skyfire before you will get this feature for free however new-comers to Skyfire will only get a 3 day trial before it requires unlocking for a fee. So far I’ve not had much luck with this feature, videos take too long to buffer (even over wi-fi) and the playback quality could be better. I seem to have a better time relying on Skyfire’s built in flash capabilities, maybe I’m using the wrong sites (I’m open to suggestions here). Seeing as this feature costs £1.85 to unlock I recommend thoroughly putting this feature through it’s paces before committing to it.

Away from all the bells and whistles, general browsing on Skyfire is a breeze, web pages load in good time and the zoom / text-wrapping functionality is much improved from the beta. There’s even a built in pop-up blocker which so far has done a great job of staying on top of those ever-annoying rogue interruptions.
Despite the good stuff there are a couple of small downsides to Skyfire. So far I’ve been unable to find any way of organising my bookmarks, they only appear in the order I save them. There’s also a lack of an ‘incognito’ function, something that is becoming a more common feature on many browsers. These aren’t deal breakers and hopefully are simple things to be picked up on future updates.

Skyfire has definitely surprised me.

Skyfire does a fine job of handling flash content (and blocking pop-ups).

Usually a new web browser can take time to get into but I found Skyfire easy to get the hang of and it’s handling my everyday web browsing with ease. It’s the first mobile web browser I’ve come across that can play an active role in helping you find new content to enjoy rather than just sit back and let you do all the surfing. For me it’s earned the ultimate accolade on my HTC Desire, it’s become my default web browser and with that, I tip my hat to the team at Skyfire.

About This App :

  • Version Reviewed : 4.0.3
  • Requires Android : 2.0 and up
  • Category : Communication
  • Size : 1.7M
  • Price : Free

Links : Android Marketplace, Install via AppBrain

Bottom Line : A great web browser with some unique features that make surfing even better than before. Excellent stuff!

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Go SMS Pro – “Go Go Gadget Text”

Go SMS Pro

The first thing I would advise to anyone buying a HTC handset (or possibly any Android phone for that matter) is to ignore the standard SMS app in favour of a third party alternative. In some cases the SMS apps on the marketplace are a better option over the stock versions that come pre-loaded on an Android handset.
Since buying my HTC Desire almost a year ago I’ve tried Chomp SMS and more recently Handcent, both are definitely worth a look. A few weeks ago, another new SMS by the prolific ‘Go Dev Team’ (ace name) popped up on my radar and it’s charming looks were more than enough to perk my interest.

Yes, it's looking a bit sparse. This is just the default view. (Do check out the Beasties album BTW, some good stuff on there).

On the surface Go SMS Pro is very much like the other third party SMS apps previously mentioned but everything here just seems to have that slightly more ‘polished’ edge about it. Standard features such as the chat style interface and pop up alerts are present as well as theme support with extra styles available for download.

GO SMS Pro contains a whole warehouse full of extra functionality, there’s far too much to cover here but features worth noting are the email style folder support (accessible via some cool transitions), scheduled SMS functionality, DIY themes and Emoji support.
The latest additions on the menu (as of version 3.33 ) are a Wallpaper Maker and Facebook Chat plug-in. Sure some of these features are available in the other SMS apps I’ve mentioned but GSMSP (as I have now called it in this never to be used again abbreviation) brings the whole thing together in a great package.
The only downside may be for those rocking a slower Android handset. Go SMS Pro is known to be demanding on the horse power so you may need to play around with the ‘Running Mode’ settings to get the best from it.
That aside, Go Sms Pro has quickly become the default sms app on my handset, well for now anyway.

About This App – Version Reviewed : 3.33
Requires Android : 1.6 and up , Category : Communication , Size : 2.7M , Price : Free

Links : Android Marketplace, Install via AppBrain, Official Page

Bottom Line : Well made and feature packed. If your phone can run it this is a great SMS (and now Facebook messaging) app to have.

Dolphin Browser HD – Surfing the web, with a porpoise.

Dolphin Browser HD

Full screen browsing looks great.

As I’ve mentioned in my previous review of the web browser app Skyfire I’m fairly attached to the default Android web browser. I’ve always found it easy to use and perfectly capable of performing the tasks required for mobile web browsing. Before I tried Skyfire, way before I even started Android Apt, I tried Dolphin Browser HD; we didn’t get on at all. It was slow and clunky, the pinch to zoom was broken and it wasn’t long before I uninstalled it and went back to the standard Android web browser.
Last week the Dolphin team released a new version of their browser (version 4) onto the Marketplace and so with promises of a better browsing experience ringing in my ears I decided to give it another chance.
If anything the new Dolphin Browser feels much like the standard Android browser, page navigation is smooth, the pinch to zoom and ‘double tap zoom’ functionality works as you’d expect. Page rendering seems to be on a par with any browser that I have used on Android and flash videos are supported with minimal or no playback issues. Tab browsing is also available and is much more prominent than on the standard Android browser (on which most of the time you can forget that the function even exists).

Simply drag the main screen to the right to access your bookmarks

The big difference over the standard Android browser is the extra functionality that has been packed into every nook and cranny of Dolphin without crippling the overall performance of the app itself. If you swipe to the left of the main screen you can easily find your bookmarks and edit them as you desire. The bookmarks editing screen is slightly buggy however, sometimes manual changes to the order of bookmarks wouldn’t take effect or whilst dragging a bookmark along the list the app would show me manipulating a totally different bookmark. A little feature to pre-load the favicons for your bookmarks would have been handy too, looking at a list of default blank favicons can look a bit un-polished.  On the right hand side of the main screen is the plug-in menu with which you can install and manage plug-ins much like the ones you would find in Firefox or Google Chrome (Tip : The ‘Desktop Toggles’ add on is great for bypassing those annoying mobile versions of websites). From here you can also access the settings for Dolphin as well as download different skins to make your browsing experience more personalised (I’m currently rocking a rather fetching blue theme, very nice).
Dolphin also comes with its unique ‘Gestures’ feature where simple swipes across the screen can command the app to perform a particular function such as take you to a certain website, go back a page, open a new tab or one of the many other functions on offer. You can also edit these preset Gestures and even create your own ones and decide whatever action you would like them to perform. Using Gestures works about 95% of the time, it’s more down to the user nailing the shape of each gesture just right rather than a fault of the app itself.

So as it turns out the Dolphin Browser team were totally right, this is a much better app than before, so much so that it’s become my go-to web browser on my HTC Desire. Good work guys.

Link : Install via AppBrain

Bottom Line : For the most part a very noticeable improvement on the standard Android web browser with excellent added functionality that doesn’t get in the way of basic web browsing. Recommended.

Skyfire Browser (Beta) – Even Beta Than The Real Thing?

Skyfire Browser (Beta)

Of all the handsets I have owned over the years they’ve all had the same thing in common, a horrible web browser. Thankfully my first Android handset is the first to break this tradition, the standard Android web browser does a great job of quickly getting you around the internet and presenting the information you need in a readable manner. This has set the bar high for anyone who decides to take this on by releasing an alternative browser application.

Step forward the team behind Skyfire, a browser full of all kinds of nifty bells and whistles to help improve your mobile web experience, or does it?

 

Skyfire's homescreen doesn't feel like home.

 

It’s always tricky trying out a new app that replaces something you use every day, you have to learn new ways of doing simple tasks and it can become a hurdle that you don’t have the energy or patience to overcome. Thumbs up to the Skyfire team for supplying a simple tutorial when you first fire up the app, it comfortably eases you in to the main aspects of the app, such as the useful menu at the top of the screen, before letting you off the leash. Another plus point is how Skyfire will bring over your favourite bookmarks from the native web browser which makes getting started even easier. However the good vibes soon drain away when you see the default opening page, I was greeted with a cluttered looking screen of uninteresting links and a garish pop up gambling advert. Of course, I was going to change the homepage anyway but either way it doesn’t make for a great first impression.

One thing I love on Android’s native web browser is the pinch to zoom functionality, with every use it always shapes the text to fit the screen, it works superbly. Skyfire also has this but sadly it’s hit and miss when it comes to resizing paragraphs of text to fit the screen. If you use pinch to zoom in conjunction with the zoom buttons on the screen the text will usually re-size but then you’ll find you’re not at the zoom level you originally wanted which becomes annoying.

 

The Video Add-on, a good idea that would be even better if it actually played videos.

 

Skyfire also includes a ‘Video’ tab in its lower menu in which Skyfire will sniff out and videos tucked away on the page and let you watch them in an optimised format.  It’s a great idea which is let down by its execution, for me some videos would not load at all and when they did the video was partly obscured by the oversized on-screen controls (which I could not seem to hide). Skyfire also includes a very useful ‘tabs’ manager with pages being clearly shown so you can flick quickly between open, it works fine but the presentation is slightly lacking with scrolling windows juddering their way across the screen.

As I mentioned before, it’s tricky to fairly review an app that replaces something you use so frequently, re-learning basic operations is never fun so the newer app is always going to be on the back foot. It’s in these situations that the new app should excel with its new features and open up new and exciting functions for you to take advantage of, unfortunately Skyfire does not do this. There are some great new functions in there, it’s just not very effective at applying them, bear in mind this is only a Beta so hopefully these are things to be fixed in a later version of this app.

Bottom line : A solid enough web browser with some great features that don’t always deliver as promised. Possibly worth a look if you’ve tired of the standard browser, otherwise wait for it to move out of Beta.

Links : Install via AppBrain, Official App Page

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