Posts Tagged ‘ Internet ’

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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File Expert – File It Under ‘Must Have’

File Expert

A few days ago I recieved an email from the team at GeekSoft giving me a heads up about ‘File Expert’, their File Management app. I’ve been a firm user of Astro File Explorer ever since I loaded up my Android handset for the first time so I was sceptical about what ‘File Expert’ could do for me. Boy was I wrong.
For a free app, File Expert is absolutely packed to the rafters with excellent features that total up to an install size that’s smaller than it’s competitors. As well as the usual copy/paste/move operations and useful zip/compression options Geeksoft have also included a decent app manager. There’s also a choice of views (standard or grid) and support for thumbnails which makes browsing your photos easy work.
The best stuff though comes with the networking functionality. Using a wi-fi connection you can easily manage your files via a web browser or an FTP program like Filezilla. There’s also an SMB client which allows you to control your host computer from your phone. I have to confess that I have no clue about how to set up this kind of network so this is a feature you’ll have to try out for yourself.
There’s not much ground to cover in terms of a review for File Expert, it’s simply a great toolbox app that’s designed to help you manage your files on your handset.
Go try it.

About This App – Version Reviewed : 2.6.5
Requires Android : 1.6 and up , Category : Tools , Size : 855k , Price : Free

Links : Android Marketplace, Install via AppBrain

Bottom Line : An excellent ‘work horse’ application. An essential download for anyone who needs to get hands on with their files.

Webroot Mobile Security (Beta) – Get to the Webroot of the problem.

Webroot Mobile Security (Beta)

Somewhat foolishly, I’ve never really given a thought about Anti-Virus software for my Android handset. Just the other day, a recommendation by bestandraoidppsreview.com suggested I should give Webroot Security a try and so I did. I hadn’t really planned on reviewing it it but given this worrying post (read it here) that turned up on Android Police today I figured I’d write a blog post about it.

Webroot Mobile Security (Beta) claims to bring to Webroot’s powerful online security tools to your Android device. It comes with the expected Anti-Virus suite but for a free app it also generously includes Secure Web Browsing, Lost Device Protection and Call/SMS Blocking.

My Chomp is virus free. That is good to know.

The Anti-Virus component is lightweight in appearance but effective. Whenever you download a new app or file the anti-virus silently kicks in and scans it for you, if anything dodgy is found it is instantly blocked. System wide scans and virus definition updates can be performed on a scheduled basis or whenever you fancy. Scanning is quick and thorough with every app and your SD card contents getting the once over.

The Secure Web Browsing feature will silently scan where you’re going whilst you browse the web. Should you stumble across any malicious sites Webroot will step in and block it.

The Lost Device Protection is the most impressive sounding addition especially for a free app. You simply create a ‘buddy list’ (a list of trusted friends’ mobile numbers) and a password. When you text your Android phone from a ‘buddy’ with your password you can order it to follow a specific command. Should your phone go missing you can order it via text to lock itself and wipe all the data stored on it. You can also make it scream out an alarm sound and even command it to send you a Google Maps link that shows you exactly where it is. To be honest I haven’t tried the remote locking/wipe/alarm aspect yet (I’d rather not have to) but Webroot have a lot of confidence in their product so I’m willing to go on a little faith here.

I have to confess that this isn't my screenshot. I decided that deliberately searching out malware on the net is not my idea of fun.

For anyone plagued by endless calls or text from people trying to sell them stuff (in my experience it’s always people claiming to be from ‘3’ trying to sell me a new contract) you can activate the Call/Sms Blocker. Whenever you receive a call or text from someone who’s not in your contacts they will not get through to you. Webroot keeps a log of all the failed attempt so you can see who tried to call/sms you. It’s a great feature the only downside is that you have to block both calls and sms. There doesn’t seem to be an option to block just one.

In summary Webroot Mobile Security offers a hefty amount of decent handset protection for the excellent price of £zero. It’s a small install, it hasn’t slowed down my handset at all and unlike other Anti-Virus apps (some of which like to make a big song and dance about how they’re protecting your phone) I’ve barely even noticed it’s there and that’s what I like about it. . It just gets on with the task in hand.

There’s a few other Anti-Virus alternatives out there from the likes of Norton and McAfee which are worth a look (although some comments suggest they are not totally free) but for now I’m sticking with Webroot.

ABOUT THIS APP : CURRENT VERSION: 1.4.10.260 ,
REQUIRES ANDROID: 2.1 and up , SIZE: 2.5M , PRICE: Free

Links : Android Marketplace, Install via AppBrain, Official Page

Bottom Line : An effective, and free, mobile phone protection package. Go get it.

AppsFire : Hot Apps & Free Apps – YEEAAAAHHHH! This Apps is on Fire!

Appsfire

It's funky, it's colourful but sadly it's also got the jitters.

Due to the nature of the Android Marketplace there’s all kinds of ways and means of searching for apps to install on your phone. I like to use a combination of AppBrain and the new web-based Android Marketplace which has been getting a lot of attention lately. Thanks to this blog I’m always on the search for new apps to review and seeing as Appsfire has pegged itself as ‘the best way to discover the greatest apps’ it seemed a good idea to give it a spin.
With it’s funky icon filled UI Appsfire truly is a unique way to search for new apps that may take your fancy. It’s certainly an acquired taste though, I personally like how it looks although some may find it cluttered and the lack of an ‘icons & text’ option can result in an amount of guesswork as to what apps you are looking at.
As well as the bog standard search window Appsfire comes with some great filter topics based on location, recent price drops, what’s hot right now or apps it thinks you may love. As well as the defaults topics there’s also a good selection of custom filters to choose from.

Fortunately the app info screens are clear and informative. Good stuff.

The UI scrolls quickly making browsing easy although when stationary I found it would annoyingly ‘jiggle’ from time to time with entire rows moving up and down.
There’s also a widget version so you can have a selection of available apps to peruse directly from your home screen. A word of warning, you might want to select the option ‘hide mature content’ otherwise you’ll have links for the likes of ‘Porno Tube’ viewable from your homescreen. Try explaining that one to your wife/children/boss/local vicar.

Away from the icon based UI, the menus and app info screens are pleasant on the eye with full info, ratings and even video previews when available. You can share app discoveries with friends as well as manage your current apps and whether they need updating or installing to your SD card.
Sadly issues can arise when you finally discover your app of choice, a number of apps I found in Appfire could not be located on the Marketplace at all.

Unfortunately this happened from time-to-time. A-boo!

Even after a week of installing Appfire, the offending apps were still listed despite not being available for download. This, for me, is quite a let down. I love how Appfire works but if it can’t deliver on the results it promises then the whole point of the app is lost somewhat.
Due to these mixed results Appfire may not be an all out replacement for the likes of AppBrain but it still serves as a viable alternative for finding apps that may have passed you by.

Links : Android Marketplace, Install via AppBrain

Bottom Line : Appfire boasts a unique UI and some great search options which are sadly let down by broken links. Either way it’s worth a try, you still may find something out of it.

Evernote – Forever ever, Forever ever?

Evernote

You’d think that seeing as Android is a Google creation that it would seemlessly integrate with the many Google services that can be used on a desktop computer and yet despite my love for Android it’s utterly baffling how it’s impossible to effectively use Google Documents on my HTC desire. I can view my online documents through my mobile web browser (although it takes a few steps to get there) but there is no way to create or edit documents, it truly is a missed opportunity of palm-meets-face proportions. For me, Evernote has been the alternative choice to Google Documents but it’s never been quite the fully featured app that I wanted it to be. For the uninitiated, Evernote is a free service that allows you enter any info you like, be it a note, a picture or a voice recording and have it sync with your online account that you can access from any computer with an internet connection, it’s essentially an online notebook.

A few weeks ago the latest version of Evernote for Android was released and pretty much everything about the original app has been improved including the highly requested ability to be able to create notes when not online. Evernote has become a pretty essential download for anyone who needs to take down and sync notes whilst on the move

Helpfully the Evernote team have taken the time to produce an informative video that demonstrates how Evernote works it’s magic (plus it saves me churning out 500 words on how to use it).

The video doesn’t oversell it, Evernote really is as good as it looks. The intuitive UI has a pleasing look to it and using the app is quick and easy. A detailed review of the latest features can also be found on Evernote’s blog. It’s worth noting that Evernote is a pretty flexible service, whether it’s making a to-do list, drafting posts for your blog (ahem!) or one of the many other possibilities as mentioned in this excellent list by Andrew Maxwell. If there’s one complaint I have to make its the fact that it doesn’t seem possible to create new notebooks from within the app, that can only be done on the website. This aside, the Evernote team have pulled this one out of the bag. Kudos. It looks like Google is playing catch-up on this one.

Bottom Line : A much improved app that fills a gap missed by Google. Very useful and very well made. Great stuff.

Update : Less than ten minutes after publishing this post I read the news that Google are rolling out online Google Docs editing for Froyo users (link in the comments section). I’m certain this is a direct response to my blog post rather than something they were going to do all along. Yup, totally that. Ahem!

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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