Posts Tagged ‘ Web Browser ’

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!

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.

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.

Grooveshark – Shark Tale or Shark Fail?

Grooveshark

Sigh! Grooveshark on Android should’ve been great. More than that, Grooveshark should’ve been amazing and right now I should be telling you to stop what you’re doing and to go grab this app as soon as possible. But it isn’t amazing, it isn’t great and yet it so could’ve been, it’s practically heartbreaking. For only $3 a month, Grooveshark offers you access to millions of songs which you can stream straight to your phone. You can search for songs, create & save playlists and ‘favourite’ the tunes you like the most, there’s even a “hassle-free” trial period. If anything this should be a real competitor to Spotify and even iTunes but sadly, despite the fact that the app does what it’s supposed to (search for and stream music), creating and saving playlists takes more work than you may be willing to put in.
For the uninitiated, Grooveshark in it’s proper form is an online music search engine that allows you to search and stream music, it’s like Spotify except that it runs in a web browser rather than being it’s own program. Sadly it’s UI isn’t as polished as Spotify (in fact it’s downright awkward at times) but you can dip in and do the same things as Spotify wherever you have a computer and a good internet connection and you don’t even need an account to use it. To use the free trial on Grooveshark for Android you will need to get a Grooveshark account, the good news is that these are totally free to get and once you do, your Grooveshark App trial will last for 14 days or 50 played songs with no need for payment details. It really is hassle free and it allows for a long enough run to give you a good idea of whether you want to stump up for a subscription.

It's all there on the homescreen, all it needs to do now is respond when you select something.

Once you’ve logged in you’re greeted with the clearly presented homescreen, from here you can access your playlists, favourited songs, offline songs (more on that later), popular songs on Grooveshark and Radio Stations. Clicking on ‘playlist’ left me waiting for longer than I expected whilst the app grabbed my playlists (all five of them) from the Grooveshark server, and this was over wi-fi too, hardly a good sign. Sadly this happened almost everytime I clicked playlist or any other icon that required an internet connection, sometimes the app would even become unresponsive, even at a low $3 a month this isn’t really acceptable. When it does work Grooveshark runs well, scrolling through playlists or the lengthy ‘What’s Popular’ list with smooth abandon. Using playlists you’ve already created is fine, you can organise them by name or date and you can even share them via any apps which appear in your share list on your handset. Creating playlists however, whether it’s from scratch or via saving a playlist created by another user, is pretty much hopeless. If you have a list of songs you’d like to save to a playlist you have to save them one by one, there is no multiple select option. To make matters worse the app doesn’t remember what playlist you previously selected so with every save you have to go back into the drop down menu of playlists and tell it where you’d like the song to go. If your account has anything more than half a dozen playlists this makes creating a simple playlist tiresome chore.

Using playlists is great, creating them however will drive you insane.

Saving other users playlists, particularly ones based on albums, is also a hit and miss affair. Saving them is simple enough but due to the user managed nature of Grooveshark you may be saving a poorly created playlist, it could be in the wrong order or even missing entire tracks. There is a separate definition to search for albums rather than playlists but there doesn’t seem to be an option to save these so you can go back to them at a later time. This is consistent area where Grooveshark falls down, at times the UI can be counter intuitive and for an app that’s trying to compete with iTunes or Spotify getting the UI right is half the battle.
Searching for songs works well, results usually come back in plentiful supply and if you’ve drawn a blank for search ideas (as is always the case when you can search for anything) the ‘Popular’ list is on hand to offer all kinds of suggestions to get you started. Once you select a song, you can play it, share a link to other mediums such as Facebook or Twitter, add it to favourites or a playlist or even make it available offline. Offline songs are stored in Grooveshark’s ‘offline’ folder on your SD card, they can only be played by the Grooveshark app. Having songs stored offline is ideal for when you have no wi-fi access (using Grooveshark on 3G is a futile exercise), it’s an excellent feature that stops this app from being a total write off.

Ok, think I'll just skip to my favourite par... OH GOD THERE'S NO SKIP FUNCTION!

Once you’ve got a song up and running, the ‘Now Playing’ screen seems to fulfill the necessary criteria and to be fair Grooveshark streams music perfectly well over wi-fi. You have buttons to favourite a track, add it to a playlist or share it. There also basic play/pause, next & prev track controls, access to your playlist is done via a cool ‘drag up’ menu and there’s also a ‘Radio’ button with which you can rate a track and build a ‘Last.Fm’ style playlist (Last.Fm scrobbling is also possible in the full app). If you go into landscape mode the screen arranges itself into a better layout and you can ‘swipe’ through the tracks in your playing queue, very nice. What’s totally missing however is a seek option, there is no way to select what point in a track you would like to listen to despite the fact that the screenshot for Grooveshark on AppBrain clearly show one.
In a way that’s the Grooveshark experience in a nutshell, for each thing it does right it does something else horrendously wrong which ruins what could have been a must have Android app. It’s not a complete loss, most of these issues are things that can be fixed in future builds, whether I’ll be able to try those builds out is another matter as Wraith3 points out in the Marketplace comments section.

Needs to reset free trial after bug fixes. How am I supposed to know if it got any better if I can’t log in?

…. hmmm good point.

Links : Install via AppBrain, Official Page

Bottom line : A counter productive and sometimes unresponsive UI, along with unreliable content ruins what could have been the one of the best apps in the Android Marketplace. For a subscription based app, even at only £3 a month, it’s still not good enough. Here’s hoping that things improve for the future.

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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