Review: Skyfire Browser for Android

01May10

One of the great things about Android is that if you don’t like the stock browser on your handset, you have plenty of choice.  Personally, I like the modifications HTC have made to the Android browser but I have given some of the others a shot in the past.
Dolphin Browser, Steel, Opera, all great alternatives each with something new and unique to offe.
And now comes Skyfire.  This seems to be another great webkit based brower but with an interesting difference; flash video support.
Now this isn’t the Flash 4 Lite or full Flash 10.1 support (probably coming to Android with Froyo in June/July).  Instead, Skyfire gives a pop up when there are embedded flash videos.  Once selected a server at Skyfire reencodes and streams the videos to your mobile in a format it can handle.  I’m not entirely sure yet if this is MPEG4 or H264.
This isn’t a perfect solution and doesn’t always seem to work, but in many ways it does solve the processor and battery issues presented by Flash (at some point I’m bound to address Steve Jobs vs Adobe aren’t I).  In general, it works pretty well though, which is better than nothing.
Features:
*Pinch to zoom is supported though it’s not the smoothest implementation I’ve seen.
*Tabbed browsing is there naturally, seems to be limited to 8 tabs.
*Support for downloads  – something in nearly all Android browsers, there is a lot to be said for giving users access to the filesystem unlike the iPhone.
*Loading pages as an alternative browser – You have the option of changing the identifier string so websites will think you’re running an Android, Desktop or iPhone browser.
Browsing and rendering of pages works well with pages loading quickly.  Pretty much standard webkit performance really.  At this stage, I think any browser that isn’t webkit is lagging behind from the get go.  Yes, that is a shot at Microsoft/RIM’s mobile offerings.
Menus are little sluggish, especially when opening new tabs and it maybe isn’t as polished as I’d like but I think I will be leaving this in my app tray for those few occassions when I simply must watch a video.
Skyfire is available in the Android Market now and you can check it out at http://www.skyfire.com/
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