UC Mobile LTD quietly released a new version of the UC Browser for Java ME a couple of days ago. It's version 8.4. By convention even numbered point releases of UC such as 8.4 are "stable" releases that contain few or no new features while odd numbered versions like 8.3 are "new feature" releases. So 8.4 is basically 8.3 minus the bugs.
8.4 incorporates the following features that were added in 8.3:
- UDisk - Download content from the web to a private cloud store without using any bandwidth. Nice idea but surprising limited. There's no way to share the files in your UDisk with anyone and it's not possible to download them to a PC either. The main use cases for UDisk seem to be to download files from one site and upload them to a different one and to download content to the UDisk for free when using mobile data and transfer them to the phone latter with WiFi.
- App Gallery - a browser tab containing UC's browser "apps". There are currently three apps, UDisk described above, Quick Reads, a news reader that lets you read content from dozens of mainstream news, sports and entertainment sites. There's currently no way to add your own RSS feeds to Quick Reads so you are stuck with the ones UC picked. The third app is Online Bookmarks, which lets you backup and restore your browser bookmarks.
8.4 also includes a few, relatively minor new features of its own
- Theme installation has been simplified.
- There's a new new traffic statistics display showing how much UC has reduced data consumption compared to a direct browser.
- The link to browsing history has been moved from the bottom of the browser Start screen to the top of the bookmarks page.
- There's a new "Phone" option in the "Tools" menu that lets you make a phone call or send a text from within the browser.
I tested UC 8.4 on three phones; a Motorola WX400 Rambler basic QWERTY feature phone, a Nokia Asha 303 touchscreen QWERTY and a pure touch Samsung S8500 running bada 1.0.
The browser installed and ran with no real issues on any of the phones. Page loads were snappy, bookmark backup and restore, which is buggy in the Symbian version of 8.4, worked quickly and correctly.
There were a couple of minor issues. Navigation on the touchscreen devices was somewhat hampered by menus that weren't very finger friendly (image above, left). On the Asha, none of the QWERTY keyboard shortcuts, except space for page down, worked. I ended up locking the keyboard in Alt mode and uing the 9 key non-QWERTY shortcuts instead. The QWERTY shortcuts did work on the WV400.
All the pages I tried loaded without error except for the mobile version of Twitter which frequently threw the infamous "403 Forbidden (Rate Limit Exceeded)" error just like it has in every version of the UC Browser for over a year. You'd think that Twitter would want their site to work in a browser that claims 50 million active users and is the most popular browser in a little country called China. Third party Twitter clients like dabr.eu worked without error.
Rendering seemed no better or worse than with previous UC releases. Mobile formatted pages generally looked great. Desktop pages were not as good. As long as I stuck with the default rendering mode (images top, right and below, right), which reformats pages into a single column like Opera Mini's "mobile view", pages were readable and usable although they look nothing like the web designer intended. The "zoom" or deskop mode, which is supposed to format the page to look like it would look in a desktop browser still has many issues including lots of extra white space, text that's too large and background images that are too small (images below).
Beautiful rendering has never been UC Browser's strong suit. Where it excels is in bring much of the power of a desktop browser with a fast connection to basic feature phones on slow, expensive networks. UC Browser 8.4 retains all UC's traditional strengths which include;
- Speed, Like Opera Mini, UC is a proxy based browser. A cloud server compresses and optimizes pages before sending them to the phone. Pages load up to 10 times faster than with conventional browsers. Compression also reduces the size of pages by a similar amount making browsing less expensive for users who pay by the KB or MB.
- A single column mode that retains all the content of desktop pages, including small images, and makes complex pages easy to navigate of the smallest screens.
- A robust and powerful download manager lets you download multiple files at once, pause and resume downloads, including failed downloads.
- Tabbed browsing with shortcut keys that give users the choice of opening a link in a background or foreground tab.
- Choice of desktop or mobile user agents.
- The ability to copy text from the page and to view and copy link and page URLs.
- Support for the animated gif images used by mobile weather radar sites.
- Web proxy support built into the browser. This useful for users of Nokia S40 phones which do not provide a way to configure the proxy settings that some mobile operators require for packet data access.
UC Browser 8.4 is a recommended upgrade for all UC Browser Java version users. Download it from wap.ucweb.com (mobile) or ucweb.com/English/UCbrowser/download.html (PC). For a direct link to the signed version, which can be hard to find with some mobile browsers, click here.