UC Browser 8.5 for Symbian was released a few weeks ago. UC is a proxy based browser similar to Opera Mini. Proxy browsers pre-render and compress pages in the cloud before they are downloaded to the mobile client, which makes them particularly suited to basic phones, slow networks and anywhere that mobile data is expensive.
Although relatively unknown in the US and Western Europe, the UC Browser claims 300 million users worldwide. The majority of UC users are in China, where the company is based, but the browser is also quite popular in India and Indonesia.
New features in this release are:
- Official support for the Symbian^3 platform phones including Symbian Belle
- Optimized search
- Optimized data compression to increase speed and reduce traffic and cost
- Support for addition languages.
- Built in QR Code Reader
The biggest news in this release is that UC finally supports Symbian^3, almost two years after the OS launched. This isn't as big a deal as you might think as the Symbian 5th ed version of UC Browser has always worked reasonably well on Symbian^3 devices.
I tested UC 8.5 on two Symbian phones, a Nokia N8 running Belle and a Nokia N95-3 (S60 3rd ed. FP1). For the most part it worked well on both phones. I didn't run formal speed tests but the latest UC does seem a bit faster the previous version.
The QR code reader worked although autofocus seems to be disabled making it tricky to focus on and read some of the smaller QR codes I tried. A dedicated reader like UpCode is easier to use.
I'm not sure what the claimed search optimizations are in this release. There's a built in web search box which defaults to using Google but lets you change the default search provider to Bing or Yahoo. There's also Find in Page function which I had trouble finding in the Symbian^3 version. (It's hidden away in the Tools > Help sub-menu. Both search options work well, but I don't see what's optimized about them compared with previous releases.
UC 8.5 was generally stable on both the N8 and N95-3. The only problem I encountered was with the bookmark sync feature which caused the browser to crash on the N95-3, just as it has with every UC Browser release since 8.2. Bookmark sync worked on the N8.
If your mobile browsing suffers from slow page loads or you pay for data by the KB or MB you ought to try a proxy based browser. On Symbian phones you have a choice of Opera Mini or the UC Browser. I prefer Opera Mini's more accurate page rendering and more efficient UI, but UC Browser does seem a little faster. It's also able to open some pages that Opera Mini can't such as outlook.com. Conversely, there are also pages UC can't render that Opera can.
In conclusion, UC Browser 8.5 is a fast, capable proxy browser for Symbian phones and is a recomended upgrade for UC Browser 8.4 users. It's available for Symbian 3rd ed. and later from the UC Browser site (desktop) (mobile). Avoid downloading UC Browser from the Nokia Store if you want the latest version. The one in the Store is 8.2 and it will ovewrite newer versions without warning!