UCWeb has released a new 8.0 version of its proxy based UC Browser Mini for Android. The new version is only available from the UC website and is not in the Android Play Store yet. The non-proxy version of the UC Browser 8.4.1 is in the Play Store, but it's just a user interface wrapper around Android's Webview class.
There are lots of Webview based browsers for Android. They are differentiated by their user interfaces but render pages identically to the Android browser. Proxy browsers pre-render and compress pages using a cloud based server. Opera Mini, the Silk browser on Amazon's Fire Tablet and UC Browser Mini are the only Android proxy browsers that I'm aware of. The main thing that proxy browsers have going for them on Android is that they reduce data consumption by up to 90% and can also be faster on slow networks.
The new UC version seems to be a relatively minor update to UC Browser 7.8, which was released in July 2011 and was the last UC proxy browser release for Android. According to UC the changes in this version include:
- Brand new UI design, simple yet aesthetic.
- Better performance: Faster page loading speed and secondary compression saves more traffic.
- Smooth scrolling: scrolling speeds up by 20%.
- Cursors added to ‘Select and Copy’, easier to adjust copy range.
- Different builds for different screen sizes and resolutions: Fits HVGA,WVGA and QVGA(or smaller) screen perfectly.
- Quick access to traffic statistics on Menu.
The most noticeable change is with the UI. There's a brand new start screen (image above, left) and the menus now have a gray background (image above right) instead of black. The menu icons have also been redesigned. None of the new features (bookmark syncing, U-Disk cloud storage or the Quick Reads RSS reader) from recent Java and Symbian versions of the UC Browser have made it into UC Browser Mini.
UC Browser Mini is actually a dual mode browser. It's a proxy browser in "Fit to Screen" mode, which is the default. You can switch to a non-proxy, Webkit-based "Zoom Mode" by taping Settings > Browse Mode menu.
In Fit to Screen proxy mode, the browser re-formats all pages into a single column (image above, left). Pages are generally usable and readable. but the result isn't always pretty. Basic CSS features like floats and centering blocks with margin: auto, sometimes don't work (image above, right).
The browser feels fast and most of the sites I tried, including, Facebook and Twitter, loaded and worked as expected. The only sites I had trouble with were the desktop version of Google Reader, where the page was truncated after the first few items, and Google Plus which blocked me with "Your browser is no longer supported" messages on both the desktop and mobile URLs.
To download UC Web Mini for Android go to ucweb.com/English/UCbrowser/platform.html?platform=android with phone or PC. There are separate versions for phones with QVGA (240 x 320px) screens and for larger screens, 320 x 480 px and up.
There's a recent interview with UCWeb's CEO Yu Yongfu on All Things D where he says he wants to increase the number of UC Browser users from 300 million to one billion over the next five years. I believe that improving page rendering and an emphasizes on its data saving proxy mode are the key things that UC needs to do to the drive the browser's adoption.