Bolt Browser Review

I've been playing with the Bolt browser for a couple of hours now and my impressions are generally pretty good.  Bolt is from Cambridge, Massachusetts based Bitstream, a company best known for it's digital fonts and font rendering software. But Bitstream is not new to the browser field, they also produce the ThunderHawk browser for Windows Mobile and  Symbian. Bolt, like ThanderHawk (and Opera Mini, Skyfire, UCWEB and Teashark),  is a server based browser meaning that much of the page  rendering is done in the cloud and the browser is a relatively "thin" client  application. ThunderHawk is a $50/year subscription product but Bolt is free.

Bolt is written in Java ME like Opera Mini and according to Bitstream can run on "nearly all" Java based handsets that support MIDP 2 and CLDC 1.0.  The only handsets Bitstream specifically says Bolt will not run on are ones using the Palm OS. Blackberries and "selected" Windows Mobile handsets are specifically mentioned as supported.

Bolt was announced yesterday on several tech sites including BlackberryCool, CrackBerry, IntoMobile, BerryReview and MobileCrunch Each site published a Beta code which was supposted to be limited to a few thousand users.  I entered one of the codes on the Bolt download page yesterday and waited for my promised SMS containing the download link, which never arrived.  As usually happens with these sorts of things, the process and servers completely broke down under the load.  BitStream's John Sidine left a comment on BerryReview explaining;

"We completely underestimated the response we’d get to the beta. Initially we had a manual process in place to distribute download links. But we were quickly overwhelmed by requests for BOLT so we switched to an automated process at about 9:00 AM Eastern today. Sometime after noon Eastern today, the server handling the downloads “blew up.” We are now in the process of switching over to a dedicated server we’re confident can handle the demand. We appreciate everyone’s patience. We expect the new server to be online by 4:00 PM Eastern today. "

John was true to his word and shortly after 4:00 EST, I was able to get in and request Bolt for my two phones a Nokia N95-3 and an old  iDEN BlackBerry 7100i.  I'm happy to report that Bolt runs on both phones and is a formidable new competitor in the world of third party mobile browsers. I'm not sure if any of the codes are still good but even if the beta is full Bolt says people entering a code will get priority in the queue for the next round of invites.

Opera Mini vs Bolt - Overlapping Text

Rendering Accuracy

Probably the best feature of Bolt is the way it maintains the original appearance of pages.  A recurring problem with most full web mobile browsers is overlapping of page elements.  Bolt seems to do much better than Opera Mini at preventing overlapping. You can really see the difference in the two images above of this site's navigation menu. Another difference is in the way the two browsers handle left floated images as shown in the screenshots below with the Nokia 7510 product photos.  Opera Mini formats the text as a single column until it gets to the image where the column of text shifts to the right forcing the user to scroll right to continue reading,  Bolt reduces the size of  the image and narrows the text column so that you can continue reading without horizontal scrolling. Very nice!

There are however areas where Bolt's rendering is less stellar. All text is rendered in the same font weight and style.  Bold and italic appear as normal text.  Header elements like the H1 post titles on this site are the same weight as body text. CSS font-size is also ignored.  Opera Mini, on the other hand, handles all of these stylistic rendering elements correctly except italic which it displays as bold.

Opera Mini vs Bolt - Float Right

Features

Featurewise Bolt is fairly basic.  Like Opera Mini.  tabbed browsing and copying text from web pages aren't  suported (UCWEB can do both).  Pages can't be saved although images in pages can be "downloaded".   Dowloading of both images and files launches the phone's built in browser.  Unlike Opera Mini, Bolt on the N95 and 7100i does not close when  it launches the phone browser, a big plus because it means you don't lose your place on the page.

Bolt is able to play Flash videos, sort of.  The Bolt server transcodes the flash to a low quality mobile streaming format that most phones can play. This feature worked well with YouTube although the 176x144 videos were pretty bad looking. The N95's built in Flash Lite player can natively play YouTube videos at full 240 x 320 screen resolution but Bolt doesn't let it, instead sending a lower quality stream.  I'm unsure what other Flash video sites besides YouTube are supported. Videos on Hulu.com did not play in Bolt and Veoh.com wouldn't even let me try to play its videos, saying I needed to upgrade my Flash Player.

Bolt, like Mini, has both a fit-to-width "mobile view" and a "desktop" view that maintains a page's layout but requires horizontal scrolling to see the whole page.  I found the mode switching in Bolt quirky. For one thing the User Agent string that Bolt sends changes depending on the mode.  In desktop mode the User Agent is:

Mozilla/5.0 (X11; 78; CentOS; US-en) AppleWebKit/527+ (KHTML, like Gecko) Bolt/0.741 Version/3.0 Safari/523.15

Most sites  will treat that User Agent as a desktop browser and send full-web content to it. However in mobile view the User Agent changes to:

Nokia3250/2.0 (3.21) SymbianOS/9.1 Serries60/3.0 Profile/MIDP-2.0 Configuration/CLDC-1-1

Sites that do browser detection and adaption treat that User Agent as a phone browser.  The "Nokia3250..." string seems to be hardcoded into all versions of Bolt. Both the unsigned version running on my Blackberry and the double signed one on the N95 send the same user agent in mobile view.

A changeable user agent is potentially useful feature. It gives the user the ability to override sites that force mobile browsers to their mobile version with no way to reach the full version.  But using a user agent that misrepresents Bolt as a Nokia 3250 smartphone is wrong . Providers of content like ringtones, games and themes need to be able to use the User Agent to identify the browser.  The Bolt mobile view user agent needs to be unique, ideally having  "Bolt Browser"  in it somewhere, so that every phone running Bolt is not mistaken for a Nokia 3250.  It's not just the user agent that is misleading either.  In mobile view, Bolt doesn't send the  Via: header as all proxies should. Bolt also includes an x_wap_profile header pointing to http://nds1.nds.nokia.com/uaprof/N3250r100.xml,  further misrepresenting Bolt as a 3250.

Other Bolt mobile mode quirks are that web forms are missing their submit buttons in mobile view and thus are unusable and the that mobile view  doesn't seem to work with many sites.  My full-web site at pc.wapreview.com is not reformatted to the screen width in mobile view, it looks identical in both desktop on mobile views. The same is true of espn.go.com.  However the mobile site wapreview.mobi, does look different in desktop view where horizontal scrolling is needed, while in mobile view where the page is reformatted to screen width.

I'd like to see the layout mode (mobile vs desktop view) selection separate from the user agent switch.  I think most users will want the option to have the  full web versions of sites reformatted into a single column for quick reading without side scrolling.

A unique feature of Bolt is the split screen option that is part of Desktop mode. Pressing the 5 key toggles split screen mode which shows a zoomed out "mini-map" of the whole page in the top third of the screen and a "keyhole" view of a zoomed in section of the page in the bottom third (image bottom left).  I found Split Screen worked as well as the traditional mini-map used by Opera Mini and WebKit - where you press a key to toggle between full-screen  mini-map and keyhole views. But I'm not convinced it offers any real advantage in usability.

There is another hind of zooming which Bolt calls "magnification" It's a menu option that gives five levels of zoom. Magnification affects both text and images.  Changing the magnification level causes the page to reload and when it does text is re-flowed so it still fits screen width.

Usability

Bolt has a good set of well chosen one click shortcut keys for page up/down, column left/right, bookmarking the current page, entering a new URL, switching to the bookmarks or history pages and opening the built in RSS reader. There is no jump to page top/bottom, but split screen mode lets you do that quickly.  The only real usability issue I encountered was that I was unable to use T9 to enter text in fields on the N95. The Blackberry's "SureType" equivalent was available in Bolt and T9 works in Opera Mini and other Java apps on the N95 so I don't know why the option to use it isn't available in edit fields in Bolt.

Bolt - Split Screen and Error Reporting

Performance and Stability

Bolt seemed stable on N95 and the UI and scrolling speed were reasonably fast, generally comparable to Opera Mini.  I experienced no crashes in testing on the N95 although I saw quite a few non-fatal error messages.  When errors occur their is an option to send an error log to Bolt (image" bottom, right). It only requires a couple of clicks and no data entry to send the log.

Bolt seemed to overtax the less powerful JVM and OS of the three year old Blackberry 7100i.  Scrolling was slow and there was a noticeable lag before key presses were recognized. Bolt froze several times on the BlackBerry and would eventually crash with a key buffer overflow if I kept pressing the keys when it was frozen.  Although the BlackBerry is old, Opera Mini is very responsive on it, scrolling and general UI speed is as good on it as on the N95.

Bitstream is touting Bolt's speed, claiming it to be 60% faster than Opera Mini in loading espn.com and  100% faster with cnn.com.  I was not able to reproduce those results, Bolt was fast but Opera Mini was even faster. I tested both the full and mobile versions of ESPN and CNN and Opera Mini was consistently faster. I'm pretty sure that Bitstream was quoting times for the full web versions although both sites recognize Opera Mini as a mobile browser and deliver their mobile versions to it.  You can force the full web versions to load in any browser using the URL's  http://edition.cnn.com/us/  and http://espn.go.com.  I also loaded the same sites in the N95's native WebKit browser for comparison.  All tests were done on the AT&T network in San Francisco using a strong (full bars) HSPA signal.

Site CNN (full) CNN (mobile) ESPN (full) ESPN (mobile)
Opera Mini 6 sec 3 sec 9 sec 3 sec
Bolt 15 sec 6 sec 13 sec 8 sec
WebKit 51 sec 8 sec 35 sec 10 sec

Site Compatability

I have a suite of "horror sites" which give almost all mobile browsers fits. "Classic" Yahoo Mail, the "Classic" full version of Bloglines and 1and1 Webmail, all which use some complex Javascript.  The fourth site of the test suite is the  WordPress administrative console of this blog which adds  HTTP basic authentication to the mix.   Until recently none of them were completely functional in Opera Mini, however in Opera Mini 4.2, Y! Mail now works perfectly .  How did Bolt do?

Bloglines - Bolt handled Bloglines with no problems at which is pretty impressive as the site doesn't work at all  in Opera Mini, TeaShark, Skyfire or UCWeb

Yahoo Mail - Bolt did not do as well as Opera Mini on Y! Mail. While reading emails was not a problem, moving them to folders was impossible because the "Move" drop down displayed as a solid gray rectangle.

1and1 Webmail - Bolt got past 1and1's animated splash screen that trips up most mobile browsers and I was actually able to log in, however when I click on my Inbox I get an "Unknown Host" error.

Bolt is also not able to handle the HTTP basic authentication which I use to help protect the administrative console of my web host  Not many mobile browsers support basic authentication but Opera Mini does.

Overall Bolt did better than most mobile browsers with the suite of "horror sites" it's the first server based browser I've seen that can handle the horror of frames and Ajax that is Bloglines, it mostly worked with Y! Mail and it got farther than most with 1and1.

Conclusions

For an initial Beta, Bolt is very impressive.  It come close to Opera Mini in speed and site compatibility and equals it in overall rendering quality.  Stability is pretty good too. I expect that Bolt will get better and better as it passes though the Beta cycle.  I'm especially hopping that Bitstream can add the two features that everyone wants, tabs and the ability to copy text from web pages.

24 thoughts on “Bolt Browser Review

  1. Bolt is a great browser.I have been using operamini for a while now- worked well for me but unlike mini ,bolt gives a better browsing experiencing more similar to that on PC.Although mini is slightly faster, I think bolt is still the better choice for heavy site users.
  2. Compared to the Symbian Web browser and Opera's browsers, Bolt's user experience just doesn't compare at all. Since it is another proxy-based browsing system, users should consider if the privacy sacrifice is worthwhile, as Bolt seems to offer no unique advantage. However, Bolt is designed to work on any mobile phone, particularly underpowered feature phones, which lack the power of S60, so maybe there's a market for it here. Then again, the same can be said of Opera Mini, which offers a far better user experience on Symbian (but does lack embedded video support).

    Overall, Bolt is not recommended for S60 users.
  3. A question. Why i can't i download anything via my bolt browser, adobe flash player for example. It keeps telling me, file write failed. I use a samsung b3210.
  4. I wanted a 2nd Web Browser for my Berry Curve 8330. After installing a few and playing with them, I found that BOLT was AWESOME! Bolt Browser worked excellent on my blackberry. The browser was fast, like the pointer just like I have on my PC, liked the interface and ease of use, as well as all the other optionsBOLT has to offer that other Blackberry browsers fail to have.

    All in all, I give BOLT MOBILE BROWSER for BLACKBERRY 5 out of 5 stars and rate it EXCELLENT!
  5. Wel..bolt disoppoints to run in lower end phons..but opera is fine..and opera mini is way ahead of bolt..wel in high end phones both of them dont make much of difrnce,its abt which one prfmnce in lower end phones.and the winner is opera mini.
  6. The best with opera mini is that (it support all mobile phone's) version 3.0 is for midp 1.0
    high version of opera is for midp 2.0 like opera mini 4.2 the best in this version it has feature like save page that enable offline veiwing support's desktop viewing and has built-in mouse coursor it turn's your phone into a mini pocket pc and has secured connection opera software 5.0 or higher also support palm and blackberry they have version for the iphone and all windows mobile also on android phone see that version in m.opera.com i have opera mini 4.2 it even run's on my nokia 2600c non-java non-symbian my phone's platform is NOKIA OS can you even believe it opera mini is still powerful than bolt that only support few handset odd (posted on may 2010)
  7. reviews is just for background but not in all circmstances its reliable,hhehehe i agree with some facts said in the review but one thing i dont like with bolt is its user interface, it loks odd for me,hahahhaa

    nevertheless, ill still go after for opera mini, theirs a lot of version of opera mini that many pipz dont knw,heheheh try searching for modified opera mini, even opera mini 4.2 already have multi windows, multi tabbing, and lot more features except for it is a modified one and you cant download it on operas regular site though opera mini 5.o v18741 is already out which already have the same features with ucweb, it can save page,it does have download manager, can copy/paste web pages, capable for multi tabbing,
    in addition, i have tried to do streaming in opera mini 4.2 using sony ericson and its not buffering,hehehehe
  8. Hello,i download bolt browser version 1.50 for my nokia 6085 so please i need settings or manual setting so that i can be able to use it.tanx you.
  9. Dazzy, on S60 phones like the N70, Bolt converts the video to a mobile format and launches Real Player to show the vid. If it doesn't work the problem is probably either:
    1: You need to configure real Player's default access point: RealPlayer->Settings->Streaming->Network->Default access point set it to the same access point that you are using for Bolt.
    2: Your mobile network operator is blocking video streaming, in which case there is nothing you can do other than changing operators.

    BTW, the MySpace link you posted as your homepage is invalid.
  10. Helo jst heard abt d bolt browser i instald it on my n70 bt it dosent seem to be playing d youtube videos.It jst loads and after nothing happens. Pls any suggestion on wat to do bcoz i need a mobile web browser dat can perform such tax n dis is d first one am coming accross
  11. Some times things just happen.

    I loaded the Bolt browser on my SonyEricssonK610i and proceeded to browse an XHTML-MP web site. It's all as stated in the review. It displayed the desktop version of the site which meant a bit of scrolling around the page. It favored the screen version for CSS.
    This is all good... BUT it's wrong! It's a mobile web site.

    So I flicked the setting onto mobile view and.... nothing much happened. Session control on the site being viewed had accepted the initial browser attributes on it's first view. The screen did resize to the mobile phone instead of the 800x800 desktop view though.

    No problem, I exited the site and reentered with mobile view engaged.

    Wow!

    That's odd the site now thinks it's a SonyEricssonK610i. A bit of checking and all is revealed.

    The following is the HTTP headers of a Bolt Browser on a Sony Ericsson K610i:

    HOST: vulpine.mobi
    ACCEPT-ENCODING: deflate, gzip
    ACCEPT: text/javascript,text/ecmascript,application/x-javascript,text/html,application/vnd.wap.xhtml+xml,application/xhtml+xml,text/css,text/vnd.wap.wml,application/vnd.wap.wmlc,application/vnd.wap.wmlscriptc,application/java-archive,application/java,application/x-java-archive,text/vnd.sun.j2me.app-descriptor,application/vnd.oma.drm.message,application/vnd.oma.drm.content,application/vnd.wap.mms-message,application/vnd.wap.sic,text/x-co-desc,application/vnd.oma.dd+xml,*/*
    HTTP: //wap.sonyericsson.com/UAprof/K610iR201-3G.xml
    USER-AGENT: SonyEricssonK610iv/R6BC Browser/NetFront/3.3 Profile/MIDP-2.0 Configuration/CLDC-1.1
    VIA: 1.1 192.168.10.11:3128 (squid/2.6.STABLE9)
    X-FORWARDED-FOR: 999.999.999.999, 192.168.10.13
    CACHE-CONTROL: max-age=259200
    CONNECTION: keep-alive
    Address: 999.999.999.999
    Port: 55106
    Method: GET

    They've also included the UAProfile which is pretty fly.
    However, just because everyone describes the UAProfile as X-WAP-PROFILE shouldn't mean that Bolt has to call it something else...

    It is also unclear if CSS in mobile view is disregarding the screen media type. It appears to render any CSS presentation regardless of media type in any given browser setting. Doh!! Just when it was going so well too.... :-)

    In mobile view(On a SE K610i) there doesn't appear to be any identification of the Bolt Browser other than IP address.

    Would it be so wrong just to stick with existing structures like the following:

    USER-AGENT:
    X-WAP-PROFILE:
    X-ORIGINAL-USER-AGENT:
    X-DEVICE-USER-AGENT:

    or just the 'standard' structure with X-BOLTBROWSER: included for Bolt browser specifics.

    All in all though, the browser does seem to be moving forward and getting better as it goes.

    Multiple selection in XHTML select/option markup would be nice some time in the future too.
  12. Its hardly a new product they have been trying to sell the same browser for the last 5 year.

    Its one of the slowest browser i have ever used, do these guys really compress 23 to 1?

    On CNN.com the content on the top navigation overlaps.

    On BB the wheel skips and doesn't move quick enough.

    If a link moves onto another line, the link is not displayed as one but as two different lines.

    Im done Im going back to Opera
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  16. I found two more problem of the app. Although Gmail, Yahoo Mail and Hotmail pc sites all function fairly well on Bolt, when you try to write you get stuck after some time. You can't write a long e-mail as the text input limit is rather low.

    On Ucweb Symbian in is unlimited on my Nokia N70 and most Java apps like Opera Mini have a limit of 5524 characters, which is generally enough.

    As for Bloglines, although the feeds page works in the pc version, when you click on a feed you only get part of the collected items, and then when you click on a particular link you don't get the relevant page but are taken to the next feed on the list. In the mobile version links do work.
  17. Thanks Dennis, it's a very informative review by you as always. I found the URL of the Bolt home page on the Opera Mini forum earlier today and got prompt e-mail links on both my Nokia N70 and my wife's Sony Ericsson K530i once we registered. The app runs well on both phones as you have described.

    As for video playback, on the N70, which has no Flash Lite pre-installed, videos from the Youtube pc site are re-directed to the native browser which in turn downloads them before playing them on Realplayer. However, videos from their mobile site are steamed directly through Realplayer. On the SE, videos are played in the tiny box that appears on the browser itself and are hardly visible.

    And my Hotmail account could be handled well in pc version. Currently Opera Mini presents only the mobile site of Hotmail and on Ucweb you can't log in as it says the cookies are off.

    As you say, for an initial beta, she results are impressive in general. After all, Teashark has not managed to reach this level after all this time.
  18. Excellent Review in a short time!
    I quite agree with you on all things. I very much wish it had a true mobile like that of Mini and Ucweb. With a 2 inch screen, horizontal scrolling of any degree is irksome. One other thing i wish for is (more) customizable shortcuts. Its still in closed beta, so that leaves a lot to hope for :).

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