Version 1.0 of the Skyfire browser for Windows Mobile 5 and 6 and Symbian S60 3rd edition was released on Wednesday. I saw the announcement during the Google I/O keynote but I was so busy covering the event that I only got around to downloading the new release today. It probably took a little longer for me because it meant putting down my new toy, the HTC Magic developer phone that Google gave away at I/O, and picking up my trusty Nokia N95-3.
Skyfire 1.0 marks the end of Skyfire as a Beta product, but it’s still free. The changes in Skyfire since the last Beta mainly address usability issues and performance. I’ve included the full Release Notes at the bottom of the post. The highlights of the release for me are:
- Start up is much faster and smoother. Skyfire remembers your access point rather than prompting you to pick one every time you launch it. The settings menu lets you disable this behaviour and manually switch comnnections while Skyfire is running.
- Skyfire drops the connection after a period of inactivity to conserve battery power. In prior versions when you woke it up it would go though a rather lengthy reconnection process and then load the start page rather than the page you were on. In 1.0 reconnection is much faster and the last page viewed is reloaded with cursor position and zoom level preserved.
- Pressing the Back button used to take you the top of the previous page fully zoomed out. Now zoom and position are maintained when navigating back and forward.
- As befits a general release, the Skyfire documentation has been redone and is now very comprehensive. The on-device help includes a good Quickstart Guide and a FAQ. There’s also a very professional looking Support page at skyfire.com/support with a more comprehensive Guide and FAQ and quick links to the Skyfire Forums and to a new Customer Support web form for requesting official support.
- The problems with overlapping text and images on sites like Gmail, Google Reader, Bloglines and Yahoo Mail seem to be fixed. Every page I tried was rendered very accurately with no overlap issues.
Skyfire has always been a superb video viewer with full support for Flash and Silverlight. With every release video seems to get smoother, faster and more stable. The vast majority of the videos on the web play very well in Skyfire. And because it’s also a browser, Skyfire makes it easy to find videos using your favorite search engine. Skyfire has become the only video player I use on my N95. I just watched a 50 minute video in Skyfire with no problems. The only trouble with Skyfire video is that the N95’s backlight shuts off after 60 seconds and when that happens Skyfire starts its inactivity timer countdown and will disconnect five minutes later. I use a free application called LightCtrl that can be configured to keep the backlight on as long as LightCtrl is running in the background. It works although it’s not very convenient to use, you have to launch LightCntrl before you start the video and manually shut it down when you are done. Skyfire itself really should override the backlight timeout when playing a video.
An area where the browser has always been lacking is its handling of text. Scrolling through pages of text is a bit slow with the area you scroll into first displaying a checker board pattern which is slowly replaced by initially fuzzy text that eventually becomes sharp. That combined with the lack of dedicated page up and page down keys makes reading long passages of text slow and cumbersome.
I could probably live with the scrolling issue but a bigger problem with Skyfire’s text handling is that it doesn’t reflow text columns to fit screen width when zooming. There is one zoom level where the column exactly fits the page, but the text is often too small to read easily or at all at that zoom level (left image below). When you scroll in to make text readable the column no longer fits the page and you have to scroll horizontally to read each line which I consider unacceptable (right image below).
I’ve pretty much restricted myself to using Skyfire as a dedicated video player. I’d like to use it as general purpose browser but have given up because of the text size problem and the need to scroll horizontally.
The full release notes, in PDF format, are on the Support page. I’ve copied them below for your convenience, particularly if you are reading this on a mobile device where viewing PDFs is usually impossible or problematic.
Skyfire 1.0 – Release Notes (Windows Mobile and Symbian)
Released: May 27, 2009
We are excited to release Skyfire 1.0. In this release, we focused on enhancing user interactions, stability, and scalability to create a solid foundation on which to build the future of the product.
What’s new in 1.0?
- Thumbnail interaction. Now you can click on links immediately after the page loads without having to zoom in. This enhancement is especially helpful for high resolution phones, and for familiar sites where you know right away where you want to click. It makes getting to the content you want on the page simpler, quicker and more efficient.
- Improved zoom. Double-tap or double-click to zoom over any element, including links, images or videos. The zoom interaction is smoother and more responsive as well. Best of all: when you zoom in you will get readable text instantly.
- Enhanced navigation. When you navigate back or forward, you return to the last viewport (e.g. zoom level and portion of the page). This eliminates the need to pan and zoom into the section you were viewing on the previous page. Skyfire remembers the viewport even when you select a page from your history. We have also added shortcut keys, (9) for forward and (7) for backward navigation.
- Improved page handling. Enhancements have been made especially for AJAX-intensive sites such as Facebook and Gmail. When larger parts of the page get updated, the client will more quickly and accurately reflect this. In addition, now, we support full-width iFrames in Skyfire.
- Fast start. We changed both the sequence and behavior of the Skyfire launch so you get started as quickly as possible. You can type a search or URL in the Superbar while Skyfire is connecting in the background. You can put Skyfire to work before the start page is even loaded. Plus, we’ve improved connection performance.
- Reconnect to last state. When you leave Skyfire in the background Skyfire disconnects to preserve battery life. When you come back to Skyfire (after minutes, hours, days), it will reload the same page to the same zoom level and focus. You can continue right where you left off. When you exit and start again, Skyfire you will always land on the start page.
- Connection helper. There is a new mechanism to detect when connections cannot be established to Skyfire servers. If this is due to a network configuration (common in GSM land), then we provide suggestions to help out. This is especially useful if you are with a carrier/data plan that places restrictions on certain APN configurations, which interferes with Skyfire.
- Enhanced search results. Google results now include video, news articles, local results all blended on a single results page and ordered by relevance. Vertical search categories are still available.
- Improved RSS feed search. Find your favorite custom RSS feeds through the improved Add-Feed feature, found under the Customize menu on the start page. Search by site domain, feed URL, or even topical keywords.
- Easier sharing of RSS items from start page. We’ve exposed a simple “Share this article” link below each RSS story displayed on your start page to make it easier to share interesting items to your Twitter and Facebook.
- Remember last connection (Symbian only). Skyfire can now remember the last connection for you, so you will not have to choose a connection every single time. In addition, if you want to change the connection type while you are in Skyfire you can do so.
Known issues in this release
- Reconnect behavior. Skyfire disconnects when left idle or put into the background to preserve battery life. On reconnect it loads the last known page from history. In some circumstances, it may load a different page from history then the last page.
- Audio/video (Symbian only): On slow connections, A/V might be out of sync.
Not supported in Skyfire
- Text entry into Flash or Silverlight plug-ins is not supported.
- Skyfire does not support ‘local storage’ mode for plug-ins. Thus the following will be affected: Netflix media player, Pandora media player, Rhapsody media player.
- Download of password protected files are not supported.
- Uploading files is not supported.
- HTTP Authentication (e.g. the native browser dialog that asks for username and password when going to certain sites) is not supported.
- DivX and XviD Video formats are not supported.
- QuickTime movies which require playback external of browser are not supported. (QuickTime clips
- embedded in a page are supported).
- FTP browsing and access is not supported. (e.g. URL’s with ftp:// )
- Anchors (In-page links) are not supported.
You can upgrade to 1.0 by pointing your browser to http://get.skyfire.com.
If you are currently running Skyfire Beta 0.85 or earlier, you must first uninstall Skyfire from your device and then install 1.0. You will be able to log into your existing Skyfire account using the ‘log-in’ option on the start page.
Your Skyfire Team