Skyfire 1.0 Reviewed

Skyfire Logo

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 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.

Video in Skyfire Mobile Browser

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).

Skyfire Font Size and Text Flow

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.

Related Posts
Skyfire 0.9 – WVGA Support, Twitter and Facebook Integration
Skyfire Browser Beta 0.85 for S60 – Full Review


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

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

4 thoughts on “Skyfire 1.0 Reviewed

  1. Thanks Omar,

    Skyfire certainly has a achieved your goals of maintaining a sites' look and feel and handling rich content. No other mobile browser even comes close to Skyfire's support for video and animation.

    It sounds like reflowing text in place when the user zooms is impractical give Skyfire's architecture.

    Another approach might be letting the user specify a global setting for minimum text size (small, medium, large, etc) which would translate to an absolute line height in pixels at the zoom level where text columns fit the view port.

    Considering all that Skyfire has accomplished, I'm sure you will be able to find a solution that will allow users to adjust text size so that it is comfortable for them to read without horizontal scrolling.
  2. Dennis- Thanks for the feedback. I have been a fan of's reviews ever since you reviewed our 0.5 beta release. Very thorough and honest.

    We had several design goals in relation to zooming, 2 of them were:

    1. Maintain the look and feel of each website's layout & design. Websites should look the same on skyfire as they do on a desktop.
    2. Support embedded rich content - keep videos and other embedded objects interactive & viewable inside a webpage, without having to travel away from a page and launch an external app to view them.

    In order to achieve the above, Skyfire has to support a zooming model that is not restricted to just 2 levels.

    The overall design is to adapt content to the zooming model, and not the zooming model to content. This is the result of the overall product requirement of supporting a PC-like browsing experience, which allows for rich content displayed along with the rest of the page - looking as it should - without compromise.

    Having said that, there are some issues that still need to be sorted when it comes to readable text. In your case, the text is in fact being fit to screen width, and increased for legibilty when you zoom into text - but for high-res screens, it may not be a satisfactory reading experience for some users. This is a result of 2 factors: how we render text, and how large we increase text size. We will continue to work on improving this experience so that it becomes acceptable across devices and for most if not all users.

  3. Thanks for your comment Omar. Your team has done a great job with Skyfire.

    But this text size thing is a real show stopper for me. It's probably a combination of my old eyes and the handset I'm using (Nokia N95) which has a higher pixel density than many phones.

    Google Reader (the site in the screen shot) is an extreme case but I find that text is smaller than I find comfortable on most sites that I use regularly including:

    The issue isn't so much that the text is too small. At any given size it will always be too small or too large for some users and devices. The real problem is that, unlike Nokia Webkit, Opera Mini and Mobile and UCWEB, Skyfire doesn't re-flow text on zoom so that columns fit the viewport.

    This is the last major usability issue I have with Skyfire. I hope adding reflow on zoom is a high priority for future releases.
  4. Skyfire was designed so that text is resized to be readable when it fits the width of the screen. The left screenshot you referred to is a case where that isn't happening even though it should. You should find most text based sites produce legible text once you zoom into read.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *