At the Nokia World keynote today, Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvou (OPK) called the N900 the “best browser device ever”. Strong words and clearly aimed at the iPhone which is often said to have the best mobile browser.
The real issue I have with the iPhone browser and every other Webkit based mobile browser I’ve ever used is that it seems unable to cache visited pages locally for quick retrieval on a slow network. When you hit the back button on the iPhone the previous page has to be slowly downloaded otver the network. Compare that with Opera Mini or Mobile which store a dozen or more pages in cache for instant retrieval even in areas of no connectivity. The lack of cache even breaks some sites like Bloglines Mobile that change state everytime they are reloaded.
Flash lovers will be happy that the N900 browser supports current desktop browser Flash 9.4. It is Mozilla, aka Firefox, rather than Webkit based so hopefully the cache will work. Somewhat worrying is that previous Mozilla based mobile browsers have been a bit underwhelming. The Nokia developed, but Mozilla based N800/N810 browser is OK, if a bit slow. Fennec, Mozilla’s own next generation mobile browser is, after several Betas, barely usable.
I’ve been watching a hands on video of the N900 in action. Click the image above to view the video. It’s the only one I’ve seen that shows the browser in action. The browser demo starts at about 1:15 into the clip. It generally looks pretty good. Page loads seem nice and snappy, as does zooming, which can be done either with a double tap or a rather gimmicky swirling gesture. As for the cache, the video is inconclusive. At about the two minute point in the clip the visual history screen is shown and a page is loaded from history. It comes up instantly. Great, but the page that was chosen to load from history seems to be the current page, which doesn’t really prove much of anything.
Another video, below, was shot today on the show floor. It also shows a page being retrieved from history at about the 2:50 point. The screen goes blank and the browser is obviously re-downloading the page. That’s not good but it’s not clear how deep in the history the uncached page was. No browser can cache everything. But the N900 browser only has to cache the last two pages to beat the iPhone browser in that respect.
I’m not at Nokia World so I can’t actually do my own hands on testing of the N900. If any readers are there, please try loading a recent, but not current page, from history in the N900 browser and let us know if it’s instant.
It looks like the N900 is, as I expected it would be, the star of the show at Nokia World. The rest of the show announcements include a new Beta version of Ovi Maps, a Beta Facebook client called Social Messaging; both for S60 Series 5 only; the renaming of the Express Music line as the “X Series“; two new X Series phones, the Symbian X6 and the S40 slider X3 along with the the previously leaked N97 Mini and Booklet netbook. The X6 resembles a more stylish 5800 but with a very exciting difference, it has a capacitive screen, Nokia’s first. That’s great, capacitive technology, used by the iPhone and all current Android devices, is the state of the art in touch technology. Compared with the the resistive screens on the N900, N97 and 5800, capacitive screens are much more responsive, more readable in direct sunlight and make multitouch possible. It’s just too bad Nokia didn’t put a capacitive screen on the N900, I guess they have to save something for the N910!
I really, really hope the N900 lives up to expectations. Nokia hasn’t had a game changing device since the N95. The N900 might just be the must be the winner that Nokia so desperately needs. Superior mobile browsing would do it provided the N900 also provides the basics like a usable keyboard, good RF performance, voice clarity, a fast, intuitive UI, all day battery life and enough RAM for effortless multitasking.