Nokia’s Beta Labs introduced a Beta of the Ovi Browser Wednesday. It’s based on the Vision browser from Novarra, which Nokia acquired five months ago. The Ovi browser is a proxy based browser, similar to Opera Mini. It renders and transcodes web pages on a server before sending them to the phone client in a highly compressed format. Nokia claims that the compression reduces web traffic by up to 90%.
The Ovi browser supports the Nokia 2700 Classic, Nokia 2730 Classic, Nokia 3120 Classic, Nokia 3600 Slide, Nokia 5130 XpressMusic, Nokia 5220 Xpressmusic, Nokia 5310 XpressMusic, Nokia 5330 Mobile TV Edition, Nokia 5330 Xpressmusic, Nokia 5610, Nokia 6300i, Nokia 6303, Nokia 6500 Slide, Nokia 6500 Classic, Nokia 6600 Slide, Nokia 6700 Classic, Nokia 7210 Supernova, Nokia 7900 Prism and Nokia X3. If you have one of those devices you can download the browser from browser.ovi.com
I don’t have a supported device but wanted to see what the Ovi browser was like. Visiting browser.ovi.com with an N95, I got a “Sorry your device is not supported…” message. But by impersonating a Nokia 5130 with Firefox’s User Agent Switcher Add On I was able to grab the jad and jar files and Bluetooth them to the N95. The Ovi Browser installed and started up only to display, “Ovi Browser does not run on this device.” I finally had success with MicroEmulator, a PC Java ME emulator.
If you want to try running the Ovi Browser on an unsupported device, here are links to copies of the jad and jar files.
Running on MicroEmulator, the Ovi Browser was actually quite impressive. Like Opera Mini, the browser has two modes. With “Column View” off, it’s a “keyhole browser”, like Symbian Webkit, where page is displayed with original formatting intact but highly reduced in size (image above, right) and you can zoom in on a small area (image below, left). In the other mode with “Column View” On, the page is simplified and reformatted into a single column (image below, right). Both modes worked well on the sites I tried. Fonts were attractive and readable and there was no overlapping of text and images.
Fans of column view will be happy to know that it actually seems to works on all sites, unlike with Opera Mini where Mobile View is disabled and horizontal scrolling occurs on Blogger hosted blogs and many mobile sites. On the other hand the Ovi browser forces some desktop sites into Column View and disables the option to turn it off! This happens with the full version of Google News and with those pesky Blogger blogs.
One of the selling points of Novara’s Vision browser was that it transcoded Flash videos on the server into a format that the client could play. It doesn’t look like that feature made it into the Ovi Browser Beta. When I tried to watch a Flash video on the YouTube desktop site I got the dreaded prompt to download the Flash plugin.
The Ovi Browser’s user interface is intuitive but a bit cumbersome. With Column View on the 2, 8, 4 and 6 keys scroll one screen up, down, left and right respectively. Those are the only keyboard shortcuts that I could find, all other actions are accomplished through a hierarchical menu. Consequently, it takes multiple key presses or taps to access common actions like bookmarking a site, opening a bookmark or toggling column view on or off. With column view on the 2, 8, 4, 6 shortcuts do not work making scrolling to the bottom of a long page a bit tedious. On the plus side the numeric access key shortcuts that are used by some mobile sites do work in column view.
For a first Beta, the Ovi browser is remarkably stable and usable. I’m hoping that Nokia will continue to develop this browser and bundle it with all their S40 phones. There is a real need for good proxy based browsers on low end phones and the in developing world where resource constraints, high data costs and the lack of 3G limit the browsing experience. In my experience, the browsing with Opera Mini on a feature phone actually rivals that that of any smartphone. The only thing holding back mass adoption of mobile browsing is the cost of data. Hopefully network operators will make lower cost data bundles available to users of basic phones with highly efficient browsers like this Opera Mini or the Ovi Browser.