UC Browser Mini 8.6 For Android Reviewed

UC Browser Mini 8.6 - Start Screen and Menu UC Browser Mini 8.6 - Twitter

Earlier this month, UCWeb Inc. released UC Browser Mini 8.6 for Android. It’s one of just two proxy browsers for Android, the other being Opera Mini.

Proxy browsers parse, render and compress web pages before sending the compressed page to a thin client on the phone. The client decompresses and displays the page. The main advantage of proxy browsers is greatly reduced data consumption. A good proxy browser can reduce the amount of data transmitted while browsing by up to 90%.  Page loading speed is also improved on slow networks because so much less data is sent through the slow pipe.  The trade off is that because JavaScript is executed on the server rather than in the browser client, there’s limited JavaScript support, in particular, event driven changes to a loaded page are either broken or slow and clunky because they require a server round trip and a page reload.

This version of UC Browser Mini seems like a relatively minor update to the previous 8.0 release which I reviewed in October. The main changes seem to be:

  • Video Searching: Search for videos directly in the search bar.
  • Cloud Download: UC’s UDisk cloud storage is now supported. Users can download large files to UDisk without using any mobile bandwidth or local storage space. The file can be downloaded from UDisk later when a WiFi connection is available. Or UDisk files can be shared to a social media or file sharing site without ever being downloaded to the phone. Every registered UDisk user gets 2GB of permanent space and 4GB temporary space where files are automatically deleted after 7 days
  • Speed Mode Button: UC Browser Mini is actually a dual mode browser. It’s a proxy browser in “Speed” mode, which is the default. There’s also a non-proxy mode which is user interface wrapper around Android’s Webview class. In previous UC Mini versions the mode toggle was buried in a Settings sub-menu, now it’s a button with a lightning bot icon and a checkbox at the right end of the browser title bar
  • Improved Video Support: Full screen video, which required Ice Cream Sandwich in the previous version, now works in Froyo and Gingerbread

UC Browser Mini 8.6 - Google+ UC Browser Mini 8.6 - ESPN

I’ve been using UC Browser 8.6 for several weeks and it has generally worked well.  The browser is very fast in Speed (proxy) mode and according to its built in data counter used 78% less data than a direct browser would.

Site compatibility was pretty good. There used to be a lot of sites that UC Browser wasn’t able to load. It would fail with a generic  error (image bottom left) even on mainstream  sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+. UC seems to have made server improvements that have all but banished page loading errors.  During my testing of this version I only saw that error message once on the Blogger.com dashboard. That error wasn’t reproducible, I went back to Blogger latter and the site loaded and was usable

Although almost all sites load, they don’t always work perfectly. I wasn’t able to leave or view comments on sites that use the Disqus comment management system. For what it’s worth, Disqus doesn’t work in Opera Mini either. On the other hand commenting on Blogger sites, which is broken in Opera Mini, worked perfectly in UC Browser Mini.

UC’s page rendering has also improved a bit but still leaves a lot to be desired. Most  sites with separate mobile versions including Yahoo, the New York Times, Google+ and Twitter look pretty good. Others like ESPN are ugly but readable. And a few, including SB Nation, were unusable because the main content was truncated off the right side of the screen.

UC Browser renders desktop sites that are wider than the browser viewport in fit to width mode, with everything reformatted into a single column. The results will likely make the page’s designer cringe, but are generally usable. Media queries don’t seem to be supported either, so most responsive sites look like a fit to width version of their desktop view.

Even with its rendering issues UC Browser has a lot going for it. Pages load quickly, the bandwidth savings are real and UC can load some sites that fail in Opera Mini. There’s a robust bookmark backup and restore feature and an excellent download manager that supports multiple downloads and pause and resume. And, unlike Opera Mini, UC Browser Mini supports animated GIFs.

Among proxy browsers, I prefer Opera Mini’s rendering.  But I like having UC Browser Mini available as a fallback when Opera has trouble with a particular page. Both browsers tend to have issues with event driven sites that have a lot of complex JavaScript, but where one doesn’t work the other usually does.

UC Browser Mini 8.6 is available in the Android Play Store for devices running Android 2.1 or latter. For users of non-Google Experience phones that can’t access the Play Store, the .apk can be downloaded directly from UC at ucweb.com/English/UCbrowser/product_choose_browser.html using phone or PC.

 UC Browser Mini 8.6 - ESPN UC Browser Mini 8.6 - WapReview UC Browser Mini 8.6 - ServerError

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