The Mobile Browsing Experience: Getting Better?

Sandy recently got an iPhone 3G, and I’ve been fairly impressed with the web browsing experience (through Safari) on it. While the JavaScript support is somewhat flaky, the mobile browsing experience on it is close enough to the desktop experience to be acceptable. The responsiveness of the browser is also quite good, at least on pages that don’t go overboard with huge amounts of content or scripting. I figured that I wouldn’t be able to get a similar level of functionality until I got a new phone, since my experience with the existing browsers on my Windows Mobile phone has been less than optimal.

As it turns out, Opera released a beta version of Opera Mobile 9.5 a couple of months ago. I didn’t know about it until recently, and I only got around to downloading it and trying it out today. It is surprisingly good, particularly compared to IE Mobile and the earlier version of Opera that I had tried. They are clearly trying to emulate some of the Safari interface, albeit without a multi-touch interface. Double-tapping zooms in/out of pages, and dragging motions pan around the page. It’s unfortunate, however, that the reliance for the stylus for the preferred interface (particularly zooming) makes it less useful when navigating via the scroll wheel. The responsiveness on simple pages is good (which is essentially the only way I can compare performance against IE Mobile), and more complicated pages also perform well once they are loaded and the layout has been computed.

It appears to be based off of the same rendering technology as the Opera desktop browser (which is a change from earlier Opera Mobile versions). As smartphones and PDAs get more capable (with more memory and faster CPUs), this strategy makes sense — and as an end user, I appreciate the fact that I can be browsing the "real" versions of web pages instead of crippled or non-existent mobile versions. The JavaScript support is decent — most simple things I have tried have worked, although I couldn’t use the fancy WYSIWYG JavaScript editor that the latest WordPress ships with. (I would have been shocked if I had been able to use it, to be honest.)

So far, so good — unless I find something terribly wrong with it, I’m ready to use the new Opera Mobile as a replacement for IE Mobile. What’s even stranger is that, once it goes final, this might become the first Web browser for which I have ever paid money…

(If you want to try it out, you should actually be able to run it on the Windows Mobile emulators. I’m not sure about the actual utility of running a mobile browser on a desktop via emulation, but if you want to see how the other [non-iPhone] half lives, go right ahead…)

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