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sootman's Journal: Web Browsers on PDAs

Journal by sootman
I've had my new PDA (a used Dell Axim X50v) for a few weeks and have spent some time with three browsers: Opera, Minimo (from Mozilla), and of course the included Internet Explorer from Microsoft. This isn't an exhaustive review of them but there are some things you might be interested in, and I have a few questions that hopefully readers might know the answer to.

MSIE is pretty good, though limited in features, though not much more so than the others. Being made by Microsoft, it works pretty well with their OS (Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition)--it loads pretty fast and everything is sized nicely. (Not all apps work well on the X50v's 640x480 screen--more on that later.) The three layout modes--One Column, Default, and Desktop--work pretty well.

Other than the fact that there is a 'back' button but 'forward' is hidden under a menu (a move I assume meant to save screen space on smaller-screened PDAs) my main gripes are things that the other browser's don't address--there is no way to save the page or image you're looking at, or the ability to right-click on a link and 'Save link as...' like you would with any desktop browser. I'd love to be able to save pages, images, and documents as I find them for later viewing. Since it has wireless built in and I've got 2 GB (!!!) worth of storage (one CF card and one SD card) it seems silly that the only way I can look at content offline is to either sync it with a desktop or copy files onto one of the cards with a card reader. Minor annoyance: I can't delete the included 'AvantGo Channels' bookmark.

Opera was the next browser I tried. Since they now give away their desktop browser, I was surprised to find that their mobile browser seems to only last for 30 days unless you pay. No great loss. Opera's biggest feature--the ability to zoom a page's content (text and images)--works as badly on a handheld as it does on the desktop. It's a great idea, especially on a PDA, but someone at Opera needs to go back to Math class: 125% is about 2 or 3 times larger than 110%. I've had similar (bad) luck with the zoom feature on their desktop browser. I like the built-in orientation-changing feature--something that's built into my Tablet PC but takes several clicks on this handheld--and the multiple windows (tabs) are also great, but otherwise there's no particular reason to use it over the included IE, especially since money is involved. ;-)

Which leads us to Minimo, the mobile browser from Mozilla. As much as I love seeing that little Mozilla icon, it takes forever to launch and slows down my (624 MHz!) Axim like you wouldn't believe, even when it's not in the foreground. I can't give you too many details about it since it doesn't seem to want to launch right now (and I don't feel like resetting my PDA, which is what I think I had to do last time to get it to work*) but the one thing I remember most is that it was totally NOT designed with any kind of resolution-independence in mind. (I know it's hard, since phone and PDA screens might be 128x128, 160x160, 320x240, or 640x480; not to mention unclassifiable devices like the Nokia 770, but c'mon, haven't we learned anything about inches and pixels from using the greatest cross-platform application of all time--the Web--in the last decade?) Most of the controls were TINY and a few were HUGE. Looking at the 320x240 screenshot on the project page, I remember that the buttons in the left column were tiny, as was the page text, and the radio buttons on the homepage were huge--overlapping, in fact. Again, there is no save-this-page or -link feature that I could find, so between that and the slowness, I see no reason to stray far from IE.**

So, that's my brief overview of the Pocket PC browsers I've tried. Are there any others that are any good? Am I missing out by not using the two I've mentioned so far? Should I get a Palm device instead?

* One gripe about this PDA/OS in general: I understand the idea of leaving apps running to make switching faster, but why isn't there a good way to exit them when you really want to? I leave the Switcher Bar running but most of the times when I use it to quit an app I get the the ``"Program X" is not responding`` message, whether the app is from Microsoft or a third party. I'm sure I killed Minimo at some point which is probably why it doesn't want to come up for me, but no other apps have refused to 'come back from the dead' like this.

** No, I'm not an MS shill. I don't love them or hate them or their products any more than I do Linux, Apple, or anything else. Overall, that is--I very much dislike some things they do, like they intentionally break things like the decade-old standards for CSS and PNG, or .DOC interoperability, or SMB interoperability, and of course I don't like them using their desktop market share to stomp out competitors large and small, but I really like some of the things they make, like Windows 2000 and Office X for Mac. (There's always that sweet spot with MS--when the products are big enough to have a good amount of features, but not so big that they're overstuffed, and when the usability:clutter ratio is favorable. Hence, my love for their half-decade-old products. I hate XP and Vista, and Office 2004 for Mac, but Office 2007 for Windows looks nice, though more for the live preview feature than for the ribbon.) That said, my primary computers--home desktop, work desktop at two jobs, and my laptop--are all OS X Macs. My next project is to try to get ActiveSync working with this Axim under Parallels. Until then, I need to go buy a new 6-in-1 card reader to replace my old CF-only unit.
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Web Browsers on PDAs

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