capsule review

Skyfire Browser (Beta)

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Skyfire Web Browser 3.0

    PCWorld Rating

Although Android comes with its own stock Web browser, you may be left wanting more features (such as improved video streaming) or a better interface. Skyfire Browser (currently in beta) fulfills that desire in many respects but also occasionally stumbles in ways that, for now, confirm its not-yet-final status.

One of the frustrating things about the standard Android browser is that many sites will serve it a dumbed-down, mobile-optimized page that lacks the interactive features of the regular page available in a desktop browser such as Firefox. In Skyfire you have the option to identify the app as a desktop browser and get the full desktop page.

Another deficiency of Android browsing is its lack of Flash support (except for the select few phones upgraded to version 2.2, aka Froyo). Since most Web videos use Flash, most Web videos are unavailable to most Android users. Skyfire attempts to solve that problem by converting Flash videos (on Skyfire's servers) on the fly and serving them in an Android-compatible format.

That's the good news. The bad news is that sometimes Skyfire can't find the videos, and occasionally it can't properly display desktop Web pages. In my tests it did well with video from Blip.tv, The Onion, Vimeo, YouTube, and our own beloved PCWorld. Unfortunately, Web-based Hulu content isn't licensed for mobile devices. Hulu will need to come out with an Android app (similar to the Hulu Plus for iPhone app) for Android users to watch Hulu on their handsets.

Note that you may experience some lag time while Skyfire's servers convert the video. That's better than not being able to watch the video at all, though.

A Skyfire feature called Explore seems to search for Web pages that have some similarity to the one you are currently viewing. It's an interesting semantic approach to search, one that may in some cases be even more user-friendly than the iconic Google search box.

Although the stock Android browser can open multiple windows, the interface to navigate between them is awkward. Skyfire puts a button on the toolbar to simplify window navigation. It places the Menu on the toolbar, as well, but that's not much of an advantage over the Android menu button.

Skyfire also has a file download manger that allows you to view your download progress, see a list of your recent downloads, and click any file to open it. Unfortunately the tool does not permit you to select the download destination folder, a feature I would prefer to have.

As a beta product, Skyfire performs well enough to merit a try. It enables you to watch many Web videos that the standard browser can't play, but it still can't do everything that a desktop browser can do.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    If you want to watch Web videos on your Android phone, Skyfire is your best bet.

    Pros

    • Plays most Web videos, even on Android devices without Flash support
    • Has an innovative semantic search/discovery feature

    Cons

    • Cannot properly format and display some Web pages when in Desktop Mode
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