Web Browser

By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2008-10-16 Print this article Print


Web Browser

As mobile browsers go, the Android browser offered a fine Web surfing experience-on par with the iPhone's Mobile Safari and far superior to anything available on Windows Mobile (including Opera Mini)-although some ongoing issues annoyed me. Like Google's Chrome browser, the Android browser is based on WebKit, but it is not branded as a Chrome browser. 

In side-by-side tests with a first-generation iPhone, with both devices on the same Wi-Fi network, I found the G1 consistently loaded image-laden pages a few seconds faster than the iPhone. Like Mobile Safari, the Android browser by default displays full Web pages, not the stripped-down mobile versions many sites employ. Also like the iPhone, the Android browser supports JavaScript, but not Flash or Java.

I wish the Android browser would do a better job resizing Web sites to fit the display. Although there is a setting (which is enabled by default) to format Web pages to fit the screen, I frequently found I had to scroll left and right to see everything. The browser takes advantage of Android's zoom controls, allowing me to quickly adjust the page to the screen, but I would rather it fit properly from the start. 

The browser also offers a magnifying-glass view: The page shrinks to miniscule type, and a floating on-screen box enlarges what is displayed underneath it, allowing the user to expand the screen back to normal size where the magnifier lay simply by releasing the finger from the screen. Unfortunately, I often found my finger blocked me from seeing what was being magnified, and I quickly gave up trying to use the feature. 


The G1 actually has two distinct mail applications: one for Gmail and one for other mail servers. The Gmail application provides much of the look and feel of the regular Web-based Gmail interface, offering similar views of threaded conversations and complete with any tagging information you may already have set. The other application works with standard POP3 and IMAP servers and supports both unencrypted and encrypted connections.

When first activating the phone, the user must provide Google credentials. The user can create a new account from the device, log in to an existing Gmail account or log in using a Google Apps for Your Domain account. Once authenticated, some data is automatically synchronized to the device, including Google contacts, calendar and Gmail headers.

Because the smart phone runs Google Gears in the background, this data will be accessible when the device is off the network. However, the Gmail application only works with a single Gmail account, so users with a gmail.com account as well as a hosted domain account will have to use the regular mail account for the second Google instance.

Accordingly, users can configure multiple accounts in the regular e-mail application, each with their own fetch schedule. For an IMAP connection to an Exchange server, I was able to successfully download contacts and tasks into the mail client, but not to integrate them into any applications native to the G1 (like the phone's contact list). I also was not able to download my Exchange calendar.

Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at agarcia@eweek.com.

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