The mobile internet. There has got to be a language where the term translates directly into "heaven and hell in the palm of your hand".
Although mobile web browsing is certainly not an Apple invention, the iPhone – love it or hate it or really hate it – has certainly given the way we can use the internet with our phones an enormous boost.
Thanks to the iPhone, mobile phone browsers are becoming ever more feature-rich – the latest Android handsets support full Flash (which the iPhone doesn't, ironically enough), and so on.
But all those fancy features aside, when you stumble, free data-plan or not you just want to throw that phone against the nearest web-designer's kneecap. Pop-up ads that just won't let you go where you want to go, flashy ads that stretch that fickle 2.5G connection you're on, and my own pet peeve: mobile versions of real websites that trap you forever in wap-country.
This little guide will hopefully help you get the best from your phone's browser. Some tips may not be applicable to all phones or OS's, but hey... perfection is for OCD and Greek mathmaticians.
So, here is part 1 of our humble guide to better mobile browsing, and we're starting now not with some hardcore tweak, but a common problem we all face from time to time:
"I have a good phone, a great browser but a p*ss poor signal"
Your phone probably comes with a browser built in. Sadly, most phone designers assume we all live near a 3G mast or Wi-Fi hotspot that delivers full bars of web goodness 24/7.
Stock browsers generally use a lot of data. If you tend to get patchy coverage, and you often find yourself with 2G coverage, switch to Opera Mini, as it uses data compression on Opera's servers.
To spare you the finer points: if you request a web page that weighs in at, say, 500KB, your Opera Mini only downloads about an eighth of that data while still showing the page more or less as it would appear on your desktop.
The downside is that Opera Mini does not support Flash video, so sites such as YouTube won't work within it – though if your phone has a separate YouTube app, Opera Mini will handily open a 'tube clip automatically in that app.
For most other purposes however, it does just fine. You can post on Twitter and Facebook, check your webmail or post on your favourite chatboard (i.e. Mobot.net), and the connection is as secure as the web gets. Though I would never ever bank online (or use 'bank' as a verb for the most part), Opera Mini meets the standards for safe online banking.
There are other third party browsers that offer some level of data compression, too: Skyfire and Bolt are two examples. These two have an advantage over Opera Mini in that they support online video watching without the need for a separate YouTube app. But neither are quite as fast as Opera Mini when your signal sucks, and neither are available for the wide range of devices and OSes.
Caution, fellow mobotniks: a number of third party browsers for the iPhone and Android advertise "great speeds" because of "data compression". However, many of those apps are cheating.
Instead of actually compressing and re-rendering pages, they just make you use Google's Mobilizer – pages are rendered, ahem... uglier than ever, and they are usually served up in small chunks.
Sure, you can access web pages quickly even with one-bar 2G signals, but you don't really get the web page as you know it. Moreover, Mobilizer works with any browser, be it the iPhone's Safari or Nokia's WebKit slug. There is no justification to sell a browser as "faster", if that speed is just down to showing you a handicapped version of the site.
An alternative to Google's Mobilizer is Skweezer – and like Google's effort, Skweezer too can be used from any browser whenever you need access to a website from your phone, but your connection just isn't fast enough for a fancy browser.
If you are curious about the available third party and stock browsers out there, head over to Webdevelopers Notes – but remember that list is constantly growing, or browsers may become obsolete or unsupported.
In Part 2 of this guide we will tackle more specific annoyances – escape from redirect-country, how to avoid (or not avoid) mobile versions of websites and what's up with Flash? Leave comments and questions below...