Improve your mobile browsing - part 3

Improve your mobile browsing - part 3The surf's up for the final installment in our better mobile browsing trilogy.

In part 1 we covered various third party browsers and mobile search portals such as Skweezer that help you cope with poor connection speeds - while also letting you use most of the web with even the dumbest of feature phones. And last week, in part 2 we served up some common-sense solutions to everyday web woes such as stubborn mobile versions of websites that trap you in a wap Groundhog Day of winter 2005.

Now to the promised bit about Flash video and mobile phones.  And talking about Groundhog Day - at once stage it seemed we couldn't go a single day logging into a tech forum without a new thread screaming: "How can I watch YouTube vids on my xyz 500?" - even though said xyz 500 had only 20MB of internal storage, a 1.5in screen and the owner was legally blind.

Before we suggest some solutions, lets get some perspective: Currently, most standard data tariffs allow a customer 500MB of data consumption per month. An episode of CSI, say, at a decent quality weighs in at about 350MB when watched online. A 90-minute movie? Anything from 500MB to 1.5GB.

There is your monthly allowance gone in one sitting. But maybe you still want to know about making the most of your phone's webby Flash capabilities cause you got 'the Wi-Fi', eh? Or perhaps you're on the 3 network and can eat all the data you want?

Okay then. Casting aside Steve Jobs' Flash concerns like a sticky lollypop wrapper, here we go: easy answer first - buy an Android phone with at least Froyo (Android 2.2), plenty of RAM and a nice snappy processor (for best Flash browsing you are looking for a 1 GHz + processor).

Or you could go for the WinMo oldie-but-goldie, HTC's HD2, with the tweakable Opera Mobile 9.5. And hey presto, you can watch all the Flash videos you want. No more extra 'tube app to load.

Every video-site covered (except those your network provider and legislator deem inappropriate, wink). Most Nokia smartphones (Symbian S60 3rd, 5th, ^3, Maemo) can handle Flash inside the browser, too.

It can get a bit jumpy or laggy, though, because - the Maemo-sporting N900 aside - those phones use Flash Lite, a lightweight mobile version of Adobe's panacea for the bored. Generally, they are good enough for studying a sneezing panda baby, but you'd probably not want to sit through Ben Hur.

Having said that, the more powerful Nokias such as the current flagship N8 and the popular Nokia C7 handle Flash video quite nicely - be it inside the browser or downloaded as .flv files.

If you don't want to spend top-£££ on a "gameboy with antenna", however, there's still hope:

Like Opera Mini, Bitstream's Bolt browser runs on many many phones, but unlike OM it can deal with embedded web videos - be they in Flash or html5. Amazingly, Bolt will also let you 'stream' (well, dribble) short vids with just the slowest of 2G signals. As does Skyfire - a mighty browser available for Android phones, the iPhone and iPad.

That's right - with Skyfire you can sneak Flash content past Saint Steve onto your iDevice. Alternatively, you can notch things up a bit: lets face it, you have an iThing. Ergo, You're Worth It: sign up with LogMeIn and 'simply' access your entire PC... oops, ahem, Mac and just stream the whole kitchen, including sink and web browser and whatever 'tube you desire.

But here's the thing: whether via unlimited data plan or Wi-Fi, there's a downside: streaming video will suck your phone's battery dry in no time. If your phone is not powerful enough, and/or the signal quality is changing (like on the daily commuter train journey etc), you may end up looking at a lot of loading bars.

What you can do is download the video while on a good Wi-Fi connection and watch it offline. Or download on the PC/Mac and transfer the file to your phone. Many smartphones these days can play .flv files natively, so you don't even need to convert the downloaded Flash video.

There are various third party media players that handle web videos (.flv), such as the Rock Player for Android and Core Player for Symbian phones, which is pretty much the same as the TCPMP for Windows Mobile (up to WinMo 6.5! Sorry WP7-ers).

All of which, incidentally, leads us towards another mobile browsing issue: browser or app? By that we mean this: do you want to, or have to use the bestest browser on the best phone, or will an app cover what you most do online?

And a good question it is. Often dedicated apps are the better alternative. If you ever tried to use with the phone, you know what I mean. And if all you do with the web browser is visit the Beeb, well, how about a news reader?

There are plenty out there for every phone OS, and like many twitter clients they usually need less data and thus load your newsfix faster, while also going easy on your battery. And they often leave out those pesky Flash ads, too - the ones we can finally 'enjoy' thanks to Froyo and Flash-lite or extra strength 10...

Finally another word about a mobile browser that has already featured quite a bit in this trilogy: Opera Mini. No, it doesn't play Flash video, nor does it do your laundry, but whatever other browser you favour on your phone, you should also install one of Opera's mobile browsers.

This week Opera released Opera Mini 6 and Opera Mobile 11, and they reaffirm Opera's reputation as a top app - no matter what your OS (oh, sorry again, WP7eners. And webOSsies).  And hey, Opera Mini recently celebrated its fifth birthday, so an extra shoutout is in order. Also, consider this: thanks to Opera's data compression technology mobile users saved appr £17bn in 2009/10. It's fast and buttery smooth.

Now the surf's almost out. Any questions and comments are very much appreciated. If your OS or pet-peeve or 'special-interest' problem hasn't been covered sufficiently, do not hesitate to post a question below.

PS: A parting gift for the often neglected Samsung Bada users: unbeknown to many, you too can enjoy the new Opera Mini 6 - and who knows, maybe there's some Swype love in it too?

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seekergeeker  Mar. 27, 2011 at 13:26

Didn't know about Logmein. Thanks.

Darw1n  Mar. 28, 2011 at 17:33

Good guide, thanks


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