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If there's one thing that Windows mobile devices aren't short of, it's web browsers. In part, you could put this down to the failings of Microsoft's own Internet Explorer browser which has proved to be a bit of a flop with users thanks to its unwieldy interface. Microsoft is set to make some major updates to IE in Windows Mobile 6.5, but until it arrives many people are quite happily using other browsers such as Skyfire, Netfront and especially Opera Mobile; the mobile browser that has pretty much become the standard against which all others have to be judged.
Iris Browser from Torch Mobile is looking to join in the party. The first non-beta version of Iris Browser was quite sluggish, but we thought it was time to take a closer look at it now that the developers have released a new version which they claim is 25 per cent faster. What makes Iris Browser particularly interesting is that it's based on Webkit; the same rendering engine that Google uses for Chrome and Apple uses for its Safari browsers, including the browser built-in to the iPhone and iPod Touch. As such, it should not just do a decent job of rendering normal web pages, but also those that have been optimised for the iPhone.
The browser is compatible with Windows Mobile 5 and 6.1 devices, but Torch Mobile recommends that you run it on a device with a 400MHz CPU and 128MB of RAM. Unlike the Skyfire browser that we reviewed back in December, Iris Browser supports devices with a range of screen sizes. We tried it on both the O2 XDA Zest and HTC Touch HD and both worked without any major problems. This isn't a surprise really as unlike Skyfire, Iris Browser renders pages directly on the device rather than relying on an intermediary server. In this regard it's much more of a standard browser in the mould of Opera Mobile. The other benefit is that like Opera, Iris Browser supports the accelerometer in the Touch HD so when you tilt the screen it automatically reformats the display to the correct orientation.
Loading up the browser one of the first things you notice is that it lacks an icon menu bar like the one found in Opera Mobile 9.5. Instead, the controls are accessed via standard Windows Mobile text menus. However, although they're not as slick looking, these menus do provide similar levels of control. For example the page back, forward and reload controls are accessible via the right hand Navigate menu, while all the other controls and settings are located under the Page menu on the left.