Skyfire is a web browser for smartphones that claims to beat other mobile browsers in terms of features, speed and support for multimedia content. In fact, Skyfire makes the bold claim that it brings the desktop browsing experience to mobile devices. The software has been in beta in the US since February, but it has only just become officially available to UK users this month (December 08). The question is does it live up to Skyfire’s lofty claims? We decided to try it out with a number of handsets to see how well it performed.
Like Opera Mini, Skyfire take a slightly different approach to rendering web pages than most ‘standard’ web browsers. Instead of building the page locally on your mobile device as the data flows in, Skyfire uses an intermediary server to render the page, compress it and then forward it to your mobile. Because of this, it could be argued that Skyfire isn’t really a browser at all, but simply a thin client for the server side browser. Nevertheless, this system has a number of advantages over traditional browsers. First of all, it drastically speeds up the amount of time taken to initially display a web page on your phone. Secondly, because the server handles all the heavy lifting it can support formats such as Flash and Silverlight that may not be natively supported on your device.
Currently Skyfire is available on both touchscreen and non-touchscreen Windows Mobile handsets as well as phones that use Symbian S60. We tried it out on the Nokia N85, O2 Zest and HTC S740. On the Nokia, the page load times were significantly faster than the phone’s own onboard browser and Opera Mobile. For example, to load the TrustedReviews homepage using the phone’s own browser took 19.6 seconds, on Opera it took 11.5 seconds, but Skyfire displayed it in just four seconds. Results for displaying the BBC’s home page were similar. It took 15 seconds on the standard Nokia browser, 10 seconds on Opera and five seconds on Skyfire. The browser was similarly rapid on both the S740 and the Zest.