Mobile Browser Showdown: iPhone 3G vs Opera Mobile and SkyFire

The mobile Internet Explorer Web browser you get on Windows Mobile smart phones is less than desirable. It usually directs you to a mobile Web site instead of the full-blown interactive ones that we access on our computers. Sure, Microsoft has announced support for Silverlight and Flash in a new version of mobile IE by the end of the year, but we’re in the heat of the summer and December still seems light years away. Fret not, there are other options. If you grabbed the new iPhone, you may be impressed with its 3G data speeds. But is Safari better than other free smart phone Web browsers out on the market? We put the Apple Safari browser running on the 3G iPhone head to head with Opera 9.5.1 Beta and Skyfire Beta (free for Windows Mobile phone users), to see which browser is fastest, and which offers the richest browsing experience. We used an AT&T Tilt for both Windows Mobile browsers, and put it head to head against the iPhone while both had full 3G signals. Read on to see a video of the race head to head, results from our Web site tests, and our thoughts on each browser.

Browser NYT.com ESPN.com HULU.com Netvibes.com Flash AJAX
Skyfire Beta 6 (sec) 8 (sec) 9 (sec) 4 (sec) Yes Yes
Opera 9.5.1 Beta 60 (sec) 59 (sec) 28 (sec) 44 (sec) No Yes
Safari 29 (sec) 28 (sec) 33 (sec) 54 (sec) No Yes

Skyfire Skyfire is, by far, the speediest of the bunch, and we love that it also supports Flash Web pages without a hitch. In fact, on ESPN.com it even loaded a Flash advertisement video on the side of the screen. We don’t like ads, but the fact that the page looked identical to the one on our computer display is quite impressive. When we loaded Hulu.com, we were able to start up an episode of The Colbert Report, but playback was far too slow for our tastes. The browser supports Flash 9, Java, and QuickTime playback, too, but unfortunately it’s limited to a private Beta at this time. You can sign up by visiting Skyfire’s Web site and Skyfire will let you know when there is more room for beta testers. Update: Skyfire loads an image of the Web site first, and then you must zoom in to access data on the page. However, we found that the zooming was efficient and that we were still able to access live data faster than on Opera 9.5.1 Beta and mobile Safari. We have not had any issue regarding the text entry troubles that some users have reported. Check out our video below. [flq:35eed64af842458fa9599a9c1aa20409] Opera 9.5.1 Opera Mobile 9.5.1 may not be the fastest browser of the bunch. In fact, it is the slowest, but it offers features that Skyfire doesn’t. One such feature is tabbed browsing, which the iPhone offers as well. Opera Mobile 9.5.1 lets you have a total of 3 tabs open while you’re surfing (the iPhone allows eight) and you can choose to open links in another tab directly from Web sites. You can also easily pan and zoom around Web pages, and it supports AJAX Web sites, but unfortunately, not Flash 9 content. It also allows you to save pages and images so that you can load up the New York Times, save it, and view it later riding the subway underground without a signal. Check out our video of Opera below. [flq:a450e8a2c3c9441db8483fcb5830a2ed] Safari Safari is ideal for loading pages in landscape or horizontal view, and the iPhone’s accelerometer allows you to quickly switch between the two by simply switching the phone. But it’s perhaps best known for its pinch-zoom in and out feature, which makes zooming in on specific areas easy and fun. The iPhone’s Safari browser supports AJAX, but not Flash 9, so you can’t play Flash games or view Hulu movies (and we don’t think Apple would like it if you could, either). The Safari browser performed well during our tests, but it wasn’t nearly as quick as Skyfire, which loaded most pages in under half the time it took the Safari browser to load them in. Final Thoughts If I had to choose a winning combination, it would be the Skyfire browser on an iPhone. Skyfire loads pages faster than anything we’ve ever come across, and it’s support for robust Web pages makes us feel like we took our computer’s browser and put it on a 3-inch screen. The biggest sacrifice is that the page is small, and you have to zoom a lot. We love Safari because the iPhone’s touch screen makes the zooming task efficient and easy, but it doesn’t support Flash 9 embedded media or Web sites and it loads every other site slower. If you’re using a Windows Mobile phone, we highly recommend you get in on the Beta. Skyfire says a Symbian S60 v.3 version will be available later this year. Here’s the showdown on video. [flq:58bba829e5984d058839fe42dc0699ce]

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  1. Emilie Myers Says:

    Enlarging them and turning them Safari made it easier for the bunch to relate to them “. However, this page claimed the bunch had failed to provide landscape or horizontal view that other free smart phone Web had been seized illegally from Flash movie. Other free smart phone Web, roughly half Safari, are diverse in subject, often presenting the most generic themes associated with its 3G data speeds.

  2. slappy Says:

    Well according to Giz, Skyfire is fastest because sites are pre-cached on their servers. Kinda like proxy servers back then. You may not get the latest page update with this method, but it loads the data fast since your handheld doesn’t do any heavy lifting.

  3. Todd Says:

    Horizontal and landscape mode will depend on the phone. In the case of the AT&T Tilt, the phone goes into landscape mode when the keyboard is open.

  4. Tor Says:

    Well. NYT.com loaded on 17 seconds using the latest version of opera mini on a HSDPA network (“Super-3G”) And this is on a Sony Ericsson W890 javaenabled cellphone. Beat that.

  5. Tor Says:

    And to follow that one up. Hulu.com loaded on 7 seconds.

  6. Todd Says:

    Slappy,
    Of course that may be the case, but when it comes to providing up to date information that’s easily accessible by the user, Skyfire wins. It wasn’t much of a worry to me how the information got there..just that it was available. By the time I could click a link on a link in Skyfire, Opera and Safari hadn’t so much as loaded the first Web page.

  7. Reid Godshaw Says:

    Okay let me correct all of the above,

    Skyfire Pretty much has its servers load the page (the most recent version, just as recent as you would get on safari etc) It then sends an IMAGE of the page to the phone along with general information on the page.

    When you zoom in on skyfire, it becomes very blurry for about 2-3 seconds before it loads yet ANOTHER image of the zoomed area to your cell phone from skyfires servers. If you are zoomed in and move around too much you will need to wait for that PORTION of the page to load from skyfire’s servers.

    I have used all 3 of the browsers in this article, While Safari mobile is much more smooth as of now than skyfire (zooming much more quickly, much less response time) I still ended up liking skyfire better, Mostly because of sheer speed, some because of the innovation of the software.

    On something like the HTC SHIFT (part Windows mobile part vista) skyfire would be pretty much the same speed if on the same connection, while if opera mobile were on the SHIFT, then it would run and load pages much more quickly than if it were on a less powerful machine.

    I think both of these programs have places in the market, Skyfire could be adapted for ANY PHONE not just a smart phone, Any phone with a high speed data connection could use skyfire at speeds that beat out the iphone and opera, but the experience would not go as far and deep, (or at least not yet, i bet skyfire has plans for expansion longer than the list on their beta signup).

  8. Todd Haselton Says:

    I will update this review in the morning with Opera Mini included for a fair comparison against Skyfire, but on my BlackJack II at home with a 3G connection I’m pulling in:

    Hulu.com in 8 seconds
    NYT in 14 seconds
    ESPN in 10 seconds
    Netvibes in 6 seconds

    And Flash isn’t supported. Stay tuned for official results with the AT&T Tilt and a summary of Opera Mini.

    Reid- I agree, but my point still stands: users want to see a loaded Web page, and I don’t know why it matters if its an *accurately* “blurred image” for just 2-3 seconds while the other browsers take nearly 10x that to load the same information that is also far too small to read before zooming.

  9. Steven Says:

    Hi Todd,

    I’ve had very mixed results with Skyfire, on an HTC 8525. Although initial page loads are indeed usually much faster than opera mini (haven’t even tried full opera mobile), sometimes the zoomed in portions take *much* longer than 2-3 seconds. In fact, I’ve often found that sometimes they don’t load at all.

    I’ve pretty much given up on skyfire because the experience is totally inconsistent – I never know if I’m going to be able to actually read anything on the page I load after that first quick page view comes in, or if once I zoom I’ll be able to scroll and read more after the first zoom load. At least with opera mini, while initial page load is quite a bit longer, once I have the page, I have the page.

    This could possibly be because I’m generally not using a browser where I have a guaranteed full set of bars. Often I’ll be in buildings, or in a car (someone else driving!), and reception will range from 2-5 bars. This is where skyfire probably flakes out, while opera mini keeps chugging along.

    That said, I’ll use skyfire when I want to view media. I haven’t tried Hulu yet, but it actually plays Youtube videos extremely well, and with a minimal load time. So it certainly has its uses, but its performance has quite a ways to go before it becomes my primary browser.

  10. Jophie Says:

    Ok, it’s interesting to compare browsers, but you are comparing apples and oranges. Skyfire only gets an image of the page, pre-processed by Skyfire’s server, like Opera Mini. Safari runs on a completely different device than the one you are running the other browsers on.

    So the comparison is simply invalid. Also, Opera is a beta and isn’t running on a device it was customized for unlike Safari which is specifically designed to work only on the iPhone. Of course Safari is going to run better on a phone it was specifically designed for. Opera, on the other hand, has to work on lots of different types of phones, which means that they can’t take shortcuts and make use of phone specific optimizations like Safari can.

    Also, Opera uses history search like Firefox? No, like Opera on the desktop which even indexes the full page, and not just the title and address. You keep mentioning IE and Firefox, but forget about Opera for the PC which is both faster, smaller and more feature rich than both of them. (And more secure.)

    I personally love Skyfire for the speed due to pre-processing, although the video is always choppy which makes it kind of useless. Anyone else having this problem? As long as it skips most frames when viewing videos it isn’t really even close to being a replacement for real Flash support. Opera Mini might not support Flash, but Skyfire only supports crappy, useless Flash.

  11. Jack Says:

    Opera mini does altso run on java, and loads faster than Safari even on a cellphone with a slow processor. I myself use Opera on my computer and on my nokia 5610. So at least the norwegians make good browsers. (Conan by Funcom suck)

  12. Anne Says:

    I gave up on the idea that one-browser-fits-all YEARS ago, and use a variety on my pc/laptop for different purposes. Why would smartphone browsers be any different?

  13. heh Says:

    Gawd.

    This flawed test is being quoted all over the place.

    Gotta love the way Skyfire is faster on first load, but when actually using it, it’s slower because it keeps having to download stuff. Why did no one bother to test that?

    A real speed test would take into account not only first load of a page, but also finding content, opening links, etc.

  14. Werner Ruotsalainen Says:

    Currently, apart from the lacking functionality (most importantly, page saving / find in page), I consider Opera Mobile 8.65 the best on Windows Mobile – it supports Flash, more than 3 tabs, doesn’t crash, has very good memory usage etc. Too bad the testers didn’t bother including it in the test or, at least, mention its advantages over 9.51b1.

    I *really* recommend my related articles – for example, my review of SkyFire. See http://www.pocketpcmag.com/cms/blog/9/skyfire-a-brand-new-and-promising-web-browser-technical-review-comparison . Also, don’t forget to check out my W3C presentation http://www.pocketpcmag.com/blogs/index.php?blog=3&p=2625&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1

  15. pg Says:

    Ive gotten some really different speeds than you got- on skyfire and safari.

    Skyfire is usually better than safari but is definitely not as nice looking or does it look as full of a browser than safari- But my speeds werent near as quick as yours and in hulu and nyt, safari was only 3-5 secs slower

  16. amit Says:

    for me safari is the best and no one can match safari for sure. those who havn’t checked it out till now must go and try this once.

    http://www.safaribrowserwindows.com

  17. cmonex Says:

    hey Werner Ruotsalainen: opera 9.51 CAN open as many tabs as you wish, see about:config, change tab number limit there.
    also, after returning to 8.65 after a few weeks of using a beta of 9.5 on my athena (not the official beta, mind you, this one is from a few months ago), I was surprised to see I now felt that 8.65 was slow! :O 9.5 is just significantly faster, mostly I think it is the GUI responsiveness while loading a page (8.x has a bit of a trouble there), but some of that is quicker page loading and rendering too.
    neither crash for me, memory is fine (I have 128MB devices though)

    but the advantages of 8.6x for me:
    8.60 will run on CE with 1-2 special hacks, 8.65 does with more special hacks, no chance for 9.5 unless your device happens to support ddraw. and of course same for WM2003/WM2003SE devices (they don’t even need hacks to run 8.60/8.65).
    and I *terribly* miss the scrollbar. 9.5 tries to be too much iphone like :(

  18. AG Says:

    SkyFire may an interesting product (but idea is not new), but it is not a Web Browser.
    BTW, do you want a COPY of your gmail Web page STORED anyware outside of YOUR computer?
    I like Opera Mobile and it is fast ( also have WiFi build in). I am sure Flash (real implementation) will be avalible in final release. Just my 2 c.

  19. RickPa Says:

    I am running Skyfire Beta 2 on my T-Mobile Dash. This browser is nothing short of amazing! I am able to do things I could never do on any other mobile browser. There are a few bugs that need to be worked out but when this is finished I am confident that many mobile users will want to give this a shot… Skyfire is my DEFAULT mobile browser :D

  20. Sridharholla Says:

    Hai, i am useing opera4mini in my nokia 3230 set. It is amazing.. A great experience for net nuts.. I never expected its great features..With operamini you are carrying a mini laptop in your phone….Hatsoff to opera..

  21. eddie Says:

    I had opera mini running on my bb 8100 (edge network) and the download times were comprable to the iPhone 3g. Opera mini also uses servers to serve up a scaled versi

  22. memyselfandi Says:

    it’s not exactly comparing apples to apples when the sites are all pre-cached on the skyfire servers. I went from using Skyfire on my Shadow (tmob) to using Safari on a first gen iphone (using tmob) and that is the best browsing experience I have ever had on a hand held device.. but I have to say Skyfire was the best browser I used on the shadow, but Safari on the iphone is very nice.. and it’s fast, even on good old EDGE.. the only thing it lacks imo is flash. but oh well

  23. MrByrd Says:

    Im running skyfire on my HTC mogul…it is definitely the most awesome mobile browser I have run across. I love the fact that i can watch hulu with the same quality as my pc(almost)

  24. MrByrd Says:

    and meebo!!! adding flash functionability is the most impressive of all. makes it so much easier.

  25. tmoo Says:

    this is quite amazing this skyfire im currently watching a full length movie on hulu. i have the tilt and it works great with it

  26. Satya Says:

    Really good article. I have been following your blog for last 3 months. You have good knowledge
    on Mobile(cell phone) Industry and happenings. Please continue the good work. Thank you.

  27. Swagata Says:

    I have been using Skyfire for 2 days. It’s a very good web browser. I can do pretty much what I want. I use it on Nokia 5320. Is there any way to make the video full screen on Skyfire ? On my phone it doesn’t look like it is in some other mobiles. Can i use it at landscape mode ?

  28. FeRHaD Says:

    Skyfire is really nice while opening a page but after that it gets hard. When zooming it agains connects to the Skyfire servers and download data.
    Opera Mini opens a page slower than Skyfire but after it is opened you can use all the zoom functions without reconnecting to the Opera servers.
    Thus in future versions it would be better to have zoom capability like Opera Mini.

  29. Werner Ruotsalainen Says:

    I’ve recently published a brand new browser roundup. I’ve very thoroughly compared SkyFire to all the alternatives on both WinMo and the iPhone. See http://www.smartphonemag.com/cms/blog/9/full-roundup-browsing-web-windows-mobile-just-iphone-incl-iem6-review

  30. Ned Says:

    This article and most of the comments miss a tremendously important point about “Skyfire”. It is constantly watching everything you browse, every piece of data you enter, and everything you bookmark, as well as your geographical location. It is unbelievably intrusive to your privacy. Your emails, your passwords, your bizarre sexual deviancies are all being collected on servers at Skyfire.

    Skyfire is not a browser, it’s a Big Brother. Best hope it isn’t hacked. I think I can live without Flash support on my phone for a while longer.

  31. terminator Says:

    Is there any hope that skyfire will be released for symbian 2nd edition phones

  32. silverboy Says:

    I have the Proxy setting for opera mini but i don’t know how to download it, so if you know contact me for exchange of address. e-mail smobility@yahoo.com

  33. Blackberry Based Wireless Solution kriston Says:

    Three of the best mobile browsers that act like grown up ones are Mobile Safari, Skyfire and Opera Mobile 9.5. Even though the latter two (both for Windows Mobile) are still betas, Laptop Mag decided to toss them all into a race anyway, seeing which could deliver piping hot content the fastest. They ran Opera and Skyfire on an AT&T HTC Tilt, so everyone was surfing on the same 3G network with beefy hardware. Spoiler: Skyfire delivered pages in one third of the time it took Safari or Opera. It’s because Skyfire cheats.

  34. Kess Says:

    I have tried about seven browser on my n95.

    I still have four intalled.
    They are sky fire , opera , Bolt, and the native browser.

    The one that get used the most is BOLT, not because it is the best (It is real darn good) but what I do most of the time it does it best.

    But I use each for the functions it handles the best.

    Skyfire is great but it kill batteries too quickly, but it is the closest you could ever get to the pc.

    Bolt is my favorite because you do a lot less scrolling when you want to focus on reading content.

    Dont know anything about Safari.

    I am waiting for the firefox brand.

  35. zurna sohbet Says:

    have the Proxy setting for opera mini

  36. razzy florea Says:

    hello ppl. im using skyfire on a tg01 from tosh. and is very nice. the fastest !! had no problems so far. it does feel like a desktop experience. used al of the above …and this is the fastest and the closest to what it should be web browsing in a phone. so except the privacy issues is hands down 1 of the nicest browsers. and by the way…ppl that do make this kind of reviews…should use devices as even on the specs side as possible…skyfire in my phone (4.1″ screen) is BETTER than the iphone experience that everyone raves about…but it doesnt look as nice when u compare it with an iphone ‘experience’ if the device u using is a device that has a 3.1″ screen(spv m700). and this shoub be observed when comes to the power of the device. now that i run skyfire in a very fast device…..leaves everyone in the dust (ran al of them in the same phone (except safari ofcourse))so now i do have only 2 browsers. this 4 everyday use and when securitiy is a priority… the slow one from microsoft that came with the device.

  37. Erkan Says:

    in future versions it would be better to have zoom capability like Opera Mini.

  38. Dedektif Dedektiflik Says:

    Is there any way to make the video full screen on Skyfire ?

  39. numan Says:

    his is quite amazing this skyfire im currently watching a full length movie on hulu. i have the tilt and it works great with it

  40. Jgaj Says:

    Complete shit.opera mini is fastest of all

  41. ifan Says:

    opera mini???? now skyfire v1.5 is ready (for symbian s60v3 too)… and opera mini..just forget it!!

  42. Naved Says:

    now here is something and the best of all.

    Browser Plus for iPhone

    Application Description

    Browser plus help you to browse easily with its tab feature.

    Features:
    * 3 Search Engines support: Google,Yahoo and Bing
    * 4 tabs for browsing.
    * Full screen Browsing.
    * Bookmarks

    Make your browsing life more easier with Browser Plus

    PS:It is a free application. For more information and download, please visit the links below:

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/browser-plus/id359372221?mt=8

    or

    http://www.permeative.com/browser-plus

    or

    http://tinyurl.com/browserplus

  43. fbml kodları Says:

    Is there any way to make the video full screen on Skyfire ?

  44. Madhavi Wagh Says:

    Recently downloaded the ONE Browser on my Sony Ericsson Neo V (Android) as i was looking for a new browser for my phone. The layout of the browser is comfortable with two home screens with everything i want to available in front of me. Some features tht really caught my eye are the download manager which makes downloading movies, songs, etc really easy and fast and the night mode which cuts back the glare from the screen and reduces the strain on the eyes. Finally, watching movies on my phone while travelling is possible. Kudos to the development team of ONE Browser.

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