There has been a lot of ruckus in the forums the past little while over the announcement that Skyfire was looking for beta testers for their browser for BlackBerry smartphones. For those of you who don't know, Skyfire been available on Windows Mobile and various S60 devices for a while now and is finally here in all it's Alpha glory to all the beta testers who were chosen.
With some cool features already built into the browser it looks to be off to a great start, but it still has a ways to go. We're going to wait before singing its praises too loudly. It wouldn't really be fair to claim it as a winner just yet, afterall, it is still in its Alpha infancy. Yesterday Boy Genius gave us all some hot screenshots. We waited and played around with Skyfire a bit and today we have some more pics after the break of it in action along with some of my initial impressions.
When Skyfire announced their beta, they only requested users from the US. This may have left some people wondering if the application like so many others as of late would even work in Canada, but I can confirm at this point anyways the Alpha builds do work in Canada for now as my device is on Rogers.
Here we get a look at the general start up screen for Skyfire. Twitter and Facebook integration right at the top and and tabs for specific functions, hopefully which is an indication of tabbed web browsing as well, but that's not a confirmation statement as of yet (more of a hope I have).
The Skyfire settings screen at this point is rather bare looking... there's not too many options to really choose from just yet. The option of being alerted of mobile compatible versions is kinda cool - sometimes there are sites that you really do not need to have the full view on, the option to choose is great.
Flash on a BlackBerry. This is one of the better (BEST?!!) features of Skyfire, since everything you view through Skyfire is being directed and rendered on their servers. Flash is rendered then pushed to your device which in turn allows you to view Hulu, Youtube and much more videos. One thing to remember with flash on mobile device is that you also see many more advertisements served up my websites as well. Good with the Bad, maybe?
When viewing any streaming video such as Hulu, you are given the option to seperate the view from the rest of the browser and essentially "zoom in" on just the video which allows for better viewing. You can choose to stream the media from the menu as shown above and then exit when finished and while paying you can pause and mute audio as well.
Youtube is ok on Skyfire, but really youtube seems a little jumbled up and not really easy to navigate. I'm not sure if this is the same on Windows Mobile where screen resolution is often lower then that of BlackBerry devices or if it's just something the Alpha release has not worked out just yet.
Two variables to consider when using Skyfire is that you are really connection dependent. If your coverage is not that good or if Skyfires servers are being slammed you may run into issues when trying to stream media. On Rogers 3G I was fine and have seen very little buffering or stutter in the connection and pages loaded quite fast -- probably faster then Bolt or Opera Mini -- but I haven't done a CrackBerry-styled time analysis just yet (figured we should let the Alpha graduate to a Beta before we bust out the stopwatches). Dropped too EDGE and Skyfire was still pretty fast, slightly slower but not enough to say it was unbearable. WiFi however is where Skyfire rocked with NO issues at all.
All in all, I'm looking forward to what Skyfire will bring to BlackBerry users, but at this point I can't say either way if it's gonna be a killer browser for all BlackBerry users or if it will just be another of those choices where some prefer it... some won't. Distribution is also key to hitting critical mass / adoption. I wonder if RIM will allow it to appear in App World. Has anybody seen Bolt Browser or Opera Mini show up there yet? Skyfire shows great potential and I am excited to see it again in a more refined version as this one shows all the signs of being Alpha with little bugs here and there, connection issues, fuzzy fonts, severely drains the battery... I could go on. Alphas are fun to look at, fun to play with but eventually you just wanna move on to the next build. Let's hope Skyfire moves quickly and gets this into the hands of all BlackBerry users asap!