By Steve Mueller | July 7, 2006 7:15 AM
As promised, I’ll look at Internet Explorer on the Q today. If I get a converged PDA/phone, Web browsing is probably the one thing I would do the most. E-mail access is nice, but I don’t really want to read, and especially respond to, E-mail while I’m out. However, there are many times I would love to browse the Web to compare prices while shopping, to look up facts during a conversation, to answer those trivia questions people throw at me sometimes, etc. For me, the Web is the killer app for converged PDA/phones.
Internet Explorer on the Smartphone works a bit differently than on the Pocket PC. The first difference you’ll probably notice is the lack of an address bar on the screen; you have to use the Menu softkey to access the Address Bar action, which then allows you to enter a URL to visit. I assume this is only true for the Smartphone platform, which tends to have (or used to have) screens with less resolution than the Pocket PC.
The address bar window has a couple of nice features. The first is that, as you type text in, a URL is displayed below the text entry area. This is usually what you’ve typed with “.com” added at the end. So as you type “pocketnow.com”, for example, you’ll see things like “pocketn.com”. Once you finish the main part of the domain name, if it ends with .com, you just press the down button to select that entry and press the OK button to use it. Once you’ve visited some URLs, URLs that match what you’ve typed also appear in that area, so you won’t have to keep retyping the same URL over and over, even if you don’t add it as a favorite.
The other nice feature is that holding the Back button down clears the entry area but leaves “http://” there so people won’t feel that they need to type it.
Of course, having the Q’s keyboard is great for entering URLs or filling out Web forms. It’s much nicer than trying to use an on-screen keyboard or numeric keypad.
The other big difference in Internet Explorer on the Q is how you navigate on a Web page. Because the Q (or any Smartphone) doesn’t have a touchscreen, you can’t use scroll bars and tap on links. To get around this, you use the directional pad to scroll the page, but it works a bit differently than you may expect you scroll to active elements on the Web page. Active elements are typically links, but also include controls on forms. Pressing the down button on the d-pad will move to the active element below the one you’re on. If there aren’t any elements for a while, then the page will scroll down. Scrolling up works the same way, as does horizontal scrolling. To visit a link (or access drop-down lists or multiline edit controls), press the OK button while the element is highlighted with the selection rectangle.
One nice thing about the Q’s landscape screen is that you won’t have to do as much horizontal scrolling. Having to scroll in two dimensions makes reading a Web page very difficult, so the landscape screen will help a lot with that. For those pages that aren’t mobile-friendly, Internet Explorer also has a single-column view, which makes reading those three-column sites easier by stacking the columns.
There are other nice features, like Favorites, History and a full screen view that hides the title bar and softkeys. To see the title bar and softkeys again, just press either softkey (but note that you will still be in a full-screen mode, so pressing the right softkey twice will hide the title bar and softkeys again).
In a forum post, I promised some timing comparisons, and here they are. I loaded www.pocketnow.com (which got redirected to the mobile site) on my iPAQ 5550 using 802.11b WiFi and 1xRTT over Bluetooh on my Motorola V710 and on the Q using EV-DO to see how they compared. I did three timings of each method, and I cleared all temporary files before each timing run to avoid any caching that might make things look faster. Here are the results (in minutes:seconds):
I don’t know why the WiFi numbers varied so much, but even dropping the slowest time, EV-DO’s average was faster than 802.11b. It’s not desktop fast, but it’s not horrible, either.
So what don’t I like? Well, the scrolling is a bit awkward, especially on a long page with lots of links. It would be nice if Microsoft added a Go submenu, with Top of Page, Bottom of Page, First Link and Last Link at least. Unfortunately, that probably wouldn’t fit on the landscape screen with the other menu items, but perhaps they could add those navigation items to the View submenu.
Also, as I mentioned in a previous blog entry, I’m not thrilled with the Zoom range the largest and smallest settings aren’t really that different. The difference is noticeable, but I was hoping for a larger font because I’m so near-sighted. The picture at the end of this entry shows the Largest setting.
Another thing that’s missing is the ability to have multiple pages open at once (tabbed browsing). That’s not really the Q’s fault, of course, as the Pocket PC version of Internet Explorer doesn’t support that, either. However, you can buy programs (like MultiIE) that add tabbed browsing to Internet Explorer on the Pocket PC. You can also get another browser; for example, Opera Mobile seems to support multiple pages, but you’ll have to pay $24 U.S. for it.
Other than those issues and the lack of frame support, I’m pretty pleased with Internet Explorer on the Q. It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad, either.