Tired of IE Mobile? 3 alternative browsers to the rescue

We compare three Windows Mobile browsers for speed, efficiency and appearance

Internet Explorer Mobile 6 comes preloaded on all Windows Mobile devices. And while many may use the default browser on their smart phones, the simple fact is it's not that great.

To begin with, browsing with Internet Explorer Mobile is brutally slow. I often find myself waiting for even a snippet of a complicated site like ESPN.com to download, while other browsers adeptly load the page in about half the time.

In addition, Internet Explorer Mobile doesn't scale Web pages. Because of that, I typically find myself looking at sites that look plain awful. For example, on sites like ESPN.com, links that should be on the right sidebar have somehow moved to the top, and others have moved to the bottom -- it's simply a mess.

Admittedly, not all of my browsing issues can be traced back to Internet Explorer Mobile. As it stands, the vast majority of Web pages don't offer mobile compatibility, so mobile browsers are forced to squeeze a page that's designed for a desktop into a 3-in. screen. But even with that in mind, it must be said that IE Mobile doesn't provide the best user experience around.

It now appears that Microsoft is going to come up with an update to IE Mobile in the second half of 2008. Until then, some alternatives are already available that you can use to make your mobile browsing experience a lot more pleasant.

I tried three Windows Mobile browsers -- ibisBrowserDX, Opera Mobile and Skyfire. Each was run on a Samsung Blackjack II smart phone over a 3G (third-generation) network.

I tried browsing both complicated Web sites like ESPN.com and simple pages like Google.com to see how fast the browser could download Web pages and render them on the screen. Next, I made my way through the various menus and settings to evaluate how user-friendly the browser was. Finally, I examined the overall usability of each.

IbisBrowserDX 5.1

Although ibisBrowserDX may not be the best-known mobile browser out there, fans tout it as the best in the business. While I'm not willing to go that far, it's certainly a nice (and free) browser that's worth checking out.

Ibis has called its ibisBrowserDX "a high-speed browser," and it certainly lives up to that claim. Unlike other applications that acquire HTML and render it directly in the browser, ibisBrowserDX servers collect all the code and compress it into rendering instructions that allow the browser to shrink the page and mimic Web site viewing on a desktop. Obviously, Ibis is on to something with its technique -- it loaded ESPN.com and Google.com almost five times faster than Internet Explorer.

That said, I often found myself looking at a slightly dysfunctional Web page. For example, when I was surfing through ESPN.com, the page was stretched. In addition, when reading through stories, I noticed text problems in which each line was crooked and running into the next.

IbisBrowserDX offers a lot of features that, while not unique (most other browsers offer them), are nice to have. For example, it allows for tabbed browsing; up to 15 pages can be opened and running at the same time. It also supports Google, Yahoo and InterPage search, which means you'll never need to surf over to those pages to perform a search. The browser also supports assignable shortcut keys so you can perform many of the most common tasks by simply pressing a button.

However, after working with ibisBrowserDX, I can't class myself with its fans. For example, Opera Mobile allows you to open tabs in its browser, but offers a much cleaner look and is not nearly as awkward to use. In fact, I had so much trouble trying to work my way around with tabs that required far too many clicks that I quickly found it easier to ignore that feature altogether and browse one page at a time.

Another major issue with ibisBrowserDX is that it doesn't live up to its marketing. It's not nearly the "full mobile browser" Ibis touts it as. Sure, you can perform many of the tasks you normally would on a desktop -- like opening tabs -- but I still couldn't watch videos on YouTube or look at a nicely laid-out Web page. Instead, I was forced to browse only text sites and even then, the pages looked out of whack. To make matters worse, I found the browser to be an eyesore. That may not sound like a big deal, but after using it for a few hours, I came to appreciate Opera Mobile more than ever.

IbisBrowserDX is indeed really, really fast. However, its inability to accurately display Web pages and the fact that it's not really the "full" browser the company claims it is can't be overlooked. In essence, ibisBrowserDX may be nice to try, but I can't recommend using it as a default browser.

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