The last week of January saw the introduction of yet another web browser. If you’re wondering why the noise surrounding it has been far less than for Google’s Chrome, there is a reason: the Bolt browser (www.boltbrowser.com) is optimised for mobile devices—well most mobile devices at least. We installed Bolt’s beta preview on our Nokia N96 and tried it against Opera Mini (www.opera.com) and Nokia’s own S60 browser.
Bolt and Opera Mini are both ‘Cloud Browsers’ in the sense that the webpages that you request are first loaded onto their servers before being stripped of extraneous data (like graphical adverts and Java applets) and streamed to your device. While this two-step process might add some complexity, it also means that instead of loading a full multi-megabyte page (such as Yahoo.com) you load an “image” of the page with full links.
This allows both the browsers to be extremely “thin” clients which means they work on older devices far better than native browsers. This also helps people who have a “pay-as-you-go” data plan. Another huge advantage with Bolt is at video sites like YouTube. If you hit a YouTube video, Bolt’s servers transcode it for your media player. A large video becomes a more manageable size, though the quality suffers. There are problems, however, like page element overlap issues as more and more websites use complex rendering and authoring tools which get muddled up in down encoding. Bolt fails to register text styles and displays all elements—bold, italic, large or small font—as one standard font.
But do you need browsers at all?
Here is the weird thing: browsers like Bolt are really good at displaying the regular web, exactly like Safari does on the iPhone. But many websites have a mobile web option which loads just fine from your native browser like Google (m.google.com), Yahoo (m.yahoo.com) and all major social networking sites (m.facebook.com; m.orkut.com; m.linkedin.com) and even video sites (m.youtube.com). In fact, mobile-specific browsers don’t deal with such sites very well.
Even setting up your Gmail account on your smartphone’s messaging centre is a breeze if you have a new-ish phone. Sure, if you have tons of space on your device to install applications, Bolt and Opera are useful to have around. But can you live without them? Yes.
(Please note, all downloads are free but applicable data charges might apply. Please contact your mobile operator for data plans. If you access the Internet—full fat or mobile optimised from your mobile device—this column strongly recommends that you get an unlimited data plan)