Filed under: Browsers, Mobile, AndroidA lot has been said about the Skyfire mobile Web browser — and apparently over half a million people have downloaded it! — but is it actually any good? Sure it offers Flash video playback, but with a built-in YouTube app that ships with almost every new smartphone, is it really necessary to install a separate browser just to watch videos?
While 500,000 downloads isn't indicative of 500,000 users, such a figure certainly suggest that a lot of people want to watch non-YouTube videos on their phones. Well, it's that, or perhaps Skyfire actually offers a better browsing experience than Android's built-in browser, or Opera Mini.
From the outset, Skyfire seems to tick all the boxes. It's built on WebKit, so it should be as fast and fully-featured as other mobile options. It has a built-in 'share' tool that lets you easily share links via email. Like Opera Mini, Skyfire also has tabs and an excellent home screen. Unlike the built-in Android browser, Skyfire lets you alter your 'user agent' so that you can view both desktop and mobile versions of sites.
In fact, even without taking its full-screen Flash video playback functionality into account, Skyfire is a worthy browser replacement.
Which is a good thing, because Skyfire's video playback isn't very good.
To understand how Skyfire 'does' Flash video without a Flash plug-in, you need to know a little bit about the browser's history. Skyfire (v1.0 and 1.5) was originally a proxy-powered browser, like Opera Mini. You would fire a Web request into Skyfire's cloud where its servers would process the website and then feed it back down to your mobile phone. Your phone isn't actually playing Flash, it's playing transcoded (and reduced-bitrate) HTML5 video.
Understandably, with every Web request going through their servers, ad-funded Skyfire 1 was financially untenable . With 2.0, Skyfire now only uses the cloud for video playback, and presumably Skyfire can now continue to operate on ad revenue alone.
Let's not forget that Skyfire has lost a little of its niche now that Flash 10.1 is available on Android 2.2 phones. But, as I made clear earlier, Skyfire is a strong browser even without its video support — and with Skyfire 2.2, you can see that video playback is but a small part of Skyfire's feature list! With Android 2.2 only representing a tiny (3%!) portion of the market, and a lot of phones unable to run Android 2.2, I don't think Skyfire will lose its appeal any time soon.
Still, Skyfire isn't without its flaws, especially when it comes to video watching. I couldn't get Engadget or Dailymotion videos to play on my Android 1.6 phone — and seemingly, if a video hasn't already been transcoded by Skyfire's cloud services, you do have to wait a while for it to load. Sometimes the screen goes white for no reason at all, but simply flicking your finger across the screen fixes it.
If you have an Android phone, there's no reason not to install Skyfire. For all intents and purposes it's better than any other option out there. It's free (but not open-source), and apparently so popular that OEMs and operators are now looking to bundle Skyfire with new phones. Maybe, in hindsight, those 500,000 downloads actually represent 500,000 very happy users…
Skyfire Tech Specs
Installed Size — 2.5MB, the browser caches almost everything, so the more free space the better!
Speed & Responsiveness — Excellent, but understandably a little laggy when displaying non-mobile versions of websites (Android 1.6 @ 600MHz, LG GT 540 Swift)
User Interface — Things certainly get a little cramped when all of the navigation bars are displayed (see screenshot above), but otherwise it's intuitive enough
Configurability & Extensibility — Configurability is great (see screenshot above), but because this is a closed-source application, there isn't much in the way of add-ons or hacks
License — Free, closed-source, supported by ads (very few of them though!)
Hands on with Skyfire, the 'rich media' (i.e. Flash video) Android Web browser
Fuente: Download Squad