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Access Netfront 3.1 web browser for Pocket PC review
Posted on 31-Jan-2004 12:55 by M Freitas. | Tags Filed under: Reviews.


When I wrote the Pocket PC Browser Comparison article (March 2003) Access Netfront 3.0 was the best in the class web browser for Pocket PC OS 2002. The most direct competitor to Access Netfront was the Pocket Internet Explorer. With the release of the Windows Mobile 2003 OS Microsoft improved the built-in Pocket Internet Explorer, incorporating lots of features available on Netfront 3.0, including Cascade Style Sheets and better Javascript support (no Java though!).

To catchup with the competition, Access Netfront 3.1 was just released, with two editions: Windows Mobile 2003 and Toshiba e800. The Netfront 3.1 for Toshiba e800 edition is a version created to work with the VGA resolution found in the new e800 models. We have already touched Netfront 3.1 in our review of the Toshiba e800.



Start screen



File options



View options



Tools options


The Access Netfront 3.1 update brings even more features, and this time we have a review focusing on this browser alone. We'll not compare features with other browsers, although most of these are exclusive to Netfront. You'll see lots of screenshots, because you'll then be able to realise the potential of this software.

First the new features in this version:
  • Installation to external storage devices (Secure Digital and Compact Flash) supported. This helps you using the browser from a storage card, instead of using the internal memory. The program requires around 6.5 MB for installation and 5MB for execution.

  • Auto-Cruise enhanced to support better scheduling and caching of content. Auto-cruise is an off-line browsing feature. With this version you have better control with functionality, and it includes a Auto-cruise log, so you can check when each source was updated. Auto-cruise lets you select pages that can be downloaded to your device, and then viewed off-line when convenient.



    Auto-cruise log



    History log


  • Internet search bar. When turned on, the browser will show a Search field and a selection of search engines, including Google. You can then search the internet without having to first load the search page.



    Location bar, page search bar and web search bar



    Search results


  • ActiveX and multimedia (Flash/Windows Media Player) plug-ins supported. Netfront 3.1 provides better support for plug-ins, including management, installation, temporary deactivation.



    Better plug-in control


    What about the existing features? Some were enhanced, like the ability to change the UserAgent string. For instance, when you try to access a web site that check if a specific browser version is running, you can change the UserAgent string. This feature was present on Netfront 3.0, but the new version allows you to actually create a list of UserAgent strings, and select from the list when you want to change the identification.




    UserAgent maintenance



    Netfront also supports file upload via forms, and file download, including selection of destination folder. A very cool bookmark system is in place. It's shared with the Mobile Favorites, which means that it's synchronised with your computer via ActiveSync. In addition to this you can actually create memos for bookmarks, stored locally.



    Bookmark


    Of course the CSS support, animated GIF, tables and Javascript are present as well. But these were features since the 3.0 version.

    One very interesting feature is the ability to change from pen-selection to pen-drag. With this feature on you don't have to use the scrollbars to navigate a page. Simply drag the page around with your stylus, to see different parts of it.



    Multiple tabs


    Page presentation is greatly enhanced. First Netfront 3.1 uses tabbed browsing. You can actually open multiple (up to 5) windows, and load different pages simultaneously. If this is not enough, it supports the HTML tags to open new windows too. But it really shines when the full-screen is in use. It actually uses the full screen for web brosing making a lot more content visible at the same time.



    Standard screen



    Full screen view


    Add to this the ability to zoom in and out, plus the new SmartFit feature. With the standard view, Netfront will show a page in its standard format, with scrollbars. If you use JustFit the whole page will be squeezed to fit the device the horizontally. But this will cause some problems with tables, making some look very narrow. Enters SmartFit. With this feature on, Netfront will actually use some smart arrangement to make table flow in the screen, make it easy to ready by positioning some table below others, instead of side by side. Pretty smart, and the result is easier to read, with only vertical scroll required.



    SmartFit and JustFit options



    Zoom in and out



    Normal view



    JustFit



    SmartFit


    If you tap and hold a page a context menu will appear, including options to change to full screen, save an image or open link in a new tab.



    Tap and hold for a context menu


    The browser supports current standards, including:
  • HTML4.01, XHTML1.1, cHTML, XHTML Basic 1.0, WML1.3.
  • Style Sheets and JavaScript 1.5
  • DOM and Dynamic HTML
  • GIF, animated GIF, BMP, PNG, JPEG and MNG
  • HTTP/1.1
  • SSL2.0/3.0,TLS1.0
  • Cookies



    Internet Banking



    Security certificates management


    Cookies are very important. Believe it or not I can't login into Geekzone using Pocket Internet Explorer, but it works 100% on Netfront 3.1. Also Internet banking, which worked without a problem during my use of this software. You can control cookies with options to Accept, Never Accept and Ask. Other important option is the Auto Complete. Entering information in some forms has never been so easy!




    Cookies and auto-complete options


    Java support is very good. You can select the JV-Lite2 as a plug-in (not selected by default) and applets will load in the web page as they do in standard desktop browsers. I only had a small problem when one page refused to work, and my device rebooted. Other pages worked fine, and I'd blame on a badly written Java applet. The stand-alone Java run-time allows you to install .jar files and execute them in its own window. It comes with a couple of games and a scientific calculator as examples.




    JV-Lite2 readme



    JVM Management



    Running a Java applet in its own window



    As before, if you need a extremely professional and fully-featured browser for your device, I'd recommend giving Netfront 3.1 a try. Considering the small screen area available, the SmarFit and full screen features will give you a different view of the mobile internet. This is a software that I have installed on my Pocket PC .



    Below you'll see other configuration dialogs present in this version






















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