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Pocket PC Browser comparison
Posted on 9-Mar-2003 17:49 by M Freitas | Filed under: Reviews

This review was based on Pocket PC OS 2002 and Access Netfront 3.0. If you want to read our review of the latest Netfront 3.1 (Jan 2004), please visit this page.

After a few frustating attempts to browse websites using the standard Pocket Internet Explorer I was tempted to try another HTML browser.

So I decided to compare commercially available browsers. My current list is this:

  • Pocket Internet Explorer
  • Access NetFront
  • Bitstream ThunderHawk

    The first two browsers access the servers directly, and the third one uses a proxy.

    Because ThunderHawk works in landscape orientation, I decided to try all browsers in their native presentation, then used's tool to control my Pocket PC screen orientation to check how they all behave in landscape!

    All links to products listed in this article are at the bottom of this page.

    Pocket Internet Explorer comes free with the basic Pocket PC 2002 OS. It contains functions to store and synchronise bookmarks and a limited set of options: definition of home page, number of days to keep history and a button to delete temporary files, otherwise known as cache. In the advanced configuration the user can choose whether or not to accept cookies, delete all cookies stored in the Pocket PC, set security to warn when changing from a SSL page to a non-SSL page, and a list to select the default character set.

    PIE as it's known does not support the Java run time or JavaScript. It does support JSCRIPT, a subset of JavaScript, created by Microsoft. In my tests it's clear that even this limited support is not enough for some functions, although the world would be great without client-side scripts in pages...

    Frames are supported, but the screen area is too small to be of practical use. The software itself allows only one window at a time, but there are ways around this.

    The browser also provides support for WML (WAP) pages. No problems here!

    Pocket Internet Explorer does not support Cascade Style Sheets (CCS), therefore some websites don't look as nice as you'd see on your desktop. The full version of Geekzone is an example of a site using CCS (I've tried to keep the mobile version more "handheld friendly").

    The browser supports forms and I had no problem in conducting internet-banking operations with it. As expected the mobile version of Microsoft Hotmail works fine with Pocket Internet Explorer.

    It behaved very well and was much easier to use in landscape mode.

    These are the options you can change directly from Pocket Internet Explorer:
  • General: homepage (use current, use default, history (number of days, clear), delete temporary internet files
  • Advanced: Cookies (allow or block), clear cookies, Warn when changing to a page that is not secure (on or off), Language (choose default character set)

    Some websites don't work at all with Pocket Internet Explorer, because of the browser version. See below for a change in the registry to allow the browser to report a different version.

    Another problem I found with PIE is Proxy Server configuration. It'll use the configuration from the connection... What if you're connected via Bluetooth or wireless LAN and have to use a Proxy? No way...

    If you want a little more control over Pocket Internet Explorer, there are a few tweak tools available. We'll list them here, but of course this is not a complete list:

  • "Internet Explorer Tools" (free) allows you to enable or disable JScript and set the storage size for temporary files.
  • "Pocket Tweak" (free) with lots of non-Internet Explorer options, and a special one: "Use Clear Type Text".
  • "RegKing" (free) with lots of registry settings, and a special one "Pocket IE to IE 5".
  • "spb Pocket Plus" (registration) with lots of settings, and a special one allows "Multiple Windows" on PIE.

    Access Netfront is not free, but adds so much to the whole experience that it's worth it.

    It supports Java (a Java run-time is included in a special US$5 more expensive package), and JavaScript. It allows the user to save images to disk, view HTML and use a cool tap-and-drag scroll feature - you don't need to use the scroll bars on the side.

    You can edit the string that identifies the browser to HTTP servers, so you can go around those scripts which allow only certain versions of browsers. And bookmarks are shared with Pocket Internet Explorer, making it very easy to sync with your desktop. Whatever bookmarks you have, you'll keep!

    Its support of Cascade Style Sheets is great - just look at the pictures of Geekzone below and you'll see it's the closest one to the desktop edition!

    It supports WML (WAP) and SSL, but MS Hotmail doesn't work with it. The only thing that I didn't like is the lack of activity indication if the address field is removed. At least on Pocket Internet Explorer there is the little globe spinning around to let us know something is happening.

    The configuration settings for Access Netfront is great. You can change and control:

  • General: History (number of items and expiration days), cookies (accept or not), Referer information (send or block), cursor key (scroll or select links).
  • Display: Show images (on or off) , animations (enable or disable), wrap content (on or off), default zoom, default text size, table (on or off), word wrap (on or off), plugin (on or off), CSS (on or off), javascript (on or off)
  • Network: Use Proxy (on or off), proxy address and port, dialup (timeout, connection, prompt before disconnect, disconnet on close)
  • Memory: Use cache (on or off), cache size, delete cache, memory warning when above a limit
  • Application helper: list of applications to launch for specific file types
  • Misc: set default browser, mailto (on or off), set default e-mail application

    Bitstream ThunderHawk promises a lot, but I thought it delivered less in terms of experience. It uses a proxy approach, and you'll have to pay an annual fee, quite expensive actually.

    The browser itself is displayed in landscape, and the fonts are very clear and easy to read (but Bitstream is a font company too, so no surprise here). Scrolling is a problem. It seems the browser only receives the area to be displayed, and every time you scroll there's some network activity. I haven't checked what's going on, but it's very slow and annoying .

    The browser is always full screen, and the user presses the e-mail button to bring up a menu with an on-screen keyboard.

    I couldn't get any screen captures of Thunderhawk... Perhaps because the program uses its own landscape mode, or perhaps because my screen capture program didn't like the mode switch.

    The settings you can change while using ThunderHawk are:

  • General: user name, password, proxy server configuration

    You can have a look at their website for some good screen images.

    It supports Javascript, SSL, and even Hotmail worked on it! I wouldn't pay the annual fee just to read e-mail on a Hotmail account, if PIE can do it for free.

    Feature comparison

    PIE NetFront ThunderHawk
    HTML support
    WAP support
    Supports CCS
    Direct browsing
    Works in landscape
    Bookmark sync
    Store page to disk
    Save image
    Multiple tabs
    (with add-on)
    GIF animations
    Hide images
    Support Proxy
    US$ 24.80
    US$ 29.80 (Java)
    US$ 49.95
    annual subscription

    My picks

    No frills Pocket Internet Explorer
    Best browser Access Netfront
    Best experience Access Netfront + landscape Pocket PC

    Internet Explorer screens

    Geekzone: Cascade Style Sheet not applied...
    Landscape mode: note the blank cell before "How we connect"
    Landscape mode: not bad to read, but it's a shame the colors defined in the style sheet don't show...
    Landscape mode: Geekzone mobile edition
    Configuration screen options:

    Access NetFront screens

    Geekzone: with Cascade Style Sheet applied...
    Landscape mode: closer to the desktop experience

    Landscape mode: Zoom mode shows almost the full page
    Landscape mode: browsing with tabs
    Configuration screens options:

  • Netfront browser
  • spb Pocket Plus
  • PocketTweak
  • RegKing
  • Pocket Internet Explorer Tools
  • Nyditot Virtual Display
  • Bitstream ThunderHawk

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