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Pocket PC Browsers for Treo 700w

Thu Sep 7, 2006 - 8:34 PM EDT - By Tim Hillebrand


[Editor's note: Tim wrote this piece before the release of the new Sprint Treo 700wx. Although his testing and screenshots were done on a Verizon 700w, there is no reason to believe that these programs would behave any differently on a 700wx and, in fact, with its increased program memory, they should actually perform better, depending on how many programs a 700wx owner has running at once. � Harv]

Introduction � Browsers in your hand

Surfing the Web on a small handheld device is perhaps not the most satisfying experience. This is especially true when you have to scroll back and forth to view a Web page not optimized for a small screen.

Some popular sites, such as TreoCentral itself have small screen optimized versions. Occasionally, but rarely, you can pull up the optimized version by appending "/mobile" to the end of the URL. Smartphone and Pocket PC magazine has compiled a comprehensive list of mobile oriented sites optimized for the small screen.

(Note: if you take the trouble, as I have, to click through all of these optimized sites, only a couple of them use "/mobil." Ironically PPC mag does, sort of--"/mobile/mobil.asp." But it's a practice so rarely used, I didn't think it was really worth mentioning.)

In an ideal world, the Internet police would require the optimization of all Websites for small screen viewing. But, that probably won't happen any time soon. Instead, let's explore the alternative browsers available.

Browsing on a two inch screen

Microsoft supplies a Pocket PC version of Internet Explorer that does an adequate job as a viewer. However, I have enjoyed many additional features on my Pocket PCs from several developers, who offer enhancements to Microsoft's basic browser.

For this article, I selected several popular browsers to review for the Treo 700w:
  • MultiIE
  • NetFront 3.3
  • OperaMobile
  • PIEPlus
  • Skweezer
  • ThunderHawk 2.0
  • Mobile Virtual Browser
I have used all of these products successfully on full-sized, high-resolution Pocket PCs such as a Dell Axim or an i-mate Jasjar. However, I am sorry to report that most of them did not work at all or functioned poorly on the small, square, low-resolution Treo 700w screen.

Unfortunately, I had to eliminate some excellent browsers from this discussion that I hope will become available soon for the 700w. I have notified the developers who have all assured me that they are working on the problem.

The browsers I had to withdraw from this review are the following:
  • NetFront 3.3
  • OperaMobile
  • PIEPlus
  • ThunderHawk 2.0
It's a pity not to have these products available for the 700w because they are all excellent programs that definitely enhance the Web viewing experience on a Pocket PC.

Three Solutions

There are three approaches to the problem of improving Web browsing for handheld devices:

The first approach is to integrate enhancements with Microsoft Pocket Internet Explorer. Programs that do that include NetFront, MultiIE, and PIEPlus.

The second solution is a stand-alone program offered by NetFront and Opera. You have to invoke each of these programs from its own icon. Each program is a separate browser that has nothing to do with Internet Explorer.

The third solution is to access a server that reformats Websites and then downloads them for optimized viewing on your handheld device. Programs using this approach include Skweezer, Mobile Virtual Browser, and ThunderHawk 2.0.

Lamentably, ThunderHawk 2.0, which is a powerful solution, will not work on a low resolution 240x240 screen. Bitstream, the developer, does have a Java version that actually does support all devices including Treos and BlackBerrys.

Bitstream is currently offering this version to mobile operators, device manufacturers, and select partners/enterprise clients only and not to end-users. The main reason is that there are a couple of mobile operators in Europe conducting field trails with ThunderHawk in order to offer it to their subscribers eventually.

It would be nice if Verizon offered ThunderHawk to Treo users, but the Pope will convert to Islam first.

MultiIE 4.0 - $17.95

MultiIE offers both desktop and CAB installation options. Thoughtful. When you are not tethered to a desktop, it is convenient to be able to download and install an application directly to your Pocket PC.

Remember to download the Pocket PC version, not the Smartphone version because your 700w is a Pocket PC.

In order to function properly, MultiIE is an OS plug-in and you must install it in main memory; it will use 435 KB of your valuable real estate. But that space is so limited and so precious that I hate to give up any of it.

Upon installation, MultiIE embeds itself in Internet Explorer. The first thing you will notice when you open IE is new tabs at the bottom of the screen. There are also soft keys in the lower corners of the screen for toggling a full screen view on and off. The soft key on the left toggles scroll mode off and on.

You will also see a new toolbar that contains three icons: one for closing the browser, one for opening a new window, and a down arrow for opening a dialog box.

When you tap on Menu on the lower right of the screen, you will spot a MultiIE option on the popup screen.

Selecting MultiIE will bring up another menu with even greater depth with more options that will let you change the behavior and settings of the program. For instance, you can open multiple windows, close them, or open a blank one. Clicking More enables you to bring up stored sites such as Gmail or Pocket Google. You can program hardware buttons for certain behaviors too.

I found that while MultiIE 4.0 worked better than any other of the other plug-in browsers, there are still some issues with the 700w. For example, it will display only two tabs, but it is supposed to display up to six. It does reformat the screen for optimal viewing while the others could not handle the small square screen. While Treo 700w users will not experience the full benefit of MultiIE, it is still worth having for the enhancements that do work.

MultiIE only costs $17.95 compared to the other IE plug-ins that cost around $30. So, it's a good value, and we are fortunate that it's the one that does work (more or less) with the Treo 700w. So, the moral of the story here is not to dump your trusty Internet Explorer (as if you could), but to enhance it.

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