Remember the early days of mobile Internet browsing? Before the iPhone, sophisticated browsers and clever mobile websites? I still remember the sheer amazement with which I’d watch an ugly page full of black text on a grey background load on my father’s Nokia phone. The screen no bigger than a large postage stamp. With approximately the same levels of interactivity.
Websites. On a mobile phone. Too much.
(Later, the data charges would come in the bill. Too much.)
Mobile browsers have a come a long way since then. Most newspapers, including this one, have a dedicated mobile website for people who must be connected always. Some media outlets even have multiple mobile versions to cater to all kinds of consumers and handsets: a basic mobile site, an iPhone optimized one, an iPad optimized one and then perhaps even a version in the form of an iPhone app.
Which might make you think that mobile browsing is now sheer technological ecstasy.
Far from it.
A couple of times every day I find myself gazing into my BlackBerry screen. And wishing I were dead. Either the device’s browser refuses to load a website. Or I inadvertently click on the link of some terribly heavy website full of Java script and audio and video, and the phone hangs.
Why do things have to be so difficult? Why can’t websites just realize that I am browsing on a phone and throw up a simplified version? Some sites do this. But most don’t.
So what do you do? How can you bring some sanity to the mobile browsing process?
First of all you could try using smarter browsers. Opera’s well-known mobile browsers are available across most platforms. The software first runs websites through Opera servers which compress data. This means sites load faster and data costs are cheaper. And in most cases Opera’s browsers offer many more features than the ones built into your device.
Another worthy contender is the Bolt browser that works on most Java-enabled handsets and the BlackBerry. Bolt also uses a combination of smart software and data compression.
If you are willing to venture a little beyond browsers, and install additional software, I highly recommend the Viigo app for BlackBerrys (older versions of Viigo are available for Windows Mobile phones too).
Viigo, recently acquired by RIM, which also makes BlackBerrys, is an RSS feedreader on a controlled dose of steroids. The app allows you to build a collection of RSS feeds, or pick some from a library, and then browse through them at great speed. No, it doesn’t have the openness of a browser. But if you have a list of sites you browse on a daily basis, building a list on Viigo makes sense.
Viigo has some added benefits as well. If you listen to podcasts, then Viigo allows you to listen to the audio from within the app itself. It also allows you to save, email and tweet stories you like. And in case you’ve subscribed to a feed that only provides summaries, you can click through to the full story within Viigo. The app tries to strip out all the fancy stuff and display only the text.
Unfortunately all these apps will work only if you have a device that lets you install them. Maybe you have an older model. Or one of those corporate devices controlled by the IT admin gestapo.
In which case you could try a few online tools. One great tool is Instapaper’s Mobilizer service. Instapaper by itself allows you to bookmark stories on the Web, and then later read them in a clean, distraction-free format. Instapaper does this by using a text engine that identifies the main text and images on a page and removes everything else.
Thankfully, they allow you to independently use this engine as well. Whenever you receive a Web link you want to read on the mobile, but don’t want to be bogged down by ads and banners, browse to the link given above. Paste your link in a box. Click go. In seconds you have a clean, scrubbed version of the story. Saves time, data and money.
And, but of course, you could use some Google services. The Reader service is an RSS reader, like Viigo, that works on phones. Alternatively, you could use the Google Mobile App that offers several services, including a search that usually throws up sites already formatted for mobiles.
So, even if you are bogged by a slow data connection, or a phone deep on the wrong side of the cutting edge, don’t give up on the mobile Internet. There are plenty of tools to make the experience bearable, even enjoyable.
Play Things is the official tech and time-pass blog of Mint. Drop in for a dose of cool tech gossip and online merriment
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