Browser for Pocket PC: a
killer app? Yes!
Reviewed by Lisa Gade , 2004
The current crop of PDAs are in some cases
more powerful than your desktop computer circa 1996. As a result
of their power and expandability and inherent ultra-portable nature,
networking solutions have become more plentiful and affordable.
Well, what to do with this nice hardware and Internet access when
you're working with a tiny screen? Enter a nice crop of wireless
(and wired if you're so inclined) browsers designed for PDAs with
ThunderHawk by Bitstream,
So what does a well known font maker, Bitstream,
have to do with PDAs? Take a set of fonts designed to look great
in small sizes on a Pocket PC screen in landscape mode and you
have the ThunderHawk browser. ThunderHawk uses a custom made Bitstream
font "Kassila", named after Thunderhawk's chief software
architect, Sampo Kaasila, who invented TrueType while working at
Apple. This font allows ThunderHawk to display what looks to be
an 640 x 480 view in landscape of a web page. ThunderHawk doesn't
state a specific screen resolution because their software custom-sizes
each page as needed.
But I already have Pocket Internet Explorer
And we've all been wishing that after
so many years, Pocket IE could've evolved further. How
many of us really find the standard view, which often shows
us only a corner of a web page at at time a real pleasure
to use? Allowing IE to run in landscape mode would've been
one giant step in the right direction. ThunderHawk takes
it even further by formating the page to fit well within
the screen in landscape orientation, providing a font set
that is very legible (and my eyes are not great!) at small
size and supporting more current web standards than IE.
-- ThunderHawk screen shot. Note that
this image has been resized smaller to fit this column, the
actual screen is larger and more legible of course!
ThunderHawk means desktop experience
No minimalism here. ThunderHawk is designed
to approximate the experience of a desktop browser. If you want
pages that are formated as if you were looking at them with your
desktop computer, images and all, then this is for you. It is not
an offline browser like AvantGo, and so far doesn't have the ability
to strip out images. If you're using a wireless service that charges
by the meg or GPRS then you may not want ThunderHawk. However,
ThunderHawk does compress images, so you're not downloading as
many bytes as you would be if you used Pocket IE.
The user experience (UI)
Once you create an account (you can set up a 30
day free trial) you're ready to go. Simply enter the activation code
emailed to you in ThunderHawk and ThunderHawk's home page will appear
with all sorts of helpful links about how to use the software. The
browser runs only in landscape mode with buttons to the left (as
a lefty, this suits me, but righties may not be happy). The user
interface is unique, but won't take you more than 5 minutes to master.
Pressing either of the top two buttons (relative to holding your
device in landscape, left if you're holding it in the standard way)
will bring up the onscreen keyboard and control icons such as close
ThunderHawk, reload page, Go and so on. ThunderHawk uses its own
on-screen keyboard, you won't be able to use the built-in soft keyboard
or character recognizer. I'm not a big fan of on-screen keyboards
and wish I could use the trusty character recognizer that's a part
of the OS. The bottom two hardware buttons become your page back
and page foward buttons. Button assignments vary somewhat depending
on your PDA's brand.
New in version 1.02
A Bookmark/Favorites feature has been added to version 1.02, and it automatically
picks up your Pocket IE favorites as well as allowing you to add and delete
bookmarks whenever you wish. The URL selector remembers the last 64 pages
in history during a session, and you can pop back and forth between URLs
in history. New also in version 1.02 is the ability to switch back to your
Pocket PC desktop without having to exit Thunderhawk.
ThunderHawk loads pages a bit faster than Pocket
IE (our homepage took 3 seconds to load using a WiFi card and IE
and 2 seconds using ThunderHawk). Scrolling up and down or sideways
is slower because there's a delay of about 1 second while the page
is reformated. Hopefully this will improve, perhaps with some caching
done on the PDA.