Third-party mobile browsers Skyfire and Bolt give Opera a run for its money

SkyfireMobile browsers have come a long way in a relatively short time. In a way, webOS, iPhone OS, and Android users have been kind of spoiled by the fast and easy-to-use browsers installed on their devices by default. For these sorts of users -- the ones who pull out their mobile phones to run a search every time someone has an unanswered question -- it's easy to forget that much of the mobile world would rather avoid opening its default mobile browser at all.

Opera may be the most prominent third-party solution to poor mobile browsing experience, but free browsers such as Bolt and Skyfire are quickly making a name as well. They too seek to improve the mobile Web experience for everyone, even those on resource-constrained devices with less-than-lovable browsers built in.

This week, both of these cross-platform browsers received significant updates.

Bolt from Bitstream (which made its name in software as a retail seller of fonts) is not even one year old yet, but has already shown promise as an alternative browser for devices that support the MIDP 2.0 and CLDC 1.0+ profiles. Along with its desktop-style browsing functions, Bolt supports streaming video, copy and paste, and the ability to upload photo or video content to the Web.

This week, Bitsream rolled out Bolt 1.6, which the company said adds full socket-based connectivity, a new password manager, and the ability to be set as the default browser on BlackBerry devices. This means when links are embedded in e-mails and text or instant messages, they can be clicked upon and opened in Bolt now instead of having to be copied and pasted or otherwise opened in BlackBerry's default browser. Mobile users can point their default Web browser to Bitstream's Bolt download site to install the new version of Bolt.

Skyfire has gained considerable attention in the third party mobile browser scene thanks to its support for Flash 10, Silverlight 2, AJAX, and JavaScript, and its snappy server-side compression techniques. These factors combined bring users an experience that is comparable to, if not actually better than, the webOS, iPhone, and Android browsers. Unfortunately, device support for Skyfire is not as vast as Bolt, and the most recent update will only affect Windows Mobile users.

Skyfire 1.5 for Windows Mobile (both PPC and SMP) adds full VGA support, a new UI more tailored to touchscreen "flick" browsing, and full-screen mode with no UI layers. Flash and Silverlight have been updated to the latest versions with this release, and Skyfire claims the browser has been upgraded on both client and server side for and overall faster browsing experience.

Though this update is only for Windows Mobile 5, 6, and 6.X devices, Skyfire says S60 5th edition will get the fully updated browser some time in January.

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