These days you can’t make a smartphone and expect it to sell (and perform well) without including a decent browser. The mobile web has come a long way since my first taste of it, the extremely limited WAP over GPRS as I had on my Nokia 6510, followed up by basic page rendering over 3G on handsets like the N95 and E61. Modern smartphones have a lot more to deal with in terms of complexity and content, and todays users expect a “proper” browsing experience, with all the features of a desktop browser available to them.
Web standards compatibility
There is better news in terms of support for modern standards, with all of the standard pages I tested rendering correctly, and even some of the more advanced and complex pages rendering in a usable fashion. The currently in development jQuery Mobile is also compatible with the browser and has support at B-Grade level which the project describes as providing an “enhanced experience except without Ajax navigation features”. In reality this means that the N8 will be forward compatible (to an extent) with many of a new breed of websites and web apps that will support the fledgling standard as it grows in popularity, making it a safe bet for “normal users” (not me) who are likely to keep their handsets for the entire duration of an 18 or 24 month contract.
When considering the speed of browsing it is a bit of a mixed bag. Over 3G the handset performs OK, no better or worse than any other handset I have tested in terms of its radio performance and download speeds, but when you take the browser into consideration it becomes painfully slow rendering complex websites. Over WiFi the story is much the same, with the N8 getting to pages and starting to download quickly, but the rendering seemingly going on forever.
Overall the N8 web performance is a bit of a mixed bag to say the least. From a technical perspective the browser performs well, rendering the vast majority of pages successfully, however, whether or not you still care what the site you are looking for has to say when it eventually finishes rendering is another matter all together. For users that only use the web occasionally and mainly live in messaging and email the N8 would make a solid companion, but more demanding (power) users should look elsewhere to a more modern phone OS with a more robust browser and a handset with more horsepower.
Flash support is a pleasant and welcome surprise, but this isn’t enough to let me feel confident recommending the N8 for anyone who intends to use the internet regularly on the move. A good effort, but one that feels a little left behind when compared with the current crop of modern smartphone browsers.