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DailyTech WAP page on my Cingular 8525  (Source: DailyTech, Anh T. Huynh)

Microsoft Deepfish rendering DailyTech web page, in full  (Source: DailyTech, Anh T. Huynh)

Deepfish zoomed into DailyTech   (Source: DailyTech, Anh T. Huynh)
Impressions of Microsoft's new mobile web browser

Last March Microsoft released its Deepfish technology preview to a small number of beta testers. Deepfish is a preview of Microsoft’s new browser technology for Windows Mobile devices. Unlike the current Pocket Internet Explorer for Windows Mobile, Deepfish renders the full webpage and displays it in a zoomed view a la iPhone browser style.

Anyone could have signed up for the technology preview, with Windows Live ID. However, Microsoft is no longer accepting applications for Deepfish. Microsoft approved my application last month and I have since completely switched over to Deepfish as my primary mobile browser.

As it is a closed beta, Microsoft issues activation codes to approved applicants. The browser phones home to Microsoft to ensure a valid activation code every time the browser is started. If too many people use the same activation code, Microsoft will invalidate your activation code.

Nevertheless, I love the browser. In its early stages, it is still fully usable to browse web pages. Deepfish resolves my annoyances with Pocket Internet Explorer where it would attempt to render the full page, but instead messes things up by rendering it in a single column. Web pages show up in its entirety and the controls are quiet easy to use.

How to use

It did take a few minutes to get used to the navigation scheme. Microsoft has designed Deepfish with considerations for touch screen-less mobile devices. The browser cannot operate with just the touch screen and relies on physical button inputs. This is not too much of a problem and easy to get used to. On my Cingular 8525, aka HTC Hermes 100 or TyTN, the directional controls are used.

Pressing the button in the center of the directional key brings up the Zoom options. From there, you can use the directional keys to move a gray box to select the area of zoom. You can also move the gray box around using the touch screen. A tap of the touch screen or pressing the center button again will zoom into your selection.

Everything is easy to use. In a zoomed view, you can scroll the webpage using the directional controls or touch screen. Scrolling the webpage with the touch screen is easy with a few slides of the thumb. All this can be done without the use of a stylus. Links are not selectable when the web page is in its primary zoom mode. Selecting links require another press of the center button and it highlights links that you can select using the directional keys. You can also tap the links with the touch screen as well.

Microsoft does not include a help file with the browser, so I actually had to read the F.A.Q. on the Deepfish web page to figure out the controls. The browser is not too intuitive at first launch.

Why I love it

After being stuck to the confines of Pocket Internet Explorer, Deepfish is exactly what I wanted in a browser. I can view full web pages and forums without being reduced to a simplified view. Once I was used to the controls, it was very easy to use. I can operate the browser without the use of a stylus, not that I ever used my stylus much anyways.

DailyTech renders beautifully in Deepfish and I can view all the comments without selecting a bunch of different links, like with the DailyTech Mobile web page. Every webpage I have been to renders properly, as it would in Firefox, but in a zoomed out view. And with my 3G connection, that Cingular charges an arm and a leg for, web pages load fast with DSL-like speeds, at least in the Seattle area.

Shortcomings

While I love Deepfish, it is not perfect by any means. The browser does not accept cookies and has issues with logins for most web pages that rely on cookies. While it can fill out some text input boxes, the text you input does not show up on the rendered page, which gets annoying. The controls, while simple to use, could use some refinement. There are times when I try to thumb scroll the page and somehow it switches to link mode and goes to some random link I did not select.

Final thoughts

Despite the shortcomings, Deepfish works fairly well for reading web pages. It requires further refinement, but this is a technology preview and not a final shipping product. Deepfish is a step in the right direction and the browser Windows Mobile should have always had since it entered the internet realm. With mobile phone Internet connections speeding up to 1Mbit and higher, minimized page views are a thing of the past. Microsoft needs to refine and finalize this product and ship it ASAP.  

In short, Deepfish is the browser Microsoft should have shipped with Windows Mobile 6.




"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher
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