New version of the brand new BOLT minibrowser out!

A new version, beta2 (build 0.94), of the BOLT web browser (see the comparison to Opera Mini 4.2 HERE) has just been released. If you’re already a BOLT user, it’ll automatically sense the availability of the new browser and invoke the system-level browser to download the new version; if you’re a new user, you can, as usual, download it from boltbrowser.com . You can do the download from your handset; note that you can provide any name / e-mail address (they can be non-existing or super-short to avoid excessive typing) for the registration.

Enhancements

There are several enhancements worth speaking of. First, it received a newer, even larger, 3XLarge character set. This uses huge characters - on my BlackBerry 8800 even bigger than those of Opera Mini. These characters, however, are Bitstream's own ones; this means they don't support non-Western characters either, unlike Opera Mini using the non-small character set. The Bitstream folks should consider using the dynamic replacement algorithm I've described in my Web Browser Internationalization Guide; that is, use the closest equivalent of each non-western character to be able to render at least non-cyrillic East-European languages like Polish or Czech - these languages remain pretty readable when the closest letter is used instead of their own original.

The new character set is a god-send for high-resolution (VGA / WVGA users); people with low-resolution screens (like QVGA) will very rarely (if ever) need it.

The new version is stated to be working (scrolling) much faster on the BlackBerry platform than the previous one. This is true: now, it takes far less time (3-6 seconds at most per page - first a quick page jump to right with "6" and, then, fine-tuning with the scrollball) to correctly position the viewport over the real text body on my BB 8800. This is still somewhat slower than Opera Mini (where you, in most cases, don't need to touch the scrollball at all - simply pressing 6, that is, right, nicely positions the viewport over the text) but is indeed a huge enhancement over the last version.

The Bitstream folks have also fixed the major DPReview forum rendering issues I've reported in my previous article. Now, I couldn't find any DPReview forum post having too long rows, unlike with the previous version, not even when using the largest character set. The following two (VGA portrait – note that the content is rendered OK on my QVGA Landscape BlackBerry 8800 as well) screenshots show this (original thread HERE; compare the shots with those of beta1):


(3XLarge)

(XXLarge)

Nevertheless, I still found some other pages incorrectly rendered: the first row of the individual articles on my blog force the reader to scroll horizontally. The W3C page is rendered even worse than with the previous beta. With the older version, “only” bulleted lists had the tendency to be extend over the (invisible) right part of the screen; with the new one, standard text rows too. You need to heavily reduce the character size (which may not be very easy on eyes) to fix this issue. The following three screenshots, with descending character sizes (from XXLarge to Large) show this in practice:





YouTube and other Web videos

In my previous review, I haven’t elaborated on the multimedia features; most importantly, BOLT’s being able to transcode and play back (in a local, 3gp-compatible media player) online videos. Using a local player means you will have a definitely better experience than with SkyFire, which, sometimes, is only able to present a slideshow of the frames (sometimes – at least in Europe – without any sound) because of the much less multimedia-friendly client-server transfer method.

BOLT’s central server converts Web videos into the 3gp format compatible with all current phones (but, by default, not Windows Mobile Classic – that is, not phone-enabled Pocket PC’s). When you click the Play button in a video (see the left button at the bottom on the following screenshot), it starts transcoding the video and also displays a message stating this:



After you press Launch, your standard Web browser is invoked, and, through that, the media player (if the .3gp format is registered, that is.) Note that, at the time being, it only seems to convert the first 1:25 minutes, not the entire video (if it’s longer). and the resulting quality is far from perfect. Also note that neither BlackBerry nor Windows Mobile are able to play back the videos in streaming mode (without downloading and saving them first). If you select “Open” in BlackBerry’s Web (instead of “Save”), the media player will be invoked and you’ll presented with a “The current media can not be played from the network. Save it first for local playback” message. With Windows Mobile, the title will always be fully downloaded and saved first, and only after that will the media player be invoked (depending on whether you do allow the automatic invocation).

Windows Mobile and signed versions

There are four different versions of BOLT for non-BlackBerry operating systems (for the BlackBerry, only an unsigned version exists). The dual signed version works great on Windows Mobile under Jbed; I’ve tested it under both version 20070802.2.1 and 20080222.3.1. That is, you don’t need to use the unsigned version with all its dialogs – at least not when using Jbed as your MIDlet manager.

Conclusion

It definitely became better, particularly on non-touchscreen enabled platforms (for example, the BlackBerry) – now, scrolling to the text is much faster. However, there’re still some very serious bugs regarding text rendering (see the incorrectly rendered rows’ screenshots above). I really hope they’ll be fixed.
Also, I really hope the following issues will be fixed:
- Adding full Italic and bold support
- Adding multipage support (as with Opera Mini) to avoid having to reload pages when you, for example, press Back.
- Allowing for some kind of an online favorite synchronization (like Opera Link)
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