Web browsing is becoming an increasingly more important function on a smartphone, and a number of companies have stepped up to address the chalenge of getting fully blown websites to work on the limited screen space available on most phones. One of these companies is Access Systems, with their excellent Netfront product.

 

How do you get a website, which has been designed to work on a screen resolution at least 975 pixels wide, to fit on a device with a screen resolution of only 176 pixels wide? This has been the challenge facing web browser companies since the outset of smartphones and "proper" internet access. Opera was the first company to tackle the problem, with their very competent mobile browser, featureing their "Small Screen Rendering" technology. (Opera 6.1 ships with Sendo smartphones)

While Opera is a very competent browser, there's a couple of areas it can't cope with very well, one of these being CSS support. As CSS becomes an ever increasing part of most websites, it is important that your browser of choice is able to understand, translate and render even complex CSS markup. (CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets, and is the primary technology  now used to define *how* a website should be displayed)

NetFront have taken a very refreshing approach to make their mobile web browser display pages properly - rather than trying to cut out content and markup elements (such as CSS), NetFront reads and understans all these elements. Explaining exactly how NetFront achieves this is beyond the scope of this review, suffice to say their rendering technology is called "Rapid-Render" and an excellent description of how it works is available on their website.

After all that, you're probably wondering how NetFront works on the Sendo X smartphone. Well, the first thing to note is that the latest versions of NetFront support Series 60 version 2 only, however,  NetFront recognise that a lot of people are still using phones based on Series 60 version 1.2 and so still provide a link to version 3.1 of their browser, which is fully compatible with Series 60 version 1.2, and therefore with the Sendo X. It's also nice to see a 45 day trial period on the fully functioning demo version - much better than the measly 5 days provided with some Series 60 applications.

In use, it's hard to fault NetFront - it's rendering speed is way ahead of Opera, especially when it comes to loading large pages.  During testing (for which we naturally used the Sendo Smartphones website), NetFront proved to be much qiucker than Opera, with a much better understanding of the CSS used on the site. (Opera in particular, made a mess of the main menu) 

Navigation is also simpler than Opera, especially when viewing pages in "No wrapping" mode - NetFront's name for not altering a site's layout. Selection is made easily - the scroll keys not only move around a site, but also automatically select whichever item is "in focus". This is much simpler and quicker to use than Opera's method, which involves pressing the option key a few times.

When viewing in Smart-Fit mode, the up and down navigation keys naigate around a site, while the left and right keys select content.

Picture handling is also very good in NetFront. As can be seen by these screenshots, all CSS and images of the Sendo Smartphones header and menu work fine, but how would the program cope with a fully fledged picture - remarkable well as it happens. The picture picked (see right) displayed perfectly in every rendering mode selected. 

In summary, NetFront is a great product which works incredibly well, both on the Sendo X and at doing it's job - namely viewing and rendering web pages.

 

Overall Rating: 90%