Despite being a beta, Nokia's Xpress for Lumia browser goes right into our must-download app list for Nokia Lumia devices, not just because of its speed and data compression abilities, but also for some very interesting interface tweaks.
Apps have never been the forte of Windows Phone, and when it comes to browsers, the pickings have been particularly slim, with even the likes of Opera Mini being conspicuous by their absence. In fact, when it comes to third party Web browsing apps, Windows Phone users have largely been restricted to UC Browser, which is a decent enough option but well, the hearts of the appy types do hanker for variety. Which is why a lot of us could be heard cheering when Nokia announced a version of its Xpress Browser for its Lumia range of devices.
Those who have used Nokia's Asha series of affordable handsets will be familiar with the Xpress Browser, whose main forte is its ability to compress Web pages using the Nokia Xpress cloud and then display them on the device. This results in both a speedy Web browsing experience and also lesser data consumption - the former handy for those on slow connections, the latter for those on pay as per use data plans. And the Windows Phone avatar of the browser comes with this same quality, as well as some very nifty interface tweaks, which mark the browser out as being rather different.
The app is not available for download from the Windows Market, so you will have to make a trip to the Nokia Beta Labs to get it (check the download link below). Launching the app takes you to the landing screen which is called the Quick Links, but is actually more of a browsing history, containing thumbnails of sites you have visited in the recent past and which gets fine-tuned to include the sites you visit frequently as you use the app more and more. You can opt to keep them or remove them as per your wish, although we would have really preferred to have the option to be able to customise the landing screen with shortcuts of our choice.
However, the real spin on the browsing experience comes when you slide the landing screen to the left to reveal a new page called "magazine." It starts out with a Nokia Conversations link, but its utility becomes evident when you start browsing the Web - whenever you visit a website with an RSS feed, you will see a message pop up on top of the browser saying "click to add article to magazine." If you agree to do so, you can head to the Magazine section of the browser and then read the articles, laid out not one below the other, as you would on the site, but next to each other, so you can flick your way from one article to another, just as you would on a magazine. Now, that is very handy, especially as in most cases, the articles are laid out in a very reader-friendly format, complete with illustrations and minus the pesky ads. You also have the option to view the article in a more conventional form if you wish, although we found ourselves opting for this only when the magazinification sometimes butchered spacing (which did happen at times).
That apart, the browser does all other tasks reasonably well. Browsing speeds are very brisk even on relatively slow GPRS/EDGE networks, and you can not only share articles you like on your social networks, but also save Web pages for later reading, and if you are the type that is paranoid about data consumption, keep checking up data used. You not only get to see the amount of data used by the browser, and data used in different functions, but also highlighted is the percentage of it saved thanks to the compression technology - and as this is always in excess of eighty per cent, you can be assured of feeling good whenever you choose this option. For some reason, though, the data count does not include data consumed while playing video, which might make this feature useless for YouTube addicts (yes, you can play YouTube videos from within the app, in case you wondered). Round that off with the option to pin sites to the Start Screen of the device and the ability to translate content into any of nine languages (no Indian ones yet, alas, but that should change in the coming days) and Nokia Xpress Beta starts feeling like a very decent proposition indeed for all Windows Phone users.
That said, it does have a very erring, human side. As in most browsers that specialise in data compression, here too the burst of speed and lower data consumption come at the cost of image clarity. Even when we kept image quality at highest (something one can do from the Settings), we ended up getting clear text but images that generally lacked clarity. The magazine feature which we loved also behaved erratically - there were times when the text formatting of the pages would go for an utter toss. We would have liked a sleeker and more stylish interface too. And of course, this being a beta, the chances of the odd crash ending your browsing session abruptly could never be ruled out.
Still, all said and done, we must confess to being very impressed with Nokia Xpress Beta. It is small, fast and very useful, especially if you are stuck in an area with a poor mobile Internet connectivity. We love the magazine feature and if refined a bit, it has the potential to be an app in its own right. Now it's really up to Nokia to fine tune the app and iron out the odd rough spot. But even if it does not, we are still recommending this as a download for all ye Lumia owners out there.
Download from: Nokia Beta Labs