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REVIEW & COMPARISON: Another Web browser, UCWEB: is it any good?

Guest Menneisyys

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Guest Menneisyys

It was over one and a half year ago that I reviewed the Windows Mobile version of UCWEB, the (then) new, Chinese, multiplatform Web browser.

In the meantime, it has received a lot of additions and enhancements; therefore (and also as an answer to one of my readers at XDA-Developers), I’ve spent some time on evaluating the current version and directly comparing to the other two Java-based browsers, BOLT and Opera Mini.

Note that UCWEB isn’t only Java-based, unlike the other two browsers mentioned. There are native versions for both Symbian and Windows Mobile. These are a bit different from the Java version; for example, they both support bold and italic characters and viewing pages using their original layout (not that it would work in most cases…) As I, in general, prefer writing multiplatform stuff, I decided to thoroughly test all the three (Java, Symbian and Windows Mobile) versions of the browser to see whether it’s worth switching to them from other, competing browsers.

So, you want to know whether it’s worth moving to this browser from your Nokia Web / SkyFire (Symbian S60), Opera Mobile / Iris / Netfront / SkyFire (Windows Mobile), Opera Mini / BOLT (a Java-only feature phone)? The answer is no. In most cases (assuming you very rarely need the unique features of the app: the download manager, the copy features etc.), I’ve found the alternative browsers much better, quicker and cleaner.

Why? You might ask. Let me show you some screenshots. Let’s start with the (dumbest) Java version, which I’ll directly compare to Opera Mini and BOLT, the two main alternatives. (Note that, while this version is indeed the least capable of the three UCWEB versions, it still has some [small] advantages over the Windows Mobile version. For example, it can search for the first occurrence of a string or can close all the tabs except the current one in one step or you can very thoroughly configure its button / key shortcuts.) Let’s see what character styles / sizes it can render:


Wow! Nothing at all! Now, let’s take a look at Opera Mini’s doing the same:


…and, finally, BOLT:


While BOLT has certain drawbacks compared to Opera Mini (e.g., no bold support), it’s still way better than the way UCWEB renders different styles / character sizes.

The W3C compliance results aren’t very nice either. (Here, I show you a screenshot of the native Windows Mobile and Symbian clients as the Java client isn’t capable of rendering pages using their original layout; this would have made its compliance results even worse.):


(Windows Mobile + UCWEB)


(Symbian + UCWEB)

Now, take a look at how Opera Mini renders the page:


BOLT is much nicer too:


Pay attention to not only how the actual square is rendered (how many cells are green, showing compliance with the related test case), but also the other texts on the page. They’re pretty much messed up in UCWEB’s rendering, while perfect when rendered by the other two browsers.

Again, note that the Java version of UCWEB doesn’t support any kind of styling / character formatting (in this case, italic), unlike the native WinMo / Symbian clients, which do.

Native (Symbian / Windows Mobile) versions

The non-Java (that is, native) versions of UCWEB are a bit better (except for some missing functionality, particularly in the Windows Mobile version, like setting the User-Agent or searching for occurrences of a string) than the Java version but can’t really match the best, established browsers on the platform. It’s probably the Symbian version of UCWEB that you might want to consider using but if and only if you’re absolutely sure you’d never use the full page overview, in which the built-in Nokia Web browser is much-much better. On Windows Mobile, almost all other browsers are better, particularly if you hate the one column mode.

Strengths of UCWEB

I’ve already mentioned UCWEB has some unmatched strengths. For example,

- It allows for fine-tuning the hotkeys on Java and Symbian (but, unfortunately, not under Windows Mobile). Very few alternative browsers do the same (and definitely not Java ones); for example, Opera Mobile.

- It has a built-in download manager. If you download a lot of stuff off the Web and would prefer doing this in the background, UCWEB is the way to go. Unless, of course, you are on a platform where there already are browsers with download managers or downloader add-ons for existing Web browsers (see my dedicated reviews). For example, on Windows Mobile, there are several of them.

- It natively supports multitabs – a huge omission in, for example, the built-in Internet Explorer Mobile in Windows Mobile. (Nevertheless, I still think – unless you REALLY need some of the other functionalities of UCWEB like the download manager – it’s better to purchase a decent plug-in – MultiIE, PIEPlus or Spb Pocket Plus – for the built-in Internet Explorer Mobile, let alone switching to Opera Mobile 9.5+ completely.)

Comparison chart

It’s HERE and, as usual, is full of screenshots. Note that it also has extensive information on both Opera Mini and BOLT (the latest version of both); in this regard, it’s way better and more informative than the chart in my previous Opera Mini vs. BOLT comparison http://www.smartphonemag.com/cms/blog/9/ba...ra-mini-vs-bolt .

Please do consult my other, earlier Web browsing articles, speeches etc. for the meaning of each individual row. I simply don’t have the time to explain things I’ve already shed light on in my earlier articles.


While, in some respects (for example, tabbing, download managers, user-agent settings or copy capabilities), it's way ahead of Opera Mini or BOLT (and even some native, non-Java browsers on Symbian / Windows Mobile), it still has major problems.

As a rule of thumb, if you use your Opera Mini almost exclusively in the full layout mode (as opposed to the one column mode) and wouldn’t want to switch back to one column, you’ll hate UCWEB. If you are on a platform with a native UCWEB client (WM or Symbian but not Java-only feature phones), you can use the full layout mode of the browser but I’m absolutely sure sooner or later you’ll disable it, it’s so bad. Even the lowest-quality Web browsers on Windows Mobile (for example, the built-in Internet Explorer Mobile) are far better at rendering ordinary Web pages and reflowing text so that they are readable without any horizontal scrolling. On Symbian S60, Nokia’s Web is way-way better, particularly now that all new(er) models and/or firmware upgrades have Flash Lite 3.1.

It’s only on Java-only phones that you might want consider switching to it. I, however, only recommend this if and only if you absolutely need its unique features the better alternatives (Opera Mini or BOLT) aren’t capable of: copying from pages; quick tab switching on touchscreen-only devices; multipage support (where BOLT – but not Opera Mini! – seriously lacks), support for non-Western languages (which BOLT isn’t capable of) etc. Otherwise, I simply don’t see any point in using it as your main browser, particularly not if you don’t want to stick to the confined one column view mode: both Opera Mini and BOLT have way better rendering engines.

Currently, I only recommend UCWEB to the developers of Opera Mini (and BOLT). After adding the, in my opinion, most important features (first of all, italic support and copy support the way UCWEB does – both are, programmatically, pretty easy), the other niceties (for example, the tabbing system, which is a god-send for touchscreen-only people) could be added to Opera Mini.

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