My old cell phone plan expired some time last week, and after the indentured servitude of a rather lengthy contract (for the sake of free hardware some time in 2001), it was time to refresh the handset. New toy: a tiny little Audiovox 8900.
Being a diligent web guy, one of my first official acts with the new phone was to load up a few sites to see what it could do. The mobile web has so far passed me by; sure, my old Nokia was capable of loading up a text-only version of most any site in its cramped three-line display, but it was never fun. The odd time I’d load up the Zen Garden for the simple thrill of seeing a couple of characters of familiar text on my phone, but that’s where the mobile web ended for me.
A quick digression first: this new phone is stylish. No matter what I discover about its quirks and glitches over the next few weeks, my first impression has been nothing but admiration and I expect that will stick. Everything about this model is polished and functional; the manual seems to be a waste of paper so far, it’s that intuitive. Compared to Nokia’s current ugly and quasi-skeletal lineup, it’s no contest. Compared to my old Nokia (which I grew fond of over time) everything feels next generation, and then some. 3 years of progress resulted in a smaller profile with way more packed in.
Except for one little thing. The web capabilities stink. Okay, now I get blue underlined links instead of black ones; is that all 3 years buys me? The browser is a lot more integrated in this model since other (mostly useless) things like ringtone and game downloading rely on it. But even those pages are a stark black-on-white contrast to the animated colour imagery that forms the menu system of the phone itself. Something doesn’t fit here, and it’s the second-class citizen they’re calling a browser.
Patrick Griffiths put together a nice little suite of mobile CSS tests to throw at various devices; I took a quick wander over (‘quick’ being a relative value, given the trouble typing backslashes by hitting the ‘1’ key nine times) and checked to see what was happening. The result? Failure on all 8 tests. A bright red ‘NOT’ greeted each test result.
That the ‘NOT’ was red seemed interesting though; turns out Patrick sets all
spans within the test to a default red via an embedded style sheet, and overrides them with the mobile test styles. Which means that the import methods were failing, but the embedded style (which also has no specific media type defined) was somewhat… not.
Extending Patrick’s tests just a little, I’ve dropped an extra paragraph with some basic text formatting and a couple of box model rules into the bottom of this revised copy. It looks like I get color and background color, the odd box model property (I think I saw a margin), and that’s about it. No borders, no floats, no alternate fonts. In short, CSS is a pipe dream on this phone.
I realize there are better browsers out there; Opera’s mobile version seems to be gaining momentum, Nokia appears to be throwing money at Mozilla, and full-fledged PDA phones with built-in PocketPC or PalmOS capabilities obviously have some choice in browser. But it seems I’m locked into the lightweight that comes with this phone for now, and at least in Canada, this is one of the more capable phones available at the moment without getting into a ridiculous price range. Not a hugely positive sign.
Is the mobile web a reality? Maybe elsewhere. Though given the slow input of URLs, dozens of seconds between each incremental page load, and almost non-existent support of anything other than text, it seems there’s a long way to go in Canada.
Oh well. At least it has a camera.