Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Windows 8 tablet experience - web browsing

Browsing and watching videos are the two most important things that I do with the tablet. If either of these experiences are sour, the entire tablet experience become sour for me.

Google Chrome

I was planning to use Google Chrome when I received the tablet, because that way I could get the full browsing experience that a full blown desktop browser offers. I could integrate LastPass, sync my bookmarks and settings with my desktop PC, block ads (the screen is not large enough to allow ads on a tablet, even though I'm not against advertising) and integrate Internet Download Manager to download flash video off the streaming sites.

But those plans got irradiated the second I found out how pathetic the Google Chrome's UI was as a touch UI. The interface is very slow as well. (I have noted on PCs too, if you have a fast PC the UI feels fluid, but if you are using an ancient PC from the Pentium4 days, the UI performance starts to crawl.) You cannot zoom with two fingers without using the f-word. The Metro version is no better. Metro version is pretty much the same thing as the desktop version, only made to run under the Metro environment. Nothing's done to improve the touch experience.

What about Firefox? They have a Metro version too right?

Then I checked Firefox Nightly build that comes with a Metro version alongside the desktop version. It wasn't that great either. There definitely were some attempt to improve the touch experience, but the UI wasn't smooth -or responsive- enough. And the UI acted erroneously most of the times. For example, when I set focus to the address bar, the virtual keyboard wouldn't come up. Also it is currently lacking a lot of features. Add-ons are not supported yet. Until they start supporting add-ons there is no way I can recommend Firefox over IE10.

But since Firefox is at least on the right track-on the UI perspective at least, I will continuously monitor how their Metro version of the browser evolves. Who knows, I might end up ditching Chrome on the desktop and completely switch to Firefox, if Mozilla gets their Metro version of the browser right, because I want uniformity between the devices I use.

IE10 - the only choice as of yet.

IMG_4794The metro version of IE10 is the complete opposite to Chrome. It doesn't let you integrate any add-ons, doesn't support many features those browsers offer but it has a very, very well done Metro UI.

  • Even on my tablet that runs an Atom SOC -to say that it is slow-, the UI is buttery smooth. Way smoother than Safari on my iPhone. Zooming in and out a webpage is a real treat. No slow downs what-so-ever.
  • While some people don't like how the menus are hidden because you kind of have to remember what you can do without pulling up/down the menu, I like how the UI gets out of the way to display the entire webpage on the screen.

What needs to improve in IE10 Metro?

There are a few things I want them to add in IE11- at least. Wish those features would come soon as an update, but I don't think IE10 will get the updates like the way that other Metro apps get them - via Windows Store. Updates to IE10 will come via Windows Updates and even then we won't see any feature updates. Only bug fixes. How else would Microsoft boast about the cool new features their browser now supports in Windows 8.1? Shame!
  • A way to open the last closed tab and the session. Currently, there is no way to refer to the last closed tabs using the touch interface. I believe, on the desktop you can simply use Ctrl + Shift + T. To make things worse, there is no way to refer to your browsing history. You could open the last closed tab that way.
  • Closing tabs is slow. Tabs which had been left open in the background for a long time takes a noticeably long time to close when you tap the close button. What's more infuriating is that when you tap the close button and nothing seems to happen straight away and you tap the close button again, all of a sudden both the tab you wanted to close, and the next one get closed!!! And you don't have any way to reopen the tab that you closed by mistake.
  • A way to quickly navigate to top (most common behavior) and bottom of a webpage. In mobile Safari for iOS, when you tap the status bar (is that what it is called?), you are taken to the top of the page. In iOS, it is not limited to just Safari, but the developers can add that function to their app. We really need that on IE10 Metro.
  • Swipe navigation (forward and backwards) is a good way to do things, but it reloads the previous or the next page completely. It is not a problem on the desktop because it is connected to the internet via the LAN cable, but on the tablet – either due to the speed of the tablet or the speed of the Wi-Fi connection – it is dirt slow. Completely takes away the advantage of this particular gesture.
  • Sometimes the webpages just hang and I have to exist the browser completely to get it to work again. Maybe it would automatically resolve after a while, but who had the patience? This has been the case with the desktop version of IE when I checked it out on the PC.

If Microsoft can fix these issues and add the missing features, the Windows 8 Tablet browsing experience would become so much more a pleasant experience.

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