May 02 AT 8:00 AM Christopher Earle 28 Comments

Steel: G1 Web Browsing Without the Clutter

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The native web browser for the T-Mobile G1 with Google is good. In fact, it is very good. However, some features, like the zoom buttons, get in the way of reading the text on web pages. Steel solves this and adds gesture based browser tools and a larger area for web browsing. In addition, Steel adds a soft keyboard for many common browsing tasks.

If you are looking for a clean, simple web browser with a solid gesture based interface and a soft keyboard, Steel is your browser.

Hidden Commands Require Some Practice

The Steel interface is clean and simple. The browser opens blank. To load a web page, users must touch the bubble on the lower right side of the screen. The bubble will bring up the URL bar and a bar at the bottom of the screen. The plus (+) to the left of the URL field adds a bookmark for the current page. Selecting the URL field brings up a very functional soft keyboard. The icon to the right of the URL field either re-loads the page or stops the page from loading, depending on whether the page has finished loading or is in the process of loading.

The navigation bar of Steel.

The navigation bar of Steel.

The lower navigation bar has page forward and back buttons, a view bookmarks button, and a button that allows for the selection of available windows.

The power of the browser lies in the features aren’t visible until you long touch the screen, links, or an image. Although this is similar in some ways to the native browser, Steel pops up a translucent context sensitive pie menu instead of the native context menus. This allows you to continue to view content while executing other commands.

Long touching anywhere on the web page brings up a context sensitive pie menu that allows you to zoom in and out of the page and re-load the current page. Using the context menus takes some practice. Instead of lifting your finger and pressing the selection, you must slide your finger to the desired command. At first this seems strange, but after a few minutes it really improves the web browsing experience.

Long touching an image brings up a pie menu with share, save, copy, open, and zoom functions. These work in much the same way as the native browser.

Long touching a link will bring up a context sensitive pie menu with the option to zoom, open, copy, or share the URL.

The Menu Key

The pie menu with zoom controls.

The pie menu with zoom controls.

Pressing the menu key brings up a number of useful setting to customize your browsing experience. The virtual keyboard can be turned on and off, the color of the virtual keys can be set to light or dark, the menu bar and lower navigation bar can be set to always visible, and the browser’s default full screen mode can be turned off. In addition, the location of the control bubble can be set to be more convenient for left handed users and the screen can be set to auto-rotate when the physical keyboard is opened. One of the nice features of the Steel soft keyboard is that the phone will vibrate each time a soft key is pressed. This function can be turned off, if desired.

Other standard web functions can be set up via the menu button. This includes setting the start page, enabling or disabling java script, and setting the user agent and cache mode. The menu button also allows for the clearing of saved form data, passwords, history and cookies.

Conclusion

Although a number of the features of Steel are expected to be in the Cupcake release of Android, their present implementation in Steel is very good. If you are looking for a good, simple browser that doesn’t get in the way of the web content, Steel is a fantastic app.

Update:  According to the dev’s blog, a new release is on the way that supports Cupcake.

Steel for Android
Version: 0.0.19
Developed By: kolbysoft
Price: FREE
Filesize: 189KB
Christopher Earle has been working as a freelance writer since 1987. He currently lives in the Denver, Colorado area with his wife, son, and their two cats. He has been a fan of open source software for many years.

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