I have made a list of the fifteen mobile browsers I currently test. This will give you some insight in the current mobile browser market, which is volatile, complicated, and sometimes shrouded in mystery.
One of the commonest questions I get is “Which mobile browsers should I test?” The hidden question here is which devices you should own. It’s time to attempt an answer.
Personally I’ve been pretty lucky in the past year. Not only does Vodafone have an enormous amount of mobile devices, it also has some people who know their way around them. If I ask for a non-HTC Windows Mobile device with a trackball, somebody usually knows which device I should try, and why it’s not very good.
Not everybody will be in the same position. So without more ado, here’s my advice.
I assume you have either an iPhone or an Android phone. Test your sites on it. (You probably already do so.) This’ll give you an idea of what the most powerful and capable mobile browsers of the moment can do. If it isn’t supported by Safari or Android, forget about it.
If you don’t have an iPhone or Android, get access to one. I can’t imagine a web developer in the Western world who does not know at least one person who owns such a phone and is willing to (occasionally) test stuff with it.
The next step is to get some budget and buy either a BlackBerry (US) or a Nokia Symbian (Europe). They are the most common smartphones, and you should test your sites in them.
Pick a medium-new model. The very newest are more expensive and less widely used. The older ones are probably quite cheap, but their prevalence in the wild is going down. Find a golden mean here.
Even if you’re in Europe, if you’re doing a lot of work on sites targeted at the youth, forget about Nokia and buy a BlackBerry. It’s the most popular phone among young people (say 16-22) these days.
If you focus on business-related sites that have executives and managers as their target audience, forget iPhone and Android and test on both BlackBerry and Nokia, with Windows Mobile as third choice.
The point here is that a business phone requires all kinds of connections with the secure network of the company. In general IT departments are chary of novelty, and they tend to concentrate on Symbian, BlackBerry and Windows. Large companies rarely if ever give out other types of phones to their employees.
If your business sites are targeted at the US you can forget about Symbian.
I assume that your budget is spent by now. If it isn’t, you might consider buying either an iPhone or Android (whichever you don’t have access to), or a Windows Mobile phone.
The point of buying Windows Mobile is not the platform itself, which is rapidly becoming marginal, but installing lots of browsers on it and making it your secondary test platform. Symbian (Nokia) is a good choice for that, too, but Windows Mobile has even more browsers.
For God’s sake buy a 6.5 device. Do not I repeat DO NOT buy 6.1. You really don’t want to know.
I recommend HTC for both Android and Windows Mobile. These guys know what they’re doing. (A Nexus will work fine for Android, too, obviously.)
Install Opera Mobile and Mini on your devices. Mini is available for Android, Symbian, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry, so it should pose no problems. Mobile is available only for Symbian and Windows Mobile, so you have a problem here when you only have a BlackBerry.
Opera Mini is especially important since it also runs on feature phones, and there are roughly five times more feature phones than smartphones. If your site works on Opera Mini you’ve increased your reach considerably.
Go through my list and install as many browsers as you can on the devices you already have. The more, the better.
Still, I assume you now have two or at most three test devices, which means you won’t be able to test all browsers natively. The time has come to look into emulators.
A good solution is PerfectoMobile. This service gives you access to real phones with a webcam pointed at them and a web interface that allows you to operate them. The point here is that they use real phones which will show real-world problems and bugs.
Most mobile browser vendors by now offer some kind of emulator which you can install locally on your PC or Mac. Personally I don’t trust them, because in order to make a perfect emulator you have to take your mobile browser and port it to Windows or Mac (or Linux, I suppose). That’s not as easy as it sounds, and in the past I’ve seen a few emulators that use whichever desktop browser is available on your computer.
Since I do not trust emulators I do not recommend their use. That said, if you insist on using them anyway I will determinedly look the other way. A mediocre solution is better than no solution at all.
Note that I do not test emulators, nor can I answer questions about them. I exclusively focus on real devices.
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