Internet Explorer’s demise won’t happen any time soon, but Microsoft is working on an alternative – currently known as Project Spartan – that will eventually replace it. Windows 10 for Phones preview build 10051 brings the first iteration of Spartan on phones, although still accompanied by Internet Explorer.
Before you judge it too harshly, let me remind you Windows 10 is still in beta, and while the PC version is more polished, the mobile one is only at its second build, meaning laggy and clunky with the frequent need of reboots.
Spartan’s interface is light grey (including all the menus and option panes), with the address bar at the top – unlike Internet Explorer which has it on the bottom of the window. This might displease some users, that may have gotten used to the old IE layout. So far Microsoft has been paying attention to community feedback, so if enough people will ask for a change regarding this matter, Redmond will probably comply.
On the other hand, an address bar at the top of the screen is similar to what you get on traditional desktop browsers, so this version may seem more familiar to some users.
I found most icons pretty intuitive, although the ones in the app bar menu are also accompanied by text, so there’s not much room for confusion.
Besides the basic ‘refresh’ option that can be found on the left side of the address bar, the rest of Spartan’s options are in the app bar menu. From there you can add URLs to your Favorites list (with the option to create custom folders) and to the Reading list (for offline mode reading).
There’s a built-in text search function (Find on page) and from the same menu you can access the browser’s Settings (more on that later). Furthermore, there’s a Tabs option that takes you to a tab switching screen – where you can open new tabs and/or delete existing ones.
In the Hub you get quick access to your Favorites folder, Reading List and History, although the latter option is not functional yet – as you might have noticed in the screenshot gallery below. The Share feature, also doesn’t work yet – the icon is there, but nothing happens when you tap on it.
The Settings pane is quite rich and lets you tweak a number of things, starting with the reading view style which can be light, medium or dark – this option will dim the screen and decrease the contrast. For the reading view font size you get 4 options: small, medium , large and extra large – so you can definitely make the fonts more readable if your vision is not too sharp.
The ‘clear browsing data’ option is pretty detailed as it lets you choose exactly what you want to delete. Options include browsing history, cookies and website data, temporary files, passwords and so on. Regarding privacy, users can also allow/block all cookies or block just third-party cookies as well as enable the ‘Do Not Track’ option which is turned off by default.
An interesting option is ‘flip ahead’ – this one offers a quick jump to the next page using smart prediction, a feature that definitely has potential for touch-enabled devices. The SmartScreen filter, which is turned on by default, offers protection against malicious websites and downloads. This is more important than you might think since smartphones and mobile devices in general are being increasingly targeted by malware simply because their numbers are growing fast, although users tend to forget viruses, spyware and other threats are not limited to desktops and notebooks anymore.
Just in case you were wondering, the address bar is also the search bar and the default search engine is Bing. Currently, there’s no option to change it, so if you’d want to google something you can do that by launching google.com (or your local version of the search engine) and enter your keywords there.
This is not exactly a review, it’s more of an overview, but I feel many are curious how Spartan behaves in its first preview version for phones so here goes. Short version: the browser is slow, it often crashed and took me back to the Start Screen (or at least tried to) and it even became unresponsive once, forcing me to perform a soft reset.
Longer version: this is to be expected for such an early version, so if you were going to install Windows 10 on your device just to test Spartan, you might be better off waiting for a more optimized and less buggy version. Even when it works, navigating through it can be a slow and painful process, as more often than not the controls take their sweet time to react and I found myself nervously tapping the back button very frequently.
At some point I tapped on the ‘Send feedback’ option in the app bar menu, and there was absolutely no way to exit it and return to the browser itself. Also, changing the reading view style and font size was unresponsive during most of my attempts to change them. I’m pretty sure I haven’t experienced all the bugs you could possibly see in Spartan, but I think you got a general idea about the current state of the browser.
Spartan on Windows 10 for Phones looks promising right now, but it’s still a long way to the finished product. For some, their experience with the browser might not be as bad as mine, since I suspect bugs and performance issues may vary on a per device basis (I tested it on a Lumia 520, which is far from the high end Windows Phones). There’s no point to compare it with Internet Explorer right now because IE (despite its own problems) is not in its initial development stages and it’s obviously way more optimized than Spartan at this point. You can see all of our Project Spartan screenshots from Windows 10 for Phones preview build 10051 in the gallery below.
I’ll share any improvements and/or new features as soon as they arrive. Until then, I’m curious how Spartan behaves on other Lumias, so you’re welcome to share your own experience with the browser in the comments section!
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