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AvantGo 3.3 Review
By Ed Hardy
The Palm has always lacked a Web browser that did everything a full-featured browser ought to do. Until now. The latest version of AvantGo has gone a long way towards making it the single Web browser you need on your Palm. It now boasts an adequate browser for manually surfing at the Web while the automatic downloading of Web content is still the best in the business.
AvantGo was originally designed to do one thing and do it well: allowing a user to select from preformatted "channels" on the company's Web site (www.avantgo.com) and downloading these channels onto the user's palmtop for reading offline when a HotSync is performed. The channels include everything from the New York Times to Palm Infocenter. If you aren't using AvantGo, you are really missing out on one of the great features of your Palm.
As good as the off-line browsing of channels is, there are still times when you need to manually browse through a site or two. This latest version has vastly improved AvantGo's usability as an on-line Web browser. To do this, the user interface has been slightly redesigned. The most obvious change they made is the addition, at the top of each page, of a small icon that looks like a folder. Clicking on this opens a page where you can type in your URLs (see picture). There is also a drop-down box that is a history of URLs that you have typed in recently and another with handy shortcuts for frequently used elements in URLs like "www." and ".com".
After typing in your URL, simply press the OK button at the bottom of the page to be taken to the site you have requested. Naturally, this requires a live connection of some kind to the Internet.
AvantGo also has decent capabilities for displaying sites, within limits. It will allow you to use sites that require cookies and you can choose whether to display graphics or tables. But there are a few frustrating limitations like AvantGo's total failure when dealing with frames or image maps.
No product is perfect and AvantGo is no exception. There is no process for notifying users about the latest version, even though when you create a user account you there is an option to be reminded of updates. It is possible many of you are still using vision 3.1 because you simply didn't know that 3.3 was available. Also, you can't add or use bookmarks with AvantGo. You could substitute bookmarks by making a channel for each site you frequent, but that can become tedious. And the process for upgrading isn't terribly intuitive. You need to visit the AvantGo Web site, click on "Sign Me Up", then work your way through the process like you are a new user until you can download the software and drop out.
AvantGo is really what having a Palm is all about. It allows you to easily download a large amount of information into a very small space and access that information when it is most convenient for you. It is one of the few indispensable third-party apps that all Palm users should have and the improved manual browsing features in version 3.3 are welcome enhancements to an already solid product. AvantGo, Inc. recently received $31 million in venture capital which they will certainly use some of to create an even better piece of software to make your life easier.
Editor's Comments: On the wireless web, you could call me a frequent flyer. I regularly use my Vx equipped with an OmniSky wireless modem to surf the 'net. Prior to AvantGo 3.3 most of it has been with Proxiweb. 3.3 drastically improved the overall speed of the browser and added a nice status bar at the top that lets you know how many bytes have been downloaded. Finally you can cut and paste in the open URL dialogue and you can use the date book and address hard keys for the forward and back functions. The online web improvements to AvantGo are excellent, but I'll still keep Proxiweb around when I need to use bookmarks. -Ryan
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