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Sat, 9 Apr 2011

Review: Terra web browser for iPad

I'm going to post a detailed review of the iPad at some point, but for now, here's a review of Terra, a third-party web browser.

Of course, underneath it just uses the same libraries as Safari, and so will render pages in the same way, because Apple, in their wisdom, don't allow third-party renderers. Even so, it's a dramatic improvement over Safari. The Safari page-rendering engine really isn't that bad, Readdle have just wrapped a better user interface around it.

The iPad's built-in browser has two huge flaws: the first is that it doesn't handle multiple pages well, presenting them in much the same way as the iPhone browser does. On the iPhone, which doesn't have room for multiple tabs, that made sense, but on the iPad leaving out tabs is just plain stupid. It's especially stupid when you limit the number of pages that the user can have open at once, although that bug can be fixed if you jailbreak your device. I have jailbroken my phone, but not the iPad, partly because there's less need to, but also because the iPad jailbreaks aren't quite as robust, and the third-party software that you then get to install is also not as robust on the larger device.

The second huge flaw in the iPad's implementation of Safari is uterly inexcusable. It's been a standard feature since the very first days of the World Wide Web, 20 years ago. I refer, of course, to being able to find text in a page. Why Apple didn't bother to implement this is beyond me.

Terra has neither of these stupid flaws, and is therefore infinitely better.

The only problem I've found with Terra is one that is beyond Readdle's control: that you can't make it the system default browser, so that third-party apps will open pages in Terra instead of in Safari. And for this reason alone it doesn't get five stars. It's still, of course, well worth downloading and using, especially considering that it's free.

Readdle are also responsive to users' queries. I've already asked them for a new feature, the ability to somehow save pages and transfer them to other devices. I'm told that they've already added it to their to-do list.

Posted at 23:33 by David Cantrell
keywords: electronics | software
Permalink | 3 Comments
Wed, 20 May 2009

Wolfram Alpha: what a load of rubbish

Wolfram Alpha is the shiny new knowledge search thing from the makers of the excellent (if mis-spelled) Mathworld. It claims to be a "computational knowledge engine".

It fails.

The first three things I tried searching for it got hopelessly wrong.

First, my name. Apparently "David" is a surname. So it displayed some basic stats for the David and Cantrell surnames, although uselessly limited to some far-off foreign land. What it should have done is say "that's not something I can use in computation".

Second, my date of birth. It correctly parsed 1973-11-28 as the 28th of November 1973 (I was expecting it to calculate 1973 minus 11 minus 28, which would have also been correct) but then let itself down terribly in the date formats department. It displayed the stupid middle-endian 11/28/1973 (it should have detected my preferred language, which my browser told them was en-gb, and so displayed 28/11/1973) but that's not too bad an error. However, in the "more formats" section it has all kinds of ridiculous calendars and formats, it even has the "star sign" (something that is the very antithesis of knowledge coming from a "computational knowledge engine" - nice!), but it doesn't display the date normally anywhere on the page. Predictably it also ignores my preferred language when I ask it about 10/7/2000. But this time it does at least acknowledge that I might mean the 10th of July. However, it should have picked that up automatically, or at least displayed both interpretations. And it is amusingly inconsistent that it acknowledges the existence of DD/MM/YYYY in one place but not others. Internationalisation fail.

Finally, my parents' home town. It picks the right Bexhill out of its database unlike Google which, until quite recently, thought I meant a town in New South Wales even when I used google.co.uk. But it thinks it's a city. FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL FAIL. Not only does it not have a Charter, but it also lacks all the other attributes that are popularly and traditionally associated with cities - namely a cathedral, a large population, and a university. It gets even stupider if I ask it about my home town. It thinks that both Thornton and Heath are surnames, and the link to "use as a city instead" provides data about a town (called Thornton) and a village (called Heath) in Foreignistan. The closest it can get to what I meant is the villages of Thornton (in Fife) and Heath (in Foreignistan). EPIC FAIL. Again, what it should have done is say "that's not something I can use in computation".

Posted at 11:06 by David Cantrell
keywords: software
Permalink | 0 Comments