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This chapter is from the book

Accessing the Browser

To surf the Web, you must have an application that acts as an interface: a web browser. Having deep roots in web usability, Android comes equipped with a web browser that's fairly intuitive to use. Accessing the browser is easy: Simply touch the Browser icon on the Home screen, as shown in Figure 5.6.

Figure 5.6

Figure 5.6 The Browser icon appears on the Home screen the first time you turn on your Android Phone.

If you've deleted your browser icon from the Home screen for some reason, you can also access it by opening the applications menu and then touching the Browser icon, as shown in Figure 5.7.

Figure 5.7

Figure 5.7 A Browser icon is also located in the applications menu.

Browser Controls

When opening the web browser, a new page automatically loads. So far, it's close to the same browsing experience that you've always had on your desktop or laptop computer. Navigation is similar, but is controlled by finger gestures and the scroll ball on the device.

The first thing that you'll notice as you're navigating a page is that as soon as you start to move the page around, a small set of controls appears in the lower portion of the web page. These controls, shown in Figure 5.8, enable you to zoom in or out of a web page, and to shrink the page to select a portion of it instead of scrolling from top to bottom or left to right, as shown in Figure 5.9.

Figure 5.8

Figure 5.8 Zoom controls enable you to zoom in or out on any web page. The cross-hair selector enables you to shrink a page and select a specific area of it.

Figure 5.9

Figure 5.9 You can shrink a page and select a portion of that page to jump to instead of scrolling through the whole page.

When you touch either the plus or minus sign to zoom in or out on a page, you'll notice that most pages reflow automatically. This means the content on the page redistributes to fit within the browser window and reduces the amount of left-to-right scrolling needed. It works on most pages, but it's a useful feature in a web browser.

Link Menus

In addition to these onscreen controls, you have some touch and navigation options. For example, when you're on a web page that contains web links, you can touch a link to navigate to that page, or you can long-touch that link to open a new menu of available actions. Those actions include the following:

  • Open—Opens the page.
  • Open in New Window—Opens the link in a new window.
  • Bookmark Link—Adds that link (not the page the link is on) to your bookmarks.
  • Save Link—Downloads a copy of the link to your download history. After it's there, you can go back and access the page offline when you're ready to view it. Note that when you choose this option, graphics won't display on the page when you load it.
  • Share Link—Sends the link to someone else using the email application that you have set up on your phone. You'll learn more about email on the Android Phone in Chapter 6, "Email Anywhere."
  • Copy Link URL—Copies the link address. You can then enter it into the web browser when you're finished looking over the page, or you can open a second page to open the link in.

Multiple Page Instances

You might have noticed that we referred to opening additional web pages. The web browser on the Android Phone doesn't have the tab capabilities that you've probably become accustomed to with PC-based browsers. However, it does have the capability to open multiple web pages as separate instances, similar to tabbed browsing. The difference is in how you access those pages.

To open a separate instance of a web page, you can choose that option from the link menu, as mentioned previously. Or use the following option, which works best if you're not following a link:

  1. With the web browser open, press the Menu key.
  2. Touch the Window icon on the menu that appears. You move a Current Windows screen, shown in Figure 5.10.
    Figure 5.10

    Figure 5.10 Your open browser windows appear on this page. You can have up to eight browser windows open at a time.

  3. Touch the New Window option. A new web page (also called a window) opens to your default home page.
  4. To switch between the two windows, use the same steps to display the open windows and select the one you want to view.

You can open up to eight browser windows at a time. When you reach eight, you won't have the New Window option again until you close one of the pages.

To close a browser window that you no longer need, just open the Window option and then touch the X in the bottom-right corner of the page that you want to close.

Go to URL

When you pressed the Menu key from inside the browser, you probably noticed several other options. One of those options was Go to URL. When you touch this button, an address bar opens at the top of whatever web page you're on, as shown in Figure 5.11.

Figure 5.11

Figure 5.11 Type a web address into the address bar or select from the addresses that are shown in the drop-down menu.

Below the address bar, a drop-down menu appears. This menu contains a list of all the web addresses you've visited since the last time you cleared the browser cache. It's easier just to select the address you need from the list than to open the keyboard and type it again if you're visiting a web page that you've visited in the recent past.

Search

One of the neat features about the Android phone and other Android-based devices is that you have a search window available without needing to open a web browser. On the Android phone, the search window is on the right side of the Home screen. You can't see it all the time, but if you sweep your finger to the left, the page scrolls and you see the search box shown in Figure 5.12.

Figure 5.12

Figure 5.12 A Google search box is built into the Home screen of the Android phone; you just need to sweep your finger to the left side of the screen to find it.

But what if you're already surfing the Web and don't want to close out of the browser to have access to search? That option is available in the Browser menu. Just press the Menu key from within the browser and touch Search.

The page that you're currently viewing dims and a search box opens at the top of the screen. However, when you type your search term into the box and touch the Search key, the search results replace the web page that you were previously surfing. A new window doesn't open.

One cool feature of both search options is that suggestive search terms appear as you're typing, as shown in Figure 5.13. Just begin typing the term that you want to search for, and the search bar begins suggesting autofills that might be appropriate. If you see the search term you want in the suggested list of terms, just touch it to perform the search.

Figure 5.13

Figure 5.13 As you begin to type a term into the search bar, a list of suggested keywords and phrases appears. The list narrows as you type.

The search on an Android-based phone, even the Android phone, is Google based. This makes sense, because Google is the driving force behind Android. But the Google search engine is also one of the easiest to use, and it returns some of the best search results on the Web.

Bookmarks

As you surf the Web, you're sure to find pages that you want to return to at another time. The browser has a bookmark option that you can find by pressing the Menu key.

To add a bookmark, press the Menu key. Then when the Bookmarks menu shown in Figure 5.14 appears, touch the New Bookmark option.

Figure 5.14

Figure 5.14 The Bookmarks page shows a list of the bookmarks you've created and an option for creating new bookmarks.

The Bookmark Link window appears, as shown in Figure 5.15. Enter a Name for the bookmark if you don't want the one that's suggested, and then check the Location to be sure it's the URL you want to bookmark. If it's not, you can change it. When you're done, touch OK to save the bookmark.

One option that you won't find on the Bookmarks page is the option to manage your bookmarks—rearrange, edit, and delete them. You can edit and delete them, but you can't rearrange them. The order in which the bookmarks appear in the window is the order in which you've entered them, from oldest to newest, and that's the only order option that you have.

Figure 5.15

Figure 5.15 Use the Bookmark Link window to create a bookmark for the page that you're on or for any other page that you know the web address to.

However, you have options to edit or delete your bookmarks. You can find these capabilities in the individual menu for each bookmark. To get to that menu, long-press the bookmark that you want to change or delete. A menu such as the one shown in Figure 5.16 appears.

Figure 5.16

Figure 5.16 Each bookmarked link has an individual menu that enables you to open, edit, and delete the bookmark.

More options appear on this menu than just editing and deleting. The full list of menu options includes the following:

  • Open—Opens the bookmarked URL in the same browser window that you're currently using.
  • Open in New Window—Opens the bookmarked URL in a new browser window, preserving the browser window that you're currently using.
  • Edit Bookmark—Opens the Bookmark Link window to enable you to edit the name or URL of the bookmark.
  • Share Link—Opens a Gmail message to enable you to send the link to someone else. Enter the email address of the intended recipient, add a subject and body text if you want, and then touch Send to send the message with the link included.
  • Copy Link URL—Copies the URL to the Clipboard so you can paste it in a different location.
  • Delete Bookmark—Deletes the bookmark completely. When deleted, the only way to add back a bookmark is to re-create it from scratch. When you select the delete option, you receive a confirmation message before the bookmark is deleted completely.

One last option on the Bookmarks page that you might find useful is the capability to bookmark the last page you viewed. From the Bookmarks page, press the Menu key. The option Bookmark Last-Viewed Page comes up. Touch that option to open the Bookmark Link window. As with creating a new bookmark, the bookmark information is already filled in. All you have to do is ensure that it's correct.

Refresh

Some web pages change frequently. For example, if you're on a web-based email page, new emails might be coming in at any time. However, on most pages that have changing content, either you have to wait for the browser to refresh automatically—usually that option is scheduled to happen every few minutes—or you can refresh the page.

In the Android phone's web browser, you can refresh at any time by selecting the Refresh option from the browser menu. Just touch the option and the page reloads. Then any changes appear that have taken place on the page since the last time it automatically refreshed or since you entered the page.

Additional Browser Options

One last option on the browser menu is the More icon. When you open the More option, it brings up a whole new menu (or submenu) of available options, as shown in Figure 5.17. Those options include the following:

  • Back—Takes you back to the previous page.
  • Forward—If you navigated back to a previous page, returns you to the last page.
  • Home Page—Takes you to your home page.
  • History—Shows a history of the pages you've visited. You can clear the history by pressing the Menu key while on the history page. The Clear History option appears; touch it to delete your entire history.
  • Downloads—Takes you to a page that displays your download history. Touch any one of the files to go to that file, or press the Menu key to open the options to Clear List or Cancel Download (if a download is in progress).
  • Page Info—Shows the title and web address of the page you're currently visiting. This information opens in a pop-up window. When you're done viewing it, touch OK to close the window.
  • Bookmark Page—Takes you to the New Bookmark page that you saw previously. This is just an alternative way to bookmark web pages.
  • Share Page—Opens a Gmail message with the URL for the current page included. Enter an email address, add a subject and any body text that you want to add, and then press Send to send the message with the link included.
  • Flip Orientation—Changes the orientation of the browser from landscape to portrait. You can also accomplish the same task by opening the slide-out keyboard. However, when you use the Flip Orientation option in this menu to display the browser in landscape mode, it remains that way even when the keyboard is closed.
  • Zoom—Opens the zoom controls for the web page. You can access the same controls by moving the page with your finger.
Figure 5.17

Figure 5.17 Additional browser options give you more navigation capabilities when surfing the Web.

Settings

A whole world of options is available in the Settings option within the More option of the browser menu.

An extensive menu appears when you touch the Settings option. It enables you to make adjustments to Page Content settings, Privacy settings, Security settings, and Advanced settings.

Page Content Settings

Page Content settings are pretty basic. The first option you have is Text Size. This enables you to adjust the text on a displayed web page to Tiny, Small, Normal, Large, or Huge. Just touch the text size that you want to use and then touch OK to set it. You might want to play with it to find the size that works best for you.

Your next option is Block Pop-Up Windows. Just place a check mark in the checkbox to the right of the option to turn on pop-up blocking, or remove the check mark to turn it off. Some websites require you to disable pop-up blocking to interact with the site, but we recommend that you keep pop-up blocking enabled unless you're on a site for which you know you need to disable it.

Phishers and other cybercriminals often use pop-ups to load malware to your system or to entice you to provide personal information that they use to commit identity theft.

Load Images is another option in the Page Content settings. This option determines whether images on web pages are automatically loaded. For the best web experience, enable Load Images; for the fastest experience, disable it.

In the past, surfing the Web on a mobile device was a painful process because you got either scaled-down pages meant for mobile surfing or pages that weren't made to display on small screens. The reflowing capability of the Android phone makes surfing the Web on your device a more pleasant experience. However, if you don't want pages that are automatically scaled to fit your screen, you can manage that feature through the Auto-Fit Pages option. Turn on the option to reflow pages to your device size; turn it off to show the original size of the page. Just be aware that with the Auto-Fit option turned off, you need to do a lot more left-to-right scrolling.

The capability to access JavaScript content in the browser is another Android phone feature that makes surfing the web more enjoyable. JavaScript content provides richer capabilities when searching online. However, some people worry that it can be a security risk. If you're one of those people, you can turn JavaScript off (or back on) using the Enable JavaScript option.

As you're navigating the Web, you might find it frustrating that pages opening in a new window appear in front of the page you were surfing on. Remember that you can switch between windows. You can also enable the Open in Background option to open new windows behind the page that you're currently visiting. This enables you to finish your surfing on the page that you're viewing before you're forced to move on to the next window.

The last option in the Page Content settings window is Set Home Page. If you have a favorite website that you want to use as your home page, you can set that up here. Just touch the option, and the Set Home Page window appears, as shown in Figure 5.18. Type the URL of the web page that you want to use as your home page into the box provided and select OK to save it. The next time you open your browser, you'll be taken to that page instead of the default home page.

Figure 5.18

Figure 5.18 Enter the URL for the web page that you want to use as your home page, and touch OK to save it.

Privacy Settings

Privacy is a big deal on the Internet, including the mobile web. You don't want other people to have access to your personal information or be able to track your movements while you're online.

The first three options in the Privacy Settings section of the Settings menu—Clear Cache, Clear History, and Accept Cookies—are options that you can use to protect your privacy. Touch Clear Cache and Clear History to remove past web pages and cookies from your browser cache. This makes it harder for others to track your movements online.

Enable or disable Accept Cookies to accept or decline cookie data. Cookies are small snippets of data that websites place in your browser cache to help them recognize you when you navigate to them. This is how Amazon.com always knows who you are, even when you're not technically signed into your account. It's also how many websites remember your personalization settings, and how they know what pages you visit while you're on their site. Declining cookies removes some of the personalization from your browsing experience, but it also keeps you safe if you're worried about your online movements being tracked.

If you want to clear your cookie data, you can select the Clear All Cookie Data option. This opens a confirmation window. Select OK to clear the data or Cancel to return to the Settings menu without clearing the data.

The final two options in this section of the menu relate to form data. Form data is the information that you enter into forms on the Web. This includes your name, usernames, passwords, addresses, and other information that might be requested when you're filling out a form online.

Entering that information from a mobile device can be time consuming, so the browser has the option to Remember Form Data. Select this option to enable it, or deselect to disable it. If you deselect the option, you'll need to enter form data each time you encounter a form.

You can clear the form data at any time by selecting the Clear Form Data option. When you touch this option, a confirmation window appears prompting you to confirm that you want to clear the data. Touch OK to clear it and Cancel to return to the settings menu.

Security Settings

You'll find only three options in the Security Settings section of the menu. Two of these options relate to passwords. You can choose to remember website passwords by selecting the Remember Passwords options, or you can turn off this option by deselecting it.

Because passwords change, you might need to clear the passwords that you have stored and reenter them. Touch the Clear Passwords option to remove all the passwords that you have stored. The next time you enter a password-protected website, you'll be prompted to enter your password again. But if you have the Remember Passwords option enabled, you won't be prompted to enter it on subsequent visits. Also, you'll receive a confirmation message before the passwords are cleared. Touch OK to clear the passwords and Cancel to return to the menu without clearing them.

The other option in Security Settings is Show Security Warnings. If this option is enabled and you try to enter a website that has problems with a security certificate, you'll see a warning about the site. When it's disabled, you'll receive no warnings. If you want to be sure that you always know the website you're surfing is safe, leave this option enabled.

Advanced Settings

The last section of the Settings menu includes three advanced settings that you might find useful. Two of the settings relate to Google Gears, a browser extension that enables developers to create browser-based applications that can run offline. For example, some databases can run within a browser, but Google Gears can make it possible to run that database within the browser, even when your device is not signed in online.

To enable or disable Google Gears on your device, touch the Enable Gears option. The other Gears option is Gears Settings. Touch this option to open a window that shows a table of the sites that you have granted permission to use Gears. At this time, Gears isn't commonly used, so your list might be small or even nonexistent (see Figure 5.19). In the future, however, as more developers take advantage of Gears, that list will grow.

Figure 5.19

Figure 5.19 The Gears Settings window shows a table of the websites that you have enabled to use Gears on your device.

The last option in the Settings menu is Reset to Default. This option clears all your browser data—including bookmarks, passwords, and all the settings that you have personalized—and returns everything to the original settings that your browser had when you first turned on the device. Use this option only if you're sure that you want to completely reset your browser. When you touch the Reset to Default option, you'll receive a confirmation message. Select OK to reset everything and Cancel to return to the Settings page.

The browser has more capabilities than you might expect when you first open it. But because Android is designed to take full advantage of the Web on a mobile level, you should expect no less. Still, some people find that the browser isn't quite what they're looking for. For those people, Opera Mini is available in Android Market as an alternative to the browser that's preinstalled on the G1. If you're an Opera user, you might be more comfortable with the Mini than with the Android browser.

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