Article updated 5/2/08 at 8:00am with additional information.
The youngest mobile browser to hit the scene can do quite a few more tricks after this week's feature-enhancement and bug-fixing release.
At the request of testers enrolled in Skyfire's closed beta program, version 0.6 has included several housekeeping functions. There are the basics of pasting a URL or search term, deleting bookmarks, and beefing up the soft-key menu with a shortcut to search the current Web page. There's also the highly demanded security nod that disguises passwords as you type. Though this hasn't caught on to the text field on the T-Mobile Dash I was using, Skyfire's CEO and co-founder Nitin Bhandari has assured me that experience is atypical and the feature is expected to work on most Windows Mobile phones, including other T-Mobile Dash handsets. (There may be an issue with my phone's configuration that Skyfire's tech team and I are in the process of working out.)
The zooming features, so crucial to reading in full-Internet mode, have also been enhanced. Double-tapping and -clicking will now zoom the screen in and out (in addition to using the Back key.) Additionally, Skyfire has relaxed a stringent return to default settings across Web pages and settings. Now, persistent sound, zoom, and SmartFit settings will carry from one URL and session to another. Touch-screen users can also achieve variable levels of granularity by clicking and dragging to resize the zoom box. On both touch screen and non-touch handsets, using the 1 and 3 keys moves you through four levels of magnification.
In addition to the zooming and maintenance work, Skyfire has paid attention to text. Instead of a single line of entry with a maximum of 256 characters, users can now type in up to 2,000 characters on multiple lines of text for any text field, making lengthier blog authoring or form-filling possible. Newly added support for predictive text will make inputting text faster and less nerve-wracking, too.
Finally, folks with 12-key and half QWERTY Windows Mobile phones will now also be able to surf on Skyfire with or without a virtual keyboard. The former feature in particular readies the browser for mass-market Symbian phones, which Skyfire has told me will debut when the beta opens. The combined changes in this 0.6 update give Skyfire a much better footing as the clean-looking application develops, though it has miles to go before being pit against Opera Mini in any meaningful way. Perfecting flash video playback would be one key victory.
Beta users should act fast to download the 0.6 upgrade from Skyfire's site. According to a statement, both 0.5 and 0.55 releases time out on May 7th and users will lose any bookmarks and cookies created after April 30. Skyfire is still technically accepting beta testers, though newly signed-up users may be months away from access.