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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

Mobile Browser Testing With Real Devices

I’ve been fairly thorough with my desktop browser testing for several years now, using a wide range of browsers spread across virtual machines, but recently decided to improve my mobile browser testing facilities. Although I think some people overstate the importance of mobile web usage, it’s undeniably growing and crucial to some projects.

Although I experimented with emulators, they’re cumbersome to set up and glitchy in use, and can’t give you an overall sense of the user experience (speed, display size/quality, touch events, etc.). So I opted for physical devices, and with careful purchasing choices built up a collection while keeping the cost down. Here’s the current line-up:

iPhone 4S
The phone I have anyway.
iPad 3 - sorry, I mean “new iPad”
I’m not yet sure if I have a tablet-shaped hole in my everyday computing life, but needed one for testing anyway as it completely dominates the tablet market.
Nokia Lumia 710
This device has its irritations (physical buttons are poor, battery life not great), but Windows Phone 7.5 is an interesting & original OS.
Samsung Galaxy Ace
A solid, decent-value smartphone running Android 2.3. It sadly won’t be getting an official v4 upgrade, like many/most Android phones still being sold.
iPod Touch 3rd gen.
Basically the same spec as an iPhone 3GS (but slimmer), and running iOS 4 for testing (can run v5).
T-Mobile Rapport
Cheap’n’nasty (worst screen I’ve ever seen on a smartphone) but I got it for next-to-nothing for Android 2.2 testing.
Novo 7 Paladin 7" tablet
A Chinese import running Android 4; I wanted to include an ‘oddball device’ with a different form factor.
BlackBerry Curve 3G
Currently running BBOS 5 but will be upgraded to 6 ASAP. RIM is seemingly doomed to irrelevance, so I doubt I’ll need any more of their devices.
Nokia C3-01
The cheapest low-end wifi-enabled device I could get, and primarily intended to show the worst-case scenario of mobile browsing. The mobile phone shops still selling this for £100+ (and suggesting it to upgrading customers) should be ashamed of themselves.

Ideally, I should add a modern, large-screened Android 4 phone, but I’ll have to see how the prices descend from the lofty heights of £450+.

A few tips for anyone looking to do the same kind of thing:

  • Devices don’t need to be unlocked, or even have a SIM card in them, you only need wifi.
  • When buying recently-released devices, PAYG phones from the network providers are often cheaper than eBay etc.
  • Be very cautious and patient when buying from eBay, steer clear of listings/sellers that don’t seem squeaky-clean.
  • You can’t cover every permutation of hardware and OS, so prioritise (start with iOS 5 & Android 2.3) and be realistic with your budget.
  • Get the most out of the devices, e.g. take them to meetings so that clients/colleagues can try them out and learn about mobile technology.

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