Rhodri Marsden: Cyberclinic

Why do mobiles struggle to cope with the internet?
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The Independent Online

REPORTING A NET LOSS

Why are mobile phones still so bad at retrieving and displaying even the most simple information from the internet?

Using your mobile to go online is like crossing the Atlantic in a fridge-freezer; it's the wrong size, the wrong shape and better suited to other uses. The Cyberclinic inbox filled with tales of frustration. "Sites fail to load properly," writes Nina Regis. "It's slow, it's expensive, and about as satisfying as being attacked by ants."

Websites often look terrible or fail to load at all on mobiles. The screen isn't wide enough to deal with a standard column width (468 pixels), but also, web technology is obviously focused on computer-based browsing. "Pages with Javascript tend not to work," Janet McKnight says, "so I can't use eBay on my mobile."

Significant progress, however, has been made by Opera Mini, a mobile browser that offers speedy access to normal websites. "It's very clever," says Anthony Chapman. "It resizes pages and scales down images, saving time and money on data transfers."

Squeezing pages down a mobile phone connection is problematic. Most phones use GPRS, which has a typical speed of about 5k per second, but as data is often given lower priority than speech traffic, transfers can slow to a trickle. Some sites cope better than others: "Google usually works fast enough to allow you to cheat at pub quizzes," McKnight notes.

Phones with 3G connectivity can almost reach broadband speeds (about 50k per second) but at a cost. Even the GPRS service is pricey. "Finding a cinema's phone number took 10 minutes, and cost more than I spend on texts in a fortnight," writes Clare Nightingale.

She's not alone: I've often found it easier and cheaper to spend £1 texting All Questions Answered on 63336 than try online research. But, last week, T-Mobile removed metering on its 3G service and slashed the cost of accessing it by more than half to £19.99 per month; hopefully this will lead to cuts across the board.

Until then, our experiences will no doubt mirror that of Liam John: "I tried to e-mail the Cyberclinic from my phone to see how easy it was. It was hopeless. I gave up."

Diagnosis required

Next week's question comes from Chris Dickson:

"Established wisdom says that you get more computer for your money the longer you leave it before acquiring one. But is now a good time to buy a computer? How can anyone ever tell?" Readers' comments, and questions for the Cyberclinic, should be e-mailed to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk

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