Portal – Full Screen Browser ($1.99) by Light Pillar is a gorgeous full screen browser for your iPhone and iPod Touch.
Full screen browsers are nothing new, but sometimes it can be hard to make it right. Enter Portal – no, not Aperture Technology’s handheld portal device from the video game – a beautifully well-made full screen browser with a unique, slick interface.
Everything you do in Portal will be from the “portal” button that will be on the bottom of the screen near the home button. Even in landscape orientation, the button will remain in that spot.
The Portal button has three modes that you can access once you tap on it: Tabs, Navigation, and Actions.
The Tabs menu allows you to select out of eight available tab windows, and you can close the current one or close out of all of them in a single tap. Unfortunately, this is dynamic and cannot be changed – it will always show eight tabs and no less and also no more. It would be nice to see this change in a future update – to not always show the tabs or to allow you to have more in case you need them.
Navigation features the URL address bar, web search, stop/refresh, and back/forward as well as view complete back/forward histories. When you type in an address, there isn’t a suggestion list like some other browsers have, but if you are typing in part of a URL that you’ve gone to before, it will show up in the “search results” underneath. When you do a web search, you can specify which search engine you want to use out of the plentiful options provided.
Once you are heading to a webpage, the Portal button will have an orange progress bar that will show you the loading progress. I found that the app can sometimes be a bit slow on loading compared to other 3rd-party browsers I’ve tried, and even mobile Safari itself. I hope that this issue won’t remain in future updates, but it’s not an entirely huge deal. You can save images from the app as well by simply tapping and holding, which will save it to the Camera Roll.
The Actions menu has plenty of neat little features. It has the basics – you can add and manage bookmarks, access the app settings, print (using AirPrint), email the current URL, and even Find In Page. A unique thing with Portal is that there is a research mode that searches for and highlights details as you browse, with the criteria that you set.
Portal also allows for download management, which includes the popular file formats: ZIP, RAR, DMG, Torrent, ISO, and EXE files. You can also add more file types in the Settings.
Additionally, you can set multiple user profiles on Portal. This can come in handy if your friends or family always want to use your iPhone to check something online. Other than that, it’s not a practical need. If you need private browsing, Portal offers that too. Along with the ordinary settings that you can find in most of the other browser apps on the iOS platform, you can make Portal spoof itself as another browser, such as Firefox or Safari (iPhone, iPad, Desktop), or even Internet Explorer. There is a WAP option as well.
For it’s early stages, I found Portal to be a nice web-browsing experience for the iPhone. It does need some work, which should include the following fixes: not having dynamic tabs in the menu, faster page loading, the ability to add bookmarklets such as Instapaper, opening pages in background tabs, and an easy way to get the Portal button back.
I had it disappear on me once and I had to restart the app to get it back. Instructions to get it back without going this route are unclear. The app does require a bit more steps to access stuff though, which can be cumbersome for some users. It would be nice to be able to access stuff such as Bookmarks without having to go through about three navigation menus. If this bothers you, it might not be worth the purchase. However, if it’s not, you should find the app a pleasure to use as well as aesthetically.
For $2, it’s not a bad experience. The developers have the iPad version in the works that will have specific enhancements designed for the larger screen, so for those that want this for their iPads, stay tuned!