Yahoo has just taken up arms in the mobile browser race. Axis, its new browser for iOS devices (and a plug-in for desktop browsers), reimagines the surfing experience by eliminating the middleman in search--the text-heavy results page. Instead, it lets you leap smoothly from query to page, query to relevant page via thumbnail-centric interface. Better yet, it lets you sync your bookmarks and history across devices, and share pages with others. Should this browser replace Safari in your dock?
There's not much effort required to set up Yahoo Axis on an iPhone or iPad. After we downloaded the free 3.7MB app to our iPad and accepted the Terms of Agreement, we were brought into the main UI and could immediately start browsing. However, if you want to take advantage of the syncing capabilities within Yahoo Axis, you must log into the browser using Yahoo, Facebook or Google credentials. We tapped on the gear icon in the lower right corner of the browser to access these different sign-in options.
Though Yahoo already has a dedicated toolbar in many popular desktop browsers, the Axis plug-in goes a step further and adds a search bar across the bottom, which expands to full horizontal length when you mouse over it. The Axis extension is supported on Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer 9 for both PC and Mac. Similar to the mobile version, we had to sign in to activate the syncing feature across our devices.
There is virtually no learning curve with Yahoo Axis. The dual-purpose URL/query bar sits at the very top of the app, and left and right arrows let you move backward and forward through your browsing history. When you start typing in the query bar, Axis automatically starts the search and presents a horizontal tile of links just below, with each result displayed as a thumbnail preview of the website. We swiped to see more results, and at any time while we were surfing, pulled down on the page to reveal the same search results.
When we spotted a search result that seemed to satisfy our query, we simply tapped on the thumbnail preview, which expanded to fill the screen. If our search result brought up a video clip, we weren't able to play it right from the preview--we had to open the website in the main screen first.
To the right of the arrows is a Share button, which allows you to share the current page via email, Pinterest or Twitter. However, other social networks were conspicuously missing, Facebook being the most glaring exclusion.
The star icon (also on the top navigation bar) let us quickly save our current Web page to one of our bookmark folders. Two folders come preinstalled, Read Later and My Favorites, but you can add your own.
Finally, tapping on the bookmark ribbon at the edge of the top nav bar activates a slide-in panel, which contains a thumbnail view of bookmarks, arranged in a grid and by folder. Bookmarks are sortable by date or name, and tapping on the pencil icon on the upper right corner of the app let us drag the thumbnails to organize them according to our preference or delete them.
One feature placement we found odd is the location of the browser's tabs in the lower left corner of the app. We prefer to see tabs up top. As with search results, tabs are presented as large thumbnail previews.
On the iPhone, Axis' interface is redesigned to fit the smaller screen nicely. The tweaked UI moves nonessential elements--the left and right browsing arrows and the Share button, in particular--to the bottom nav bar instead of across the top of the app.
Despite having to work with less screen real estate, however, we didn't notice any glitches within the app. The result pages loaded with all the complete buttons, text and images in place, and our swipes and taps on the different UI elements registered accurately.
Axis' desktop toolbar favors minimalism over flashiness. The gray toolbar sits out of the way in the lower left corner of your browser. In compact form (while you aren't hovering over it), the Axis toolbar contains a single search field, a star icon (for quick bookmarking), and a home icon to jump into a full-screen view of your personalized Bookmarks page (where your Read Later and My Favorites categories are also housed).
When moused over, the toolbar expands horizontally across the entire length of the screen and two more functions appear toward the far right: a login button (to gain access to your synced bookmarks), and a bookmark ribbon, which brings up tiled thumbnails of your bookmarks. Within this feature, you can create new bookmark folders, edit the existing bookmarks, arrange them by either date or name, or search through them using a blank field in the upper right corner of the expanded view.
You can also click on a blank space anywhere on the expanded Axis toolbar (i.e., while you're mousing over it) to quickly launch a tiled thumbnail view of search results at any point while you're surfing.
Axis utilizes Safari's core rendering engine, Webkit, but we found that Safari generally loaded pages faster.
We queued three websites--the full LAPTOP Magazine, the New York Times and CNN's mobile website--and tested them on both Yahoo Axis and the stock Safari browser. LAPTOP Magazine's homepage loaded 0.97 seconds faster on Safari than on Axis, The New York Times 7.4 seconds faster on Safari than Axis, and CNN Mobile 5.8 seconds faster on Safari compared with Axis.
Otherwise, Axis' performance was pleasingly stable. The browser never crashed; it was responsive to our touch; and panels slid in and out smoothly.
In addition, syncing worked as advertised: It was nice being able to move from iPad to iPhone to desktop and have our same tabs open and browser history in tact.
Not surprisingly, Axis seems to favor Yahoo-centric websites. Type anything connected to a Yahoo asset--"photo-sharing" or "finance"--and Axis' first result will always be the Yahoo counterpart (Flickr and Yahoo Finance, in these instances).
Yahoo's Axis browser is a viable alternative for users frustrated with Safari's shortcomings. You get more intuitive search, better social integration and bookmarking that syncs across mobile devices and the desktop. However, Yahoo's biggest obstacle is one which it cannot help: Apple's barring of any third-party app to become the default browser within iOS. This means that any link you try to open within an iDevice will automatically launch Safari, no matter how much you'd like to use Axis as your main browser. But for users in want of a novel way to get search results and share them while browsing, Axis is well worth the free download.