PC users might be surprised to learn that they can have a bit of the same magic by installing Apple's Safari 4 Web browser. It has some very cool iPhone features like the cover flow menu animation. You can download Safari 4 for PC, for free, from Apple’s Web site (apple.com/safari/download).
Safari will run on any Windows XP or Windows Vista PC with a 500-MHz Pentium-class processor or better and has at least 256 MB of RAM. The Top Sites and Cover Flow features require a compatible DirectX 9.0 video card with 64MB of video RAM. Safari occupies about 27 MB of space on your hard drive and installation is simple; follow the prompts.
You can install Safari with or without Apple’s QuickTime plug-in. QT allows you to play Apple proprietary formatted, multimedia content. You can also choose to install Bonjour, a discovery utility that finds and automatically configures printers, scanners, and other devices on your network.
I installed and tested Safari on my HP 2133 Mini Note (netbook) PC, alongside the latest versions of the Google Chrome and Internet Explorer Web browsers. Let’s take a look at some of the neat new features Safari has in store.
Probably the two sexiest features in this latest version of Safari are called Top Sites and Cover Flow. Top Sites displays your Web favorites as thumbnails (see Fig. 1). The thumbnail previews are not static images; they reflect the latest content being displayed on that Web site.
When you first start up Safari and select Top Sites, it displays thumbnails of preloaded content. After you’ve used Safari for a while, it adds Web sites to this collection based on your browsing habits. To navigate to a page, simply click on its thumbnail.
Click on the “Edit” button in the lower left corner and you can “pin” Web pages so they will always appear in the Top Sites view (Fig. 2) or delete them so they never appear there. You can also move the thumbnails around within the view and adjust the number of them that are displayed (Small=24, Medium=12, Large=6).
You can use the Edit >Preferences menu to select Top Sites as the default view when opening a new tab. This makes it easier to open and peruse several of your favorite Web sites for the latest content.
Cover Flow is an animated, 3D user interface integrated into a number of Apple products. It gives the user the experience of flipping through graphical representations of songs, albums, Web sites, photos, videos, and documents to find and select one.
Safari 4 now includes Cover Flow as an optional way to rifle back and forth through your browser history and bookmarks. In this viewing mode, thumbnails of the pages are stacked on the left and right edges of the screen, and the selected page is displayed head-on in the center (see Fig. 3). You can use the slider at the bottom, or the scroll wheel on a mouse to flip through the pages. You can also click on any of the pages in the left and right stacks to display them head on. Click on the center image to display the full Web page.
Both the Cover Flow and Top Sites features functioned decently on my netbook, but there was a little jerkiness and hesitation with the animation. You should compare the program’s minimum requirements (listed previously) with your computer’s specs to make sure it is robust enough to handle it. Fortunately, you can turn these features off. Even without them, Safari is an excellent browser.
Scrolling and zooming
Safari 4 gives you a zooming experience that is closer to the “pinch and spread” zooming found in the iPhone. The catch: you have to have a PC with a trackpad or touchpad that supports gestures. If you have a laptop or netbook with a Synaptics touchpad, you can enable gestures on some models.
The touchpad on my HP 2133 does not support the pinch and spread gestures, but it does allow you to use gestures to scroll through pages and even “coast” down a long page (i.e., the page continues to scroll after you’ve finished the gesture). It also worked with the Cover Flow features mentioned previously, though I had to set the scrolling sensitivity to its slowest setting to be effective. (Using a mouse scroll-wheel was actually a little easier.)
Safari 4 also provides zooming through keyboard shortcuts (CTRL +/- is the default), and an option that lets you zoom in and out only on the text in a Web page. Both Chrome and IE8 also have a zoom feature similar to the one found in Safari, though they lack a text-only zoom mode.
More great features
For this review, I focused on the animated features found in Safari 4 that are somewhat similar to features found in the iPhone and iPod touch version of Safari. In addition to these, there are some other great Safari 4 features worth mentioning. It allows:
- Tabbed browsing, a “smart address field” (i.e., it predicts and suggests words as you type), and a history search.
- RSS news feed aggregation, browsing, and reading.
- Advanced Web technologies like speculative loading, CSS Effects, and Acid 3 test compliance.
- Windows Native look and font rendering.
- Nitro, which is purported to be the fastest Java script engine available.
I did notice that it could be a bit sluggish loading and displaying wide ones and those requiring a lot of scrolling. Also, it would be have been neat if it could display individual RSS feed posts with the Cover Flow interface, so you could quickly browse through each post. The full-page zoom feature could also use more zoom level settings.
All things considered, Safari 4 performed as well as Google Chrome on my HP 2133 Mini Note PC and will probably become my browser of choice. Chrome is good if you want a simple, easy-to-use browser. Internet Explorer is chock full of social networking features. But neither browser is as sexy as the new Safari.
To learn more about this mucho, cool Web browser, visit Apple’s Web site (apple.com/safari/features.html). To read my more detailed review of Safari 4, visit the iPhone Life blogs (iphonelife.com/blog/97/bring-power-iphone-browser-your-pc).