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REVIEW: ThunderHawk Wireless Internet Browser
Posted by Arne Hess - on Thursday, 23.05.02 - 17:10:00 CET under 08 - Reviews - Viewed 10309x
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Also this week, the long awaiting ThunderHawk web browser was released by Bitstream. This browser was announced for several months now and should revolutionize the mobile Internet surfing with a Pocket PC 2002.

Bringing the desktop browser experience to the Pocket PC
ThunderHawk gives you the same browsing experience on a Pocket PC as you are used to on the desktop. You can view the full text and images of any Web page without excessive scrolling. Because it does not rely on WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) or cHTML (Compact HyperText Markup Language), ThunderHawk does not require Web content providers to repurpose their content — or build one Web site for the desktop and another for the wireless world.

Leveraging Experience in Fonts and Font Technology
ThunderHawk comes from Bitstream, a world-renowned developer of font technology and high-quality digital fonts. By leveraging its expertise in font technology, Bitstream can display full Web pages on small color LCD screens (320 x 240) while maintaining full text legibility.

In fact ThunderHawk renders web pages to a size 0f 640 x 480 pixel in landscape mode without requiring any landscape rotation software. For a web site like PPCW.Net this will looks like this:
PPCW.Net at ThunderHawk with 640 x 480 pixel* PPCW.Net at Pocket Internet Explorer with 240 x 320 pixel*
PPCW.Net at PIE in landscape with 640 x 320 pixel* PPCW.Net at IE 6 with 640 x 480 pixel*

*Please note that this screenshots doesn't looks
100 % as it would looks like on the Pocket PC!

Basically ThunderHawk uses its own font to display the web pages in a better way and renders the pages up to 640 x 480 even on a 240 x 320 pixel display. The result is pretty good and most pages are really readable. Only very small fonts or small text graphics might become to small that that text isn't viewable anymore. However most pages looks pretty good and surfing the Internet with 640 x 480 makes even more fun than doing the same on a 240 x 320 pixel screen.


  • Brings full-featured Web browsing to the Pocket PC: Most browsers on wireless devices either repurpose rich Web pages into long screens of boring text, or show users only a peephole of a Web page. ThunderHawk is our breakthrough wireless browser that gives you full wireless Web browsing in your hands
  • Optimizes content going to wireless devices: You don't have to wait forever for pages to download
  • Displays full Web pages on small color LCD screens (320 x 240) using Bitstream font technology: You get the same Web browsing experience you are used to on the desktop
  • Uses the new Bitstream Wireless Font Set, hinted for color LCDs: You get text that is fine-tuned and rendered for the device, making the text easy to read

ThunderHawk appears faster on the screen because it compress the downloaded web sites and - more important for me - it downloads the viewable area only. This means that web pages/areas appears pretty fast on your Pocket PC; on the other hand scrolling through a website takes a little bit longer because the new area have to be downloaded. The positive site-effect of this is that the data transmission is reduced which is pretty interesting for a wireless usage.

ThunderHawk uses its own - for a Pocket PC user new/strange GUI (Graphical User Interface). So there is no more top bar available and also the keyboard is its own one. This means that you can not use transcriber or any other input methods but have to use this keyboard. Also a localized version isn't available so doesn't matter which language the Pocket PC is, it will use the US-American QWERTY layout.
The keyboard is activated with a hardware button and this opens the URL field to - above the keyboard. Also all navigation icons are located here that nothing disturbs to view a web page and gives the the full 320 x 240 pixel.

Unfortunately ThunderHawks doesn't run in the background which means that you can not switch between ThunderHawk and any other program. So it's not possible to switch from ThunderHawk to Inbox to Messenger and back to ThunderHawk without leaving it and re-starting it later again. If so, you lost the last page you've viewed and you have to navigate to it again, a little bit annoying if you found a page with a search engine. Also ThunderHawk doesn't provides any bookmarks or a history list (if you've left the current session) today - so you have to know where to go as you have to enter the URL every time again. This is something which is pretty strange for me, I would like to see that ThunderHawk accesses the PIE Favorites which would be the best convergence from my point of view. But to provide no bookmarks makes it hard to use.

I've tested ThunderHawk through W-LAN connections and via GPRS and with both it worked so it takes the connection which is available. Connection is the catchword: it seems as ThunderHawk always connects first to a ThunderHawk server. I'm not sure why it does it, maybe it's because a kind of speed-proxy but before you can surf anywhere, you have to wait that this site appears. This slows down the usage for sure and at least I would expect a personal portal in that case which I could configure with a kind of online bookmars.

The price of  ThunderHawk indicates that Bitstream plans something in that direction. It's not sold with a flat fee for the software but with a yearly fee. However, with 50 US$ for a 12 months subscription it's extremely expensive, specially because I have to subscribe for 12 months and I don't know what's happen within this time (maybe the follower of Pocket PC 2002 is released within the next 12 month, with a fully IE 6 compatible web browser and a 800 x 600 screen resolution - it's just a thought not a rumor!). So maybe I don't need ThunderHawk anymore or on the other hand I still need it but it's not supported on that Pocket PC. Here I would like to see a flat fee for a piece of software.

Final Conclusion

ThunderHawk is a great software and it's a step into the right direction as long as we are limited in the screen resolution of Pocket PCs and the flexibility of the built-in Pocket Internet Explorer. However, I miss some basic web browser features like bookmarks and history. Also I'm fastidious from Peter's MultiIE to surf on more web sites parallel and I'm able to open a link in a new window. Also tapping links doesn't works always accurate so in my tests I've directed a few times on other sites than I was intent to go.

The most deter fact from using it on my Pocket PC is the price. I'm not willing to pay 50 US$ for a service which I don't know what it includes today. I may would pay 50 US$ flat but not on a yearly basis. So what I would like to see is either that Bitstream would license its technology to Microsoft to be used in the original Pocket Internet Explorer or it is improved with missing functionalities and sold with a one time fee.

It makes me me a little bit sad that I will/can not use a real good web browser - where I surf the web so much wireless - because of a horrible expensive price.

Cheers ~ Arne

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Posted by Anonymous on 23.05.02 - 00:00:00

Great article, thanks! Thunderhawk still doesn't works on my iPAQ and as it seems I can stop all tries as I will not pay 50 bucks per year too.

Posted by Timor on 29.05.02 - 00:00:00

I totally agree with your conclusion, fifty bucks a year!!? (In the beta period the service fee was $39) What are they thinking?

I would imagine all of us who use their PPC wirelessly would want this browser, but at that price? I think not, baby puppy! Sadly though, the browser is built to access a proxy server, it cannot be used without that server (and a subscription), thus rendering it unusable for local files, and as you wrote, no bookmarks and alternative input option!!??

If they built a proprietary input method, one would think that also making the keyboard buttons configurable would'nt be that hard. Forget it!! I think this is something that a few guys (...can almost count them on my ten fingers) with money to spend, will use until microsoft get their act together and fill up PIE with today's standards.

I mean, give manufacturers another year, and we will see PPC's with high density screen and higher resolution, like on the new sony pda. Then this browser will die a most ungrateful death, and the select few who emptied their wallets will stand there with less money to buy that new PPC with.
I assume that the people who are interested in this browser are PPC die-hards with top models and lots of accessories. I for sure is one, but I have to draw the line somewhere, and I'm most dissapointed with Thunderhawk, as I've been waiting for it's arrival for over a year now, and bitstream couldn't figure out a better business model than this?!

As I said, I'm just gonna wait for it's ungrateful death, and hope that the future holds something better.


Posted by Anonymous on 11.08.02 - 00:00:00

Have you seen this as an alternative?

I've installed the demo after thunderhawk totally failed on my ipaq, and it's superb - much better than PIE, uses the same bookmark locations though so what you bookmark in one is available in the other, renders to html4, css2 etc etc, and makes web pages look oh so much better. Only downside is that I can't see an option to turn off images, and there's no rotate screen option. You can, however, use the integrated keyboard to the OS, so handwriting recognition etc is all there. Overall I'd definately recommend it - took me ages to find an html4 compliant browser for the PPC so I feel obliged to spread the word!


Posted by rob on 12.10.04 - 19:08:34

The $50 per year makes sense if you stop and think about how the browser works.   It is a service provided by Bitstream servers which allows the rendering of web pages so efficiently for the PDA.    This service is constanly being upgraded and supported by ThunderHawk developers.   This makes a subscription model more sensible.  what's the cost?  less than $1 per week?  is that really too expensive?

How much are we asked to pay per year for our Virus protection?  How many viruses do you catch compared to web pages that you look at?

i think the $50/year is perfectly reasonable


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