- Solid Flash support
- Fullscreen mode
- A few nagging interface issues
- Flash playback uses virtual desktop, which can cause some problems
Many browsers claim to offer Flash playback--something normally impossible on the iPhone and other iOS devices--but many of them do so with substantial drawbacks or incompatibilities. While it's not perfect, Photon offers the best Flash playback I've found so far on the iPhone. It may not be good enough for full-time use, but it should suffice for light use.
Related: Top Flash-Enabled iPhone Browsers
Solid Flash, OK Everything Else
Photon's main claim to fame, and its claim as to why you should use it, is its Flash support, so let's start the review there.
Photon doesn't actually install Flash on your iPhone (that wouldn't work). Instead, like CloudBrowse, it connects your iPhone to a remote computer that can run Flash and then streams that desktop session to you. This can involve some slowness and interface quirks in the best of circumstances; that's true here but neither issue is too serious. If you want to use Flash, you simply tap the lightning bolt icon in the bottom right corner of the app to initiate the streaming desktop session. Once you do that, browsing is largely standard.
Unlike many other Flash browsers (Puffin being an exception), Photon is able to successfully access Hulu, which normally blocks mobile browsers. Over 3G, Hulu videos are a bit choppy, with lots of pixels visible and audio getting a little out of sync. It's not terrible in a pinch, but not great. Over Wi-Fi, on the other hand, things are better. The audio issues and choppiness are gone, though some pixelation of the image is still evident. Think back to what streaming web video looked like 7 or 8 years ago and you'll have a sense of what the image looks like. It's acceptable for limited uses, but you won't get rid of your TV or laptop in order to watch Hulu full-time on Photon yet.
Video is one of the places where the remote desktop session can cause some problems, though. For instance, Hulu has some onscreen buttons that are accessed by running your mouse over them. But the iPhone doesn't have a mouse (even though the remote desktop adds one), so tapping to access those buttons can cause you to select items you don't mean to, like ads.
Besides video, the other major thing that people want Flash on the iPhone for is games. Photon was also able to successfully load most Flash games at Kongregate (though the Flash plug-in running on the desktop session did crash once).
While the games loaded fine, actually playing them can be a little tricky. For instance, some games require arrow keys to control the action, but since arrow keys don't exist on the iPhone keyboard, you're out of luck.
Setting aside its Flash support, Photon is a decent, but not spectacular, browser that's got some good features and some problems. On the positive side, it offers fullscreen and private browsing. On the negative, it lacks the .com button that Safari offers to reduce the number of buttons you have to push when entering new URLs (seems minor, I know, but it makes a difference), can't open new windows or tabs, and sometimes launches a little slowly.
While it's not the speed demon that some other iPhone browsers are, Photon can be pretty quick--and is certainly faster than Safari in some cases.
Speed on Wi-Fi
Speed is in seconds to load the full desktop (not mobile) page, Photon is listed first.
- Apple.com: 2 vs. 4
- CNN.com: 6 vs. 6
- ESPN.com: 8 vs. 6
- HoopsHype.com/Rumors.html: 4 vs. 5
- iPod.About.com: 4 vs. 3
Speed on 3G
Speed is in seconds to load the page, Photon is listed first.
- Apple.com: 7 vs. 11
- CNN.com: 9 vs. 9
- ESPN.com: 12 vs. 6
- HoopsHype.com/Rumors.html: 6 vs. 5
- iPod.About.com: 5 vs. 5
The Bottom Line
If you're looking for a full-time replacement for Safari, I'd look elsewhere for more full-featured browsers. But if you're looking for Flash support on the iPhone, Photon is probably your best bet. It's not perfect, and it's unlikely that you'll want to use Flash all the time via Photon, but if you need it for light use or in a pinch, Photon works.
What You’ll Need