How much faster is the Symbian Anna (Web 7.3) browser?

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A new version (7.3) of the Web application ships with Symbian Anna and is also available for selected older devices, via firmware updates. The UI updates are easy to see, but what about the performance improvements from the updated browser engine and other under-the-hood changes? In this feature article we look at how much faster Web 7.3 is compared to Web 7.2 by sharing the results of some comparative browsing tests between the Nokia C7 and the Nokia X7.

Web 7.2 versus Web 7.3

Nokia's Symbian devices ship with the Web application for browsing the Internet. Up until recently, all Symbian^3 devices, most S60 5th Edition (Symbian^1) devices and some S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2 devices shipped with version 7.2 of the Web application. 

Symbian Anna, announced in April of this year, introduced version 7.3 of the Web browser. Hence it is commonly referred to as the Symbian Anna browser. It is currently shipping on the Nokia E6 and X7, is now available for a number of S60 5th Edition and S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 2 devices through firmware updates, and will be available in August for all other Symbian^3 devices (N8, C7, C6-01, E7).

Thanks to an update to the underlying WebKit engine in Web 7.3, web standard support is improved, with initial (basic) support for HTML 5, expanded support for CSS 3, and JavaScript 1.8. Support for International Domain Names (IDNs) and also support for non-ASCII characters such as Arabic or Chinese is also added. Nokia Developer provides a technical overview of Web 7.3 here, which contains additional information about the changes from Web 7.2.

Web 7.3 also comes with a new UI. An address/search bar sits at the top of every page, but is also available, at any time, by tapping or swiping down from the top of the screen, and makes it faster and easier to enter URLs. At the bottom of the screen there are two floating buttons, which give access to navigation ('back') and additional browser functions respectively, making it quicker to navigate between pages and maximising the use of available screen space. 

Both the WebKit engine update and the new UI contribute towards an improvement in browser speed in day to day use. Other changes, most notably an improvement in the use of caching, also make a difference. Anyone who has used Web 7.3 will tell you there is a performance improvement, but is it possible to put a figure on this? To find out, I ran some tests to compare page loading times between Web 7.2 and Web 7.3. I used a Nokia C7 and Nokia X7 respectively; although these are different devices, they share the same underlying hardware, so any substantial performance differences will be down to the software, rather than the hardware.

How I tested

The Nokia C7 and X7 were tested over the same WiFi connection (4 Mbps ADSL) from the same location (router about 1 metre away). Each website was loaded in turn by typing the URL into the address bar. This was repeated five times with the highest and lowest times discarded and the remaining times averaged to give the results below. The testing methodology was designed to replicate real world usage conditions, rather than aiming for the fastest possible results, while still maintaining a valid comparison.

The methodology used did allow for the use of caching. This does give Web 7.3 an advantage, as it makes better use of caching than Web 7.2, but the updated WebKit engine also makes a significant contribution. The use of caching does reflect the reality of mobile browsing, where both multiple visits to the same site (e.g. news, search) and multiple pages (with common header and footer elements) on the same site are common.


Browser comparison results

Web comparison chart

From these results, it is possible to draw out a number of conclusions:

  • Web 7.3 loaded pages an average of 23.5% faster than Web 7.2 across the pages tested.
  • There's a significant variation in performance improvements across different websites, ranging from 30% slower to 44% faster.
  • In general, larger web pages (1MB+) show a greater performance improvement than smaller pages (<100kb).

Here are the tabulated results:

Site Nokia C7 Nokia X7 Difference Percentage 1.6 1.2 -0.4 -26% 22.9 13.1 -9.8 -42%
youtube.com5.4 10.9 7.2 -3.7 -33% 6.5 8.5 +2.0 +30% 20.6 14.9 -5.7 -27% 5.4 4.9 -0.6 -10% 33.7 18.7 -14.9 -44% 13.6 9 -4.6 -33%

You should bear in mind that these results should been taken as indicative only. It's not really possible to carry out a fully valid comparison on the live web, giving the dynamic nature of most pages and the constantly changing network and connectivity conditions. Moreover, it is increasingly common to serve up different versions of web pages to different devices and different browser capabilities may dictate whether some resources (e.g. JavaScript) are loaded or not. This may explain the result.

One of the things that the raw numbers do not show is the time when it is possible to start moving (dragging) around a half loaded web page. For both Web 7.2 and Web 7.3, this is usually about two thirds of the way through the page load, but this does vary. Web 7.3 seems to handle this better than Web 7.2, but is hard to measure this effectively, as at least part of this is due to improved page scrolling performance in 7.3 over 7.2.


The results clearly show that Web 7.3 offers faster page loading and rendering times than Web 7.2. Although the testing was done on the X7 and C7, the same should apply on other devices. A small testing sample comparing the N97 mini (upgraded to firmware v30 and Web 7.3) against the Nokia 5230 (using Web 7.2) showed a similar improvement (around 30%).

It is worth pointing out that it would be possible to use a different testing methodology and get a different set of specific results. However, the overall result - a 25% improvement in load times - does feel about right after using Web 7.3 in day to day usage over the last month or so.

Rafe Blandford, AAS, 14 July 2011