Thursday, October 8, 2009

Opera Mini 5 beta review

The famous mobile browser Opera Mini has advanced to version 5. The new version packs awaited new features and a totally re-done user interface, making it indeed an exciting release.
Test device: Nokia 5800 Xpress Music (31.0.008)

The browser is known for its fast speed as the pages you surf are first compressed up to 90% on the Opera servers before being sent to your phone. This enables the use of the browser even if the fastest 3G reception or data plan is unavailable to you. Because of the overall comfortableness of the browser however, it is a likely choice even for the mobile browser that enjoys the benefits of fast 3G reception or WiFi.

First things first
The reviewed Opera Mini version 5 is still in beta, but all in all this release seems very mature although glitches do appear here and there. The first thing you will notice is the completely re-done user interface that resembles the Opera browser's PC counterpart. The look is now more graphics intensive and consequently the browser feels a bit sluggish compared to earlier versions.

Most Opera users will recognize the new Opera Mini start screen. It is very much like the start screen of the PC counterpart, where you can set up to 9 quick links to websites you frequently use. I chose to quicklink GMail, BBC News, my work webmail login page (not really visible here), Facebook, (Finnish newspaper) and YouTube among a few other personal sites. If you enter a web address incorrectly to the start screen, you will get the "Error!" message you can see in one of the quicklinks in the screenshot. Even after correcting the link it still shows the same message.

New QWERTY keyboard
Instead of using the traditional S60 5th Edition on-screen software keyboard, the new Opera Mini browser sports its own qwerty keyboard. The keys are to me somewhat iPhone-esque and do add coherence to the overall look of the browser. However, like I said before the heavier graphics have resulted in a bit more sluggish browser and this sadly affects your ability type on this keyboard as well. Tapping the on-screen keys can have a bit of a delay, although you can now enjoy the clarity over where you are typing on the screen similarly to physical (qwerty) keyboards.

The blue colour indicates which button has been pressed to get the different characters out (except the "Go" button, naturally). Differing from the the traditional S60 5th keyboard, pressing the "shift" key or the "arrow up" results in all following letters being upper case until the arrow is pressed again. This efficiently removes the automatic text formatting of upper case letters after periods or exclamation marks.It's really no big deal, but I like it when my phone makes me appear aware of punctuation even though I really might no be. The keyboard works in landscape mode (screenies) and in portrait mode.

General use
Strengths of the Opera Mini browser for me have been smart realigning of text to "snap" the screen to the text and a simplistic yet functional appearance. For some reason, with Beta 5 they've taken a step in the wrong direction. Text is generally larger on the screen in this version and with the addition of a few tool bars the impression of the browser is now somewhat more crowded. This means that you will be swiping the screen a little bit more, but as the browser isn't as efficient at centring the view on the text, it can get a bit frustrating. Below I've provided a couple of screenies of surfing on the web, including a situation where pressing a text link to a news article threw the view completely off the text, showcasing this common mishap.

On the left I've placed a screenie showing how much is visible on "normal" font size settings of a webpage and below is the same page in a normal internet browser. On the right is a screenie of the "text displace mishap".

Sorry for the bad screenshot of, Blogspot didn't allow me to get a bigger one in.

Tabs, sweet tabs
Opera Mini now supports tabbed browsing (YES!). One of my main griefs with the native browser in Nokia's S60 series phones is the difficulty to tell how many windows are open at one time, and in which window you are in, in relation to the other windows.

Some versions of Opera Mini 5 beta on other operating systems beside S60 5th edition seem to support only a maximum of 3 tabs (I think it was a few Blackberry models), but at least my 5800XM performed and consented to operating with 4 tabs open and really I saw no reason why it couldn't do more. Somewhat surprisingly open tabs didn't seem to affect the performance of browsing, so this function is one of the strong points of the browser. Anxiously awaiting the N900, this very feature was on top of my reasons as why to upgrade to the Maemo-based smart phone of late 2009.

Other delicate details & verdict
In this browser "back", "forward", "refresh", "tabs" and "options" icons are constantly available. Also, scrolling to the top of the screen will get you to the browser bar where you can type in your next web address. All this adds to the functionality and simplicity of Opera Mini 5 setting it apart from other mobile browsers. Although at times menus can seem a bit corrupted, everything works and I trust that this will be fixed in the final launch.

Opera Mini 5 beta also boasts an account manager, meaning that it will save your login details for you if you wish. Apparently it is also possible to save web pages onto your device, but for this I can think of no real reason. Come to think of it, I've hardly ever saved web pages onto my hard disk on my PC, why would I want to do it on my phone?

Around the time of updating to Opera Mini 5 beta, I started using my phone with the SIM-card of my 3G modem with an unlimited data plan and very fast transfer rates (3Mbit/s being the theoretical max.). Now that speed hasn't been an issue, I've moved back to using the native browser of my phone as my primary browser for these reasons:
- Faster text input on the native on-screen QWERTY keyboard I'm used to.
- Broader support for different types of web pages, encryptions etc., including YouTube (!) which doesn't really want to work with Opera Mini 5 Beta.
- The native browser's a bit more "zoomed out" from the page, making it easier to read pages.
- Smarter text alignment.
- The 5800's quick drop-down menu sports the native browser. :]

All in all, Opera Mini 5 beta seems to be a bit of a step backwards in functionality, but the user interface is simply superb and full of innovation (at least on the mobile platforms). The new on-screen keyboard was a great idea and I would use it if only it were a little faster. The problem with text alignment is for sure a problem of the beta version and will be tweaked as this worked fine in the previous version Opera Mini 4. As we wait for increased website support (read: YouTube) Opera Mini 5 beta will reclaim it's place as simply the best mobile browser out there. Tabs, start screen, overall look being mint quality, I think Opera Mini 5 could be one version launch away from perfect.


More information and a download link can be found at:

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I have no financial or other connection to Opera Software ASA except as a user of their software.

Copyright ©2009 Christopher Peake