Lately, Opera Software has been in the news a lot, but, most of it hasn’t been about new product launches. It kicked off a firestorm of debate on the interwebs with its decision to ditch its own rendering engine in favor of Chromium flavored Webkit, it raised eyebrows by acquiring Skyfire, and it continued to focus on new sources of revenue by promoting innovative initiatives like the Opera Web Pass. Today, however, it has something new for its fans.
The Norwegian browser developer has released the first beta of Opera browser for Android, which it touts as the “result of a passion for design combined with 17 years’ worth of know-how and innovation”. As you might have noticed, Opera has dropped the word ‘Mobile’ from its name. With the new name, Opera Software is following in the footsteps of Google and Mozilla, and is indicating that the mobile browser is no less competent than its desktop counterpart. It also signifies the new beginning of Opera’s efforts in the mobile landscape.
Opera browser for Android looks and feels like an entirely different beast. It bares little resemblance to Opera Mini or Mobile, having taken oodles of design cues from both iOS and Android’s Holo design conventions. The new tab page now consists of three distinct sections – History, Speed Dials, and Discover. As always, the speed dial feature shows visual bookmarks of your favorite and most accessed websites; but, now, it is also supports folders and custom titles. The discover feature showcases popular and interesting content from your selected region and topics.
Many of the existing features, including the neat download manager, find-in-page, private browsing, and user-agent changer are still present. Opera Turbo also made it through. However, it is now being called the Off-Road mode. Once you enter this mode, your webpages are routed through Opera’s servers where they are compressed to save bandwidth and also speed up surfing on slower networks. The new user interface prominently highlights the data savings that you have achieved through the Off-road mode. Another handy feature is ‘Save for Later’, which can save entire webpages so that you can continue reading long articles on flights without Wi-Fi. The biggest missing feature is Opera Link. Currently, the only way to access your saved speed dials, bookmarks, and notes is through the web interface.
I haven’t benchmarked the new browser, but it feels fast and snappy (not that Opera ever felt slow). Cold start times have noticeably improved, but Opera still seems to be taking a second or so more than Chrome. Panning and zooming is still fast and fluid, but the engine change seems to have nuked Opera’s ability to reflow text.
Opera for Android supports Gingerbread (Android 2.3) and above. As Opera Software points out, this is important as 45% of Android users are still on Gingerbread. Needless to say, this is an early build, and might be unstable or might not work at all. But, as far as first impressions go, I am impressed.