Android doesn’t have a dearth of browsers. But as they say, the more the merrier. Opera Software has just released Opera Mobile for Android – the more capable sibling of Opera Mini. “Android users now have a better choice when it comes to using a browser on their mobile devices,” said Lars Boilesen, CEO, Opera Software. “With Opera’s new browser for Android, we give users the opportunity to access the Web, using the best tools available”.
The folks at Opera Software were kind enough to provide me a preview release in advance. I have been using Opera Mobile on a regular basis for almost a week on my Xperia X10 (Android 2.1), as well as Chinmoy’s Legend (Cyanogen 6). Here’s my in-depth review of Opera Mobile. Please keep in mind that this review was done using a pre-release build of Opera Mobile. It’s possible that there might have been some changes in the final build.
As mentioned above, Opera Mobile’s biggest benefit over Opera Mini is its improved rendering capabilities. For example, it supports Geolocation, border-radius and CSS3 transitions. But, how does it stack up, when compared to other popular Android browsers? I compared it with Froyo’s stock browser and Firefox Mobile 4 Beta 2 (Fennec) to get an idea.
I started off with the Acid3 Test, which puts the browser’s CSS rendering capabilities through the paces. To my surprise, I found that none of the browsers managed to pass the test. Opera was the best performer, but by a fairly small margin.
Acid 3 Test: Higher is Better
Sputnik: Lower is Better
Finally I picked the HTML5 Test to check out how future ready these browsers are. This test suite includes 300 tests that cover a wide-range of HTML5 and other related technologies that are likely to gain prominence in the future. Opera for desktop performs quite poorly in this test. Unsurprisingly, Opera Mobile fared even worse, with Fennec almost tripling Opera’s score.
HTML5 Test: Higher is Better
The other critical factor when choosing a browser is speed. Opera for desktop is currently the fastest browser in the market, with a sizeable lead over Chrome. Does the mobile counterpart live up to Opera’s reputation? I tested this too, using Sunspider artificial benchmark.
Sunspider Test: Lower is Better
I used my friend’s Samsung Galaxy S (Android 2.2 – Darky’s Raw Steel) to run the speed tests. Sadly, Opera Mobile turned out to be a dud in the speed department. Not only was it slower than Firefox and the stock browser, but it was so by a huge margin. To be honest, the results took me by surprise, as I didn’t notice any speed issues during my regular browsing sessions.
(Update: The poor benchmark scores are due to the lack of JIT support in this build. Opera Mobile’s scores should jump considerably once that is uncorked. )
Opera Mobile’s interface is amongst the best I have seen in mobile browsers. In many mobile browsers, tabs almost appear to be an afterthought. Switching between them is often clumsy and time-consuming. Not in Opera Mobile. Features such as instant history navigation (pages from the history are opened instantly) and speed dials only adds to the intuitiveness of Opera Mobile. Other features we have come to expect from Opera Mobile and Opera Mini are also present in this build. Some of the notable ones are – password manager, bookmark and speed dials synchronization, search engine bar, in-page find, saving of pages, private data cleaner, download manager and more. Today’s release also introduces Pinch-to-Zoom support to Opera’s mobile products for the first time.
Unfortunately, there are a few serious issues with Opera Mobile that might be a deal breaker for many. First of all, the installation is pretty huge. In fact, with a disk space (ROM) requirement above 22 MB, it is the largest installed app I currently have on my handset. Also, if you switch to some other app while using Opera Mobile, the browser will quit and will be restarted when you return to it. This is actually not too different from the way other browsers work, and thankfully, Opera Mobile’s loading time is quite small. In fact, it’s actually less than half of Firefox’s loading time. However, the problem is that if you press the back button before the page has been loaded, Opera fails so remember it. Finally, possibly the biggest disappointment for me is the lack of any social feature whatsoever. You can’t tweet links, share webpages on Facebook, or send links via SMS. Adding this shouldn’t be too hard for any Android app developer, and by not taking advantage of the opportunities offered by Android, Opera Software is missing out on a trick or two.