Chromium Flavored Opera for Android Released

After spending a little over two months in the beta-zone, Opera for Android is now ready for prime time. The Norwegian browser maker has published the first stable version of Opera with Chromium rendering engine to the Play store.

Opera for Android is a major revamp for the popular mobile browser. Under the hood, it ditches Opera’s Presto engine in favor of Google’s Chromium rendering engine, which itself is based on WebKit. The biggest advantage of Opera for Android is that it supports Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) and up. Chrome for Android on the other hand requires at least Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0). This is crucial as almost 40% of Android users are still on Gingerbread. Opera also mentioned that it intends to “stay closely in sync with the Chromium development cycle, doing frequent updates”. This might indicate that Opera intends to move away from feature driven release cycles to schedule driven rapid release cycles like that of Chrome and Firefox. Google has already announced that it will be forking WebKit to create its own rendering engine called Blink, which Opera will also be adopting.

In addition to everything that Chromium 26 supports, Opera for Android also features some additional ‘standardsy goodness’ like WebGL 3D context and CSS3 @supports. Another new feature is background playback support for native HTML5 audio. You can start playing a song on Soundcloud, switch to a different tab or even a different app, and the audio will continue playing. You will be able to control the playback from the notification area.

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Opera for Android also features a complete revamp of the user interface, which is now more in line with Android design guidelines. It adds a new speed dial with folder support, a discover feature with latest news and updates, a combined search and address bar, and an off road mode. Off road mode is the new name for Opera Turbo, which compresses web pages to save bandwidth and improve browsing speed on slower networks. Some of the major features that didn’t make it to this release include Opera Link (sync) integration, custom search provider support, and access to about://flags. Support for tablets like the Nexus 7 and the Nexus 10 is also missing.

[ Download Opera for Android ]

First Beta of Opera browser for Android with Webkit Impresses

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.

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Opera for Android: Off-Road Mode

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.

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Opera for Android: Redesigned 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.

[ Download Opera for Android Beta ]