Opera debuts beta WebKit-based browser for Android phones

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Less than a month after it announced it would switch to Google and Apple’s web-page rendering engine, Opera released its first beta version of its new WebKit-based browser, available for Android phones on Google Play.

Webpage display in the new Opera mobile browser

In February Opera said it would drop its closed-source Presto rendering engineand move to the technology used to display webpages by Google and Apple’s browsers, called WebKit. The Android beta release is the first step in the transition, with the iOS and desktop versions of Opera set to follow suit later this year.

By moving to open-source WebKit, Opera says it managed to make its browser faster, on par with Safari on iOS and Chrome on Android. It also says the company could now concentrate on producing new features for the new browser instead of developing Presto.

What's new

In the completely overhauled Opera browser beta, the Speed Dial home screen is where you can set up your favorite sites. Opera pulls the site’s logo, or a screenshot if there isn’t one available, and displays them in rows of four, similar to the home screen on iOS. You can also make folders as you do on an iPhone, by dragging website icons on top of each other to create a new folder.

The Opera Speed Dial screen

When you switch to the discover tab at the top, Opera aggregates—in a two-column format—photos and headlines from major news sources. There are several categories to flick through, including sports, technology, lifestyle, and news.

The new Opera for Android also has a download manager, so you can download media files, not just photos, to your phone.

You can stop and resume any file downloads in progress and open the files with supported handling apps on your phone.

Although the Webkit-based Opera beta is a full-fledged browser, comparable to Chrome on Android or the built-in browser, you can still use the bandwidth-saving feature previously found on the Opera Mini browser.

In the new version, this is called Off-Road mode, and it compresses websites through Opera’s browser before sending them to your phone in order to save on data consumption.

Opera's Off-Road mode

This feature is available from the drop-down menu at the top (tap the Opera logo), and it will also calculate the data savings when using this mode. Webpages might not look exactly the same when using Off-Road mode due to the compression technology, but it can help load pages quicker when using cellular data.

When browsing, you can save pages for reading offline later, and you can enable private browsing mode for individual tabs. The interface for switching tabs has also been refreshed with a carousel mode of the thumbnails for websites in open tabs. You can access the tabs interface from the button next to the omnibar (the combined URL and search file) at the top. To access your browsing history, you simply swipe the screen to right for a list of recently viewed websites.

There are several features missing from this release. These include the lack of a page-loading progress bar, text reflowing when you zoom in on pages, and no full-screen mode or bookmarks synchronization. But since this is a beta, following very quickly from the Webkit rendering engine transplant, Opera still has time to bring back some of the features its users loved in its previous versions.

This story, "Opera debuts beta WebKit-based browser for Android phones" was originally published by TechHive.

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