If your Android phone has a limited pay-per-megabyte data plan, or if you often find yourself trying to get online in areas with a weak cellular signal, Opera Mini is a solid choice for Web browsing. However, if you want to watch Web videos in your browser, you can skip the rest of this review–Opera Mini doesn’t handle that. (You can still download videos and view them in a separate media player app.)
Still reading? Great, because Opera Mini transforms the typically frustrating mobile Web browsing experience into a productive one. The developers at Opera have put a great deal of thought into what makes a good mobile Web browser, with an eye to the inherent constraints.
Much of the data contained in most Web pages is useless bloat for a mobile viewer. It wastes time, bandwidth (that is, money, if you pay for each megabyte of data), and your phone’s memory resources. Moreover, a lot of stuff just doesn’t work well on the small screen. Many Websites try to compensate by serving phones a dumbed-down mobile Web page–but frequently they end up going too far, leaving you with no eye candy at all.
Opera Mini uses server-side compression: It preprocesses your desired Web page on remote servers in order to optimize the content for the phone’s compact screen. The result is that you get a good-looking page that loads quickly, even in low-signal areas. Opera Mini accomplishes this without making your phone do the heavy work, so your handset doesn’t slow down at all.
The interface is simple and finger-friendly. A toolbar with buttons for Back, Forward, Windows, and Tools sits at the bottom of the screen. The Tools button slides up an eight-button menu with Bookmarks, History, Start Page (a configurable speed dial of frequently used bookmarks), Saved Pages, Downloads, Settings, Find in Page, and Help.
It’s worth noting that Bookmarks contains a section called Feeds, which is a built-in RSS reader. To subscribe to a feed, you just click the feed link, wait for the page to load, and click Subscribe. It’s not quite a one-click process, but it’s still pretty easy.
Opera Mini has a bookmark-sync feature called Opera Link. To use it, you must register at Opera’s MyOpera.com social networking site (you can do this using Opera Mini). You can access bookmarks via the Website, and you can also sync bookmarks from the desktop Opera Web browser.
Unfortunately, the sync feature is currently somewhat broken. Bookmarks synced from the desktop version of Opera go into the Web version of Opera Link, but they don’t go into Opera Mini. (Opera Mini bookmarks show up in the desktop Opera’s bookmarks, though.) You can log in to Opera Link with your mobile browser and view the bookmarks on a Web page, so all is not lost, but it’s an awkward way to access your desktop bookmarks. Perhaps a future update of Opera Mini will fix this problem.
Aside from the minor bookmark-sync bug, Opera Mini is a solid performer that makes the best of difficult mobile Web browsing situations.