Chrome might be the most popular browser around, but it’s not the only one based on Chromium, Google’s open-source project. Rival browsers also rely on the same code.
That competition often dangles unique features to tempt users into switching, but Opera long ago caught my attention with the sheer number of goodies stuffed into its browser. In fact, I abandoned Chrome for years because of Opera. Flexibility, efficiency, privacy—the creators seemed to know exactly what I wanted.
Even though I’ve since started using Chrome again, Opera still holds a powerful place in my heart. I still use it daily as part of my multi-browser habits, both on desktop and mobile. Why? Here are the top 10 reasons—and I still left a few off the list to keep this article from spiraling out of control. (For other alternatives, check out our guides to killer Firefox, Edge, and Vivaldi features that might lure you away from Chrome.)
I actually squeaked in excitement when I first read about Opera’s mouse gestures. Like keyboard shortcuts, these enable faster navigation while browsing, but they’re even more seamless. You don’t have to take your hand off your mouse.
With just a click on the right mouse button and one or two small mouse movements, you can zip through the basics: go back or forward one page, open a new tab, reload the page, close the current tab, open a link in a background tab, or open a link in a new window.
After I turned on the feature, it took only a short time to learn the gestures. If you have wrist issues or trouble getting the gestures down, you can also enable Opera’s rocker gestures, too. These let you navigate back or forward one page by holding one mouse button, then clicking the other. (Right then left button for back, left then right button for forward.) That’s even faster to learn, and doesn’t require any wrist movement. Having so many options for navigation is a dream as someone with cranky hands and elbows—I usually mix rocker and mouse gestures with keyboard shortcut use.
Battery saver mode
The result of using battery saver mode? Opera claims up to 35 percent more battery life. Your mileage will vary in actual use, since most people’s browsing habits aren’t exactly the same each day, but it does help.
Constantly messaging in Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or Telegram? Or perhaps you often peek in on Instagram or Twitter? You can get quick access to these popular services via Opera’s sidebar. When active, a row of icons will appear on the left side of an Opera window. Click one to open a site in a window overlay.
In addition to staying up-to-date with your messages and social media feeds, you can also switch between workspaces (see below), peruse your personal news, hit up your most frequently visited sites, and scope out Opera settings. The list of options is preset, but you can tweak what appears. Overlay windows can also be resized to taste.
For me, being able to communicate over WhatsApp via a keyboard is the most useful part of the sidebar—messages are still run through encryption on a linked device, aka my phone. I’m also old enough to also appreciate the news feed, which is an RSS reader baked right into Opera. (RIP, Google Reader.)
Upgraded tab hover cards
Ever hover your cursor over a tab in Chrome? You’ll see what’s called a tab hover card: It lists the full title of the tab, along with the URL of the site.
Opera has this feature too, as you might expect from a fellow Chromium browser. But it does Chrome one better—underneath the tab title and URL is a list of all other open tabs related to that same website. You can then click on items in that list to jump to that tab.
This addition to tab hover cards is extremely helpful whenever I, a person confident she’s clicking on the correct tab among her many squished options in the window, is absolutely wrong. (Turns out that was not my /r/aww tab, but /r/hardware.) Instead of having to click around until I find the tab I wanted, or bringing up the tab search feature, I can hop directly to my desired tab. It’s just one more way that Opera pours on extra navigation options to reduce life’s little hassles that much more. I’m a big fan.
You can add a third-party ad-blocker to Opera, but you don’t needto. Opera bakes one right into its browser. This feature is available on both desktop and smartphones, but it’s particularly handy on mobile if you prefer a Chromium-style browser and thus Firefox and its support for extensions won’t do, or if you’re wary of installing a third-party iOS ad-blocking app. It also simplifies remote technical support; no need to explain how to install and manage a third-party extension. With Opera, you just download the app and activate its ad-blocker to keep the worst parts of the internet at bay.
Do you like to have different browser windows open? (Perhaps to better separate out tabs dedicated to work and personal?) But does having multiple windows open also result in a navigational headache? You might just love Opera’s Workspaces.
These operate similar to how virtual desktops work in macOS and Windows. Each workspace holds whatever tabs were opened while active in it, and you can bounce between workspaces quickly via Opera’s sidebar.
In truth, if it weren’t for this job, this feature would make switching to Opera very seamless. I live a multi-browser life partially to better keep my writing, research, and communication organized. (And then I use other browsers for social media and personal things.) Chrome may have profiles, but I don’t need to have complete separation between my bookmarks, history, and other settings—just my tabs. And Chrome’s tab groups can still contribute to window clutter, though just not as intensely.
It’s a small thing, but Opera’s start page can display links to the sites and extensions you most frequently hit up in a tidy grid format. It’s a design feature now found in other Chrome rivals (hi, Firefox), and for good reason—you can immediately get on with your daily routine. If something’s not on the auto-generated list, you can also add a manual entry as well. I love this for the visual ease in navigating to an oft-visited site (e.g., Twitter), rather than having to find a link in my bookmarks bar.
Auto-blocking of trackers
Opera takes privacy and security seriously—and as part of that, it keeps websites from tracking your browsing activity across the web. As all tracking blockers warn, this feature can break websites or otherwise cause them to not function properly, but you can easily toggle the blocker on and off.
Like the other built-in privacy features, you can still use your own third-party app for the same purpose (like Ghostery or Privacy Badger), but having this accessible from the moment you install the browser is simple and less work. I appreciate the time savings, since I don’t need to have an account for syncing extensions on new Opera installs. (I work with a lot of different computers over the course of a year.) It also results in less explaining when providing remote tech assistance. Just download, setup, and go.
As I mentioned already, I still follow RSS feeds for sites, in order to keep up breaking news and other developments within various topics. And while not perfect, Opera’s built-in feed reader helps me stay on top of a few select ones I particularly focus on.
It’s dead simple to use this RSS reader—you can choose from some suggestions, peruse Opera’s top 50 list, run a search for a site, or manually add a link. (Be sure to include the https:// part of the link, otherwise Opera won’t recognize it as valid.) On occasion, a feed won’t show thumbnail images for articles, but generally it works well.
You’ve probably already heard of virtual private networks (VPNs), and how they shield your online activity from prying eyes. People sharing your connection can’t monitoring the sites you visit and the information you share, which you want to especially ensure on public networks.
Usually, the best option for a VPN is a paid service (see our top recommendations) but not everyone can afford a regular subscription. Opera solves that issue by offering a built-in VPN that protects your browsing activity without requiring a separate app or extension. The service is 256-bit encrypted, with no bandwidth limitations, no logging, and worldwide servers. Not bad for a grand total sum of $0.
Of course, if you need to guard yourself while using apps outside of Opera, its VPN doesn’t extend that far. You’ll need a good standalone free VPN for that. But for any browsing, Opera’s solution is supremely convenient.
And there’s still more…
Opera has other features that further boost its appeal, but perhaps not everyone will think them special enough to be called out. They still matter though. Reader Mode lets you transform busy, visually cluttered webpages into clean, legible sets of text and relevant images; Chrome extension support means you’re not actually giving up anything by switching; and Opera is far less of a resource hog.
But if this list of awesome features still leaves you cold for whatever reason, there are still other alternatives to Chrome you should check out—maybe Firefox, Edge, or Vivaldi might float your boat instead.
Alaina Yee is PCWorld's resident bargain hunter—when she's not covering PC building, computer components, mini-PCs, and more, she's scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.