The new Opera browser beta for Android was released last week. It's a fine looking mobile browser that allows you to access the web quickly and painlessly on a phone.
If you've looked for the new Opera browser on Google Play you'll have probably noticed there are now three versions of Opera for Android - Opera Mini, Opera Mobile, and this new one, Opera browser (currently in beta). You're probably wondering which version of Opera to download and what the differences are between these versions.
What's the difference between Opera Mobile and Opera Mini?
OK, we can kill one thing right away - Opera Mini and Opera Mobile are identical apart from one thing - Opera Mini compresses all web content to make browsing faster and to save on your data plan, and Opera Mobile doesn't. Though, to confuse things more, Opera Mobile does include a data-saving feature you can turn on called 'Opera Turbo', but it uses a different kind of compression technology than what powers Opera Mini.
In all other respects Opera Mini and Opera Mobile are the same. The user interface is identical and all of the features in Opera Mobile (barring Turbo) are available in Opera Mini.
But will Opera Mobile and Opera Mini still be around now that Opera browser has been released?
Opera has confirmed to us that Opera browser will supersede Opera Mobile. Though it's unclear when, Opera Mobile will disappear from Google Play, leaving a straight choice between Opera browser and Opera Mini.
So, how is Opera browser beta different from Opera Mini?
The new Opera browser beta and Opera Mini look pretty different and while they share many features, each has certain things that you won't find in the other. Here are some of the main differences in the way Opera Mini and Opera browser look and behave:
Arguably the most important difference between Opera Mini and Opera browser for Android is in the way pages are compressed. As I already said, Opera Mini serves you compressed versions of pages to make browsing faster and save the amount of data you use. Opera browser (like Opera Mobile, above) doesn't compress pages by default. However, it does have an 'Off Road' mode, which uses exactly the same compression system as Opera Mini - i.e. keep this turned on and pages will, in theory, load as fast as they would in Opera Mini.
The Speed Dial is your Opera home screen, giving you quick access to your favorite pages. The Speed Dial in Opera browser is slicker and more intelligent than it is in Opera Mini. It allows you to group site shortcuts into folders by holding and dragging icons on top of each other (just as you can do in iOS).
Instead of bookmarking pages (or 'starring' them as you do in Opera Mini), the Opera browser app stores all of your favorites within the Speed Dial. This can make for more clutter and seems messy at first, but once you get your head around organizing stuff into folders it becomes a smart way to store and manage useful links.
Slide to the right in Opera Browser and you'll see the 'Discover' section. This is a customizable hub for quick access to the latest news content. You can choose what kind of content you'd like to see here (entertainment, business, sports, health, lifestyle, etc.) The Discover section of Opera browser is well presented and feels a bit like reading a mini news magazine.
Opera Mini includes a similar - though more basic - feature, which you'll find on the Home tab of the start page. It automatically displays latest content from your favorite sites and social networks and suggests links to web content you might like.
The browser toolbars in Opera browser and Opera Mini look very different. The toolbar in Opera browser appears at the top and includes both the address bar, navigation controls, access to tabs and one-tap access to options.
Opera Mini on the other hand has two separate toolbars - one address bar with separate search box at the top, then another at the bottom of the interface with navigation controls, access to tabs and the options menu button. This makes Opera Mini appear more cluttered and doesn't allow you to view as much as the page as Opera browser does.
The options menu in Opera browser is better designed (IMHO) and feels a lot lighter than the black pop-up menu of Opera Mini, which dominates the screen when you call it up.
Another benefit of Opera browser over Opera Mini is that it has search built within the address bar itself (like Chrome), so you don't need to type a search in a separate box. Like Mini, Opera browser allows you to set a search engine from a range of options.
Both Opera browser and Opera Mini support tabbed browsing. The way this is implemented is quite different between the two, though.
Opera browser has a slicker tabbed browsing interface design, which fades down the page behind it and gives prominence to the tabs (more like Safari for iOS). Tabs in Opera Mini appear in a smaller window at the foot of the screen, and the preview thumbnails are much smaller.
Opera browser includes the ability to open 'private tabs'. If you add a tab in this way, the pages you surf to will not show up in your history.
User agent switching
Opera browser allows you to customize the user agent of the browser. That's to say, you can choose to view pages designed for mobile or desktop. This is useful if a site's mobile version is limited in options (Amazon, for example), or if you prefer the design of the desktop version.
What features are common to Opera Mini and Opera browser?
While the user interface is very different between Opera browser and Opera Mini, there are plenty of helpful browsing features that are common to both apps:
- Opera Link - allows you to synchronize your Speed Dial and bookmarks with all devices you use
- Download Manager - both tools allow you to view all your downloads in one place through a handy manager
- Accept cookies - you can choose to enable or disable receipt of cookies, which collect browsing data
- Find in page - lets you quickly search the web page you're looking at for a keyword or phrase
- Set image quality - when in compression mode, allows you to set the quality of image to save even more data
How to decide which version of Opera for Android is best for you
Now you have the facts about which version of Opera for Android to choose you can start to think about what you want and need from a mobile browser.
Of course, there's no substitute for trying out the application yourself, so the next thing you should do is download and road test both Opera Mini and the new Opera browser. Find out which interface is more comfortable for you to use and which are the features you really need.
It's worth bearing in mind though that the Opera Mini interface will no doubt be upgraded one day to fit the style of Opera browser. When this happens you'll have a straight decision of whether you want always-on page compression or a more flexible data-saving option like Opera browser's Off Road mode.
We asked Pål Unanue-Zahl, Communications Manager, Opera, which version of Opera for Android users should go for:
It depends. Opera for Android beta supports Android 2.3 and up, which is by far the most of Android devices on the market. If your phone runs anything lower than that, you may be better off with Opera Mini for Android phones. If you want the full-fledged browser, use Opera for Android beta. If you want constant data savings on your data plan while browsing, use Opera Mini.