Review: Opera Mini 5 beta: New UI, tabs, copy and paste, better font rending

Opera Mini is a free internet browser written in J2ME. It will run on practically any mobile device on the market, and where it really shines is on mid to low end devices. What makes Opera Mini special is the server side compression technology that takes a website and adds some special Norwegian sauce to make it up to 90% smaller. I can’t imagine surfing the web without Opera Mini and that alone is one of the main reasons I stick to Symbian devices. There is no Opera Mini for the iPhone, and while there is a dedicated client for Android, I have not heard too many good things.

Before I talk about Opera Mini 5, let me go back to the first version of the software. On October 20, 2005 the first public beta of Opera Mini was launched in the Nordic countries (Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland) and the press release said it would allow full access to the internet on “700+ million Java-enabled mobile phones around the world.” Less than a month later the final version of Opera Mini launched in Germany, but anyone with a mobile phone that had a WAP browser was able to grab the application. On January 24, 2006 the application was formally launched, and by this point I’ve already fallen in love with it and discovered that my phone was able to do things other than call people or send text messages.

On May 03, 2006 version 2.0 launched, and with it came the ability to download files from the internet, customize the browser’s appearance with skins, use multiple search engines, and enable some pretty swish transitions. I was starting to use the mobile internet more and more and became increasingly frustrated with my mobile phone’s small and low resolution screen. This started making me research my options and it would eventually lead to the purchase of my first smartphone, the Nokia E61. That device, plus the incredible lack of Nokia coverage back in those days, made me start Ring Nokia in November 2006. A year later I got a job at IntoMobile and moved to Finland; personal history lesson aside, Opera Mini 3 beta also came out during the beginning of November 2006, and the final version hit the net on November 28, 2006.

Opera Mini 3 was fantastic, but it really didn’t offer anything new compared to the previous version. It was a bit snappier, and yes it had RSS, but how many people used RSS back in those days? It would take version 4.0 of Opera Mini, launched almost a full year later on on November 7, 2007, to get people’s attention. Opera Mini 4 was a complete rewrite of Opera Mini according to Johan Schön, Technology Leader, Developer and Architect working on the Opera Mini Project. With 4.0 came the ability to see websites like you would on your desktop. No longer would websites be reformatted into a single long column, the full web was now finally able to be access by almost anyone with a J2ME enabled mobile phone. This was powerful, and it is why I called it the application of the year.

I’ve been using a beta of version 5.0 of Opera Mini for a little over 24 hours now, and I’ve got to say that this is the best version of Opera Mini yet. Check out my review after the jump to see if it’s the right browser for you.

The first thing you’ll notice about Opera Mini 5.0, before even installing it, is the size of the application. While Opera Mini 4.2 is a 127 KB download, 5.0 is over twice that at 231 KB. Previous versions of Opera Mini were under 100 KB, so some long time users may think 5.0 suffers from the Vista syndrome, otherwise known as software that gets bloated with many unnecessary features over a period of time. This was not apparent during my brief usage period, but Opera Mini is starting to feel like it is growing up into something more mature and feature rich.

Once you’ve download and installed Opera Mini 5.0, and finally launch it, this is what you’re going to see:

Notice the new black background? Anyway, time to accept the EULA:

And here it is, the new home screen:

The speed dial is no longer a list, but instead 9 thumbnails of websites that you can assign. The search bar is now to the right of the address bar, instead of underneath. Both of these UI tweaks make Opera Mini 5.0 look like Opera 10 on the desktop, and that is obviously intentional.

Clicking “Menu” will change the UI even more:

You can now see the ability to add a new tab, go to the speed dial start page, go back, forward, reload, and exit the application. Click the down button on your directional pad twice and you’re presented with a nested menu:

Here you have access to bookmarks, history, saved pages, settings, the ability to search for a word on the website you’re currently on and finally help. Let us go to IntoMobile.com and see what happens:

The default font is a bit too big for my taste. Time to open up the settings and see what is possible:

By default images are enabled, yet set to low quality. I’m going to change that to high. Mobile view, which squeezes everything into one column so you don’t have to side scroll ever again is turned off by default, and I’m going to keep it that way. Full screen mode will let me see more content on the screen at once, and is off by default; that is being turned on immediately. Landscape mode is off because … well my E71 is already in landscape mode so I’m not going to worry. The font size is already set to small, but there is also a new option called “very small” that I’m going to select since I’m young and have perfect vision. There is also a new privacy menu:

It allows me to enable/disable the new built in password manager, the ability to accept cookies, and allow me to delete my history, cookies and passwords individually. I’m going to leave all of those to their default options. There is also an advanced menu:

I’m given control over popups, I can decide where on my device saved webpages will be stored, and I can enable/disable the built in text editor, and I can perform a network test. I’m going to leave all of these on their default settings. Now that I’ve changed the settings, Opera Mini is asking me if I want to reload all the open websites:

Obviously I’m going to hit yes, and here is what IntoMobile looks like now:

Notice how the font is now smaller, but still legible. For comparison sake, here is what IntoMobile looks like with Opera Mini 4.2:

Now yes, I know what you’re going to say, the “small” font option on Opera Mini 4.2 fits more text on to the screen than the “very small” option of Opera Mini 5.0, and while this may seem like a down grade, the smoother font rendering offered in 5.0 is enough of a benefit that I’m willing to ignore the fact that I’m going to be clicking the down arrow a bit more than usual. Back to the new features in Opera Mini 5.0, here is what happens when I press and hold the center button of my directional pad:

I’m given an option to select text. This works much like the iPhone:

After moving my cursor to where I want to begin selecting text, I hit start:

Then once I get exactly what I want I hit “Use” and am presented with this option:

I can copy the text, search for the selection with my default search engine, or select a search engine to perform the search with. Now this feature is a bit buggy at the moment. When it works, it works beautifully, but when it doesn’t you’ll often find yourself in a fit of rage trying to select that one word or phrase you actually want. The copy and paste is also a bit misleading since the text you select to be copied is not copied into the operating system clipboard, meaning I can’t copy text from a webpage, switch to the Notes application on my Nokia E71, and then paste the test. No, in Opera Mini 5.0 the text that is copied can only be pasted in to another field within Opera Mini 5.0. That’s a bit disappointing, but I can see a use case where I’m looking at a restaurant, copy the address, open a new tab, and then paste it into the Helsinki Journey Planner so I can get instructions on how to take the most efficient route using public transportation.

Back to the new features, how do you access a new tab? When in a page you can hit the menu button, then hit up and to the right, at which point you have another page:

Or you can long press a link on a web page and then select “Open in New Tab”:

How do you add a website to the new “Speed Dial” homepage? Simple, just click the empty square and either enter a URL or go to a website that is in your history:

Notice how small the thumbnail actually is:

That’s all there really is in Opera Mini 5 beta. There are a lot of features that are missing, and I don’t know if it is because of the beta status or what, but I can’t seem to find “Opera Link” which allows me to share bookmarks between Opera 10 and Opera Mini. I also can’t seem to find the ability to add a custom search engine. RSS is missing, which I know some people use. Most upsetting is the fact that I can no longer copy and paste from Opera Mini to other applications on my mobile phone. There have been multiple instances where I’ve seen a website I’ve wanted to share, added it as a bookmark, copied the URL from the bookmark menu and then pasted it into an email or tweet. Sounds like a kludge, but at least it worked. I don’t have that option any more.

This is a beta, so I’m willing to bet Opera will fix whatever bugs are left. I haven’t really discovered many in my testing, none at least that would make me second guess installing this application. Opera Mini 5.0 beta is fantastic and I can’t praise it enough. I seriously love this piece of software since it not only makes my web surfing experience better, but because it also makes the browsing experience better for millions of other people as well.

What are you waiting for? Type in m.opera.com/next into your mobile browser and rock and roll.

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