Opera Mini for BlackBerry review

Reviews Ryan Hamrick 08:56, Mar 22 2010

We review Opera Mini for BlackBerry, a browser that makes RIM's native browser cower in fear

For BlackBerry users, there are few things more frustrating than getting an email with a link in it, and not knowing for sure whether you'll be able to view it from your phone or not.

Maybe you're scanning through tweets and one of your friends posts a link. The inevitable LOL's ensue, and you can't help but wonder what you might have missed.

Sure, the native BlackBerry browser is great for a lot of things. In many cases, you can download files and save them to your phone, where with some other platforms, you would be forced to wait until your return to computer.

OTA's are another big win, in that you can download and install countless applications directly from a host's site over-the-air (OTA), instead of being restricted to working inside the constraints of a platform's application store environment.

Aside from that, however, there are few times when RIM's browser can even be considered on the same playing field as browsers from the likes of Android and the iPhone. Pages load faster with the other guys, images and layouts are richer, and you simply feel more like you're browsing from a computer than from some free-on-contract featurephone with WAP.

Enter Opera Mini. Opera has been making an alternate browser for the BlackBerry OS for years now, and for many, it has been a powerful alternative for users that occasionally needed something a little different and needed to ability to do some things that their native browser just wasn't quite cut out for.

Even up until a couple of weeks ago, Opera had a beta of its latest creation available for download. These betas were okay, and in many cases, provided the access needed to handle some of those one-off instances where there was just no other solution. But the last beta was also riddled with random crashes and often slow performance.

Last week, Opera announced that it had officially risen above beta status and was ready to pull back the curtains on version 5.0 of Opera Mini. I downloaded the new version (skeptically, truth be told), but wasn't really expecting much change in the way it operated.

My main reservation was that if I was lucky, perhaps I'd have a few less crashes and "white screens of peril" in day-to-day use to make it just slightly less cumbersome. Boy, did I underestimate Opera's intentions.

The first thing I noticed when launching the app for the first time, was that the loading screen you see upon opening it up from a completely closed state had changed.

Previously, in beta form, it was an all-black screen with a rather sizeable Opera Mini logo and progress bar. Now, it opted for a white screen with smaller graphics. This may seem ridiculously trivial, and it probably is, but perhaps it has something to do with load time and processing, because it does appear to bring me to where I need to be much quicker now.

Upon opening the browser you land at the start page; a sort of home page containing nine slots for easily setting up shortcuts to favorite pages, or as Opera still calls them, "speed dials". There's an address bar at the top, complete with a search box as well, that lets you choose your search environment from options like Google, Amazon, Wikipedia or virtually any other avenue imaginable via a "Manage search engines" link.

Probably the single most impressive change compared to the last beta release is speed. Previously, I at times found myself consciously thinking of what else I might be able to do after clicking a link to stay productive while the next page loaded. Not as much as I do with the native browser, but that mind set was still present.

Every shred of that way of thinking has been completely torn away with Opera's post-beta release. Not only did the application itself load quicker than before, but the browsing experience was not only usable, it was, dare I say -- enjoyable.

For the first time in recent memory, I felt liberated and excited for the next opportunity to click on a link with reckless abandon and see what delights the mobile web had in store for me. I found myself in that uncertain brain-freeze place where you know there are things you want to browse to, but you just can't think of where to start or even what any of them are.

For the first few days, I was literally trying to think of sites I could visit, not even really for the content, but rather just to use my handy browser again. In thinking about it now, the idea of an application, especially a web browser, having that kind of effect on me is pretty profound.

Tabbed browsing makes its presence again, and not much has changed here from previous beta releases, although tab switching and adding does appear that it might be operating a bit smoother.

Per Opera's usual M.O., you can change the image quality settings to improve either the speed or the quality of your browsing experience, depending on your preference. The "medium" setting, in my experience, provides a more than satisfactory quickness, while keeping images plenty clean and easily visible.

There is a lot of personalization to be had here, which makes for a truly customized and pleasant adventure. While the visual element of pages loaded with Opera may not be quite on par with the likes of the iPhone and, for instance, Google's Nexus One browsers, its speed and versatility make it a major contender.

It's also important to note that as with previous versions, Opera Mini on the BlackBerry Storm touchscreen series of phones does not utilize SurePress. Quite the opposite, in fact. A simple touch of the screen activates links and zooms in to pages, and depressing the SurePress screen often gets you a different result than you were aiming for, or in most cases, cancels out your actions completely.

Personally, I think users should have the option to lock up SurePress OS-wide and go all-touch if they so please, but especially with internet browsing, the need for a screen press can be a real pain.

The only real negativity I can find worth pointing out is that on rare occasion -- much more rare than before -- selecting "Open in Opera Mini" from the BlackBerry menu on a link sometimes just opens Opera Mini but doesn't actually take you anywhere. Instead, it opens as if you clicked on the Opera icon in your applications menu and starts from scratch. However, simply doing a full exit of the browser from the options menu and trying the link again remedies that problem every time.

For a free alternative to the native browser in dire need of an overhaul, there's really no competition. RIM is set to introduce a webkit browser of its own sometime in the near to not-so-near future, but until they do, and unless they knock it out of the park, Opera Mini is the way to go.

Opera Mini for BlackBerry (Version 5.0) info

Ease of use:

Platform: BlackBerry

Price: FREE

Developer: Opera Software

Website/Demo: http://www.opera.com

Download Opera Mini for BlackBerry by navigating to its OTA download page from your BlackBerry device.

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