Android app review: Opera Mini 4.2, final version

John Walton
Cell Phone Editor
| January 30, 2009

Opera has a great community. Their free blog network is tight, lively, and helpful. I regularly launch Opera on both of my home computers, though it's not my default browser. I love Opera Mobile, which I used daily when I had the Omnia and Touch Diamond for review. I'm not, however, a fan of Opera Mini. In researching it, I've read flame wars about which portable Opera is best, and some inconclusive debates about what the practical and technical differences are between the two. Here's what it comes down to for me: are you running a smartphone, or not? I am. And I want a browser to match.

Mini is a paramount Java app for feature-phones (non-smart). I will be updating the beta install on my wife's Behold with this release. The program out-does other feature-phone browsers on nearly all fronts, and if I hadn't bought a G1 I'd be using Mini today. Opera Mini can play videos, be skinned, and sync up the bookmarks and notes with the Operas on your other devices. In terms of data efficiency and speed, it sits at the top of the heap. In this week's final public version of the beta we first saw two months ago, Mini programmers have improved stability, speed, and overall performance. Version 4.2 added support for downloading files and other tasks that used to more clearly distinguish Mini from Mobile. The gap is a bit smaller than it was.

But What can I say? I spend most of my time using and writing about Android. I want to flick a page and watch it scroll, imbued with virtual kinetic energy until I stop it, it slows to a halt, or it runs out of content. I want to rapidly zoom and navigate around the original HTML that a designer intended for desktop viewing. I want fluidity. I want lots of features you just won't find on a dumbphone. I am spoiled. I have no complaints about Opera Mini as a feature-phone browser. It's killer in that respect. I just don't understand what it's doing in the Android Market.

Why an operating system as robust as Android should be dealt this diminutive shadow of the Norwegian program's hotter sibling is a question for which I can find no answer. I know that technical and legal issues usually abound in such situations; neither of which have I thoroughly studied within the Google/Opera context. I have tried, but discovered nothing authoritative. I ran into plenty of reviews and documents that confuse Mini for Mobile. If the latter were available for my phone, I'd likely be gushing with praise.

Considering what a rich stock browser the G1 ships with, I don't see the benefit of this release for anyone with a US T-Mobile account. An all-inclusive browsing plan is required for the G1. The lightweight Opera Mini could be a godsend for those who pay-per-kilobyte, as one of its primary functions is the redirection and compression of data. But I have (somewhat) cheap 3G and Wi-Fi. So you'll have to forgive my ethnocentric report, Opera team. I'm too busy splashing around in unlimited data to take the circumstances of others into account. Mini for Android... I just don't get it. If I wrote a review of the browser for Behold, I'd have a completely different perspective: I'd be whining about T-Mobile's proxy servers.

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