Opera is a long time developer of web browsers for desktop computers and mobile phones. You will find two types of mobile browsers from Opera, Opera Mini, which is Java based, and Opera Mobile that runs natively on mobile phones. A beta version of the Opera Mini 5 browser is now available in the Android Market for all versions of Android phones.
Image courtesy of Opera
What sets Opera Mini apart from the Android browser is that it uses a proxy server to compress data before it is sent to your phone, which can significantly improve browser performance. Opera claims that it compresses data by up to as much as 90 percent. The one caveat to this process is the dependency on Opera’s servers that perform the compression, if those servers don’t perform fast enough or are down, the browsing experience may not be as efficient as Opera claims.
There has been a version of Opera for Windows Mobile for several years that I have never stuck with because for some reason it hid the back button in another menu. Consequently, I was skeptical about whether I would like this version of Opera Mini for Android. I installed Opera Mini 5 on the T-Mobile myTouch 3G and I am happy to report that the Back button is right there on the toolbar, where it belongs.
I found browsing performance to indeed be much faster than with the Android browser. Text and pictures appear in the browser at the same time. When pages first load they are completely zoomed out so that you can see the entire web page, and you then tap a section to zoom in on that part of the screen. To zoom back out you tap the back button on the toolbar. My one complaint with browsing with Opera is that it seems to be too sensitive to my touch. Often when scrolling up or down with my thumb the page would move slightly to the right, sensing a horizontal scroll rather than the vertical scroll I intend.
Another nice feature of Opera is the ability to synchronize bookmarks, speed dials, and search history with the Opera desktop browsers, which helps with the problem of bookmark management. Bookmarks also synchronize between multiple mobile devices. You see an example of speed dials in the image above. Speed dials are bookmarks that appear in the browser home page, allowing you to quickly go to a page when the browser launches.
One downside is that Opera Mini does not support the pinch to zoom multitouch feature, so if you are used to using multitouch on a Nexus One, you may not like Opera Mini. Keep in mind, however, that the Android Opera Mini 5 is currently in beta so perhaps multitouch could be added in the future. In my brief experience using this browser, I can recommend it for people using any Android phone other than the Nexus One. On the Nexus One you have a trade-off between performance and multitouch, and you will have to decide which is more important.