File Under: Mobile, Software & Tools

Opera Mini Grows Up: New Beta Looks and Acts Like Desktop Browser

Opera has a released a new beta version of its Mini web browser, arguably the best mobile browser for Java-capable phones, especially those with limited memory and processing power. This first beta release of Opera Mini 5 features an all new, much slicker interface and brings some very useful new features as well, including tabbed browsing and Speed Dial.

In fact, this release of Opera Mini is much closer to a desktop browser and even borrows a few features from Opera’s recently updated full-size browser, Opera 10. Mini 5 beta 1 includes a password manager system and Speed Dial, both borrowed from its desktop sibling, as well as new tabbed browsing features.

Perhaps the most useful feature in Mini 5 is the new Speed Dial support, which works just like the desktop version, offering a grid of nine thumbnail images so you can quickly launch your favorite sites. Given the awkwardly small keyboards on many phones, Speed Dial alone should spare you plenty of painful thumb typing, and the handy preview images are certainly a step up from the previous effort, which consisted solely of text links.

The tabbed browsing in Opera Mini 5 is also quite handy, making it much easier to jump between pages. A small row of thumbnails makes it easy to move between various open tabs without the jarring page load animations you’d find in Mobile Safari, for example.

Like its desktop sibling, Opera Mini’s overall look has been revamped as well. The primary navigation menu now resides at the top of the window and is simply a list of icons, which cuts down on screen real estate. There’s also a nice a new “Find in Page” search tool, which highlights keywords in the current web page.

Opera Mini is also considerably smarter when it comes to touchscreen versus keypad devices, automatically adjusting to the features of your phone.

Opera claims that Mini 5 beta is considerably faster than its predecessors, though the company didn’t offer any specific numbers. However, as always, Opera Mini compresses web pages before they’re sent to your phone. Serving pages via proxy, according the company, means as much as a 90 percent decrease in page size and generally serves to make Opera Mini leaps and bounds faster than most existing mobile browsers.

Opera takes this route because its Mini browser is built for the widest possible range of Java-powered phones, which means many of the installations may be on phones that are less powerful than smartphones like the iPhone, and also may be in areas where bandwidth is difficult to come by. Opera Mini is also popular among owners of older or cheaper phones — if you have a more capable phone, chances are you’d run the more robust Opera Mobile, which is closer to full mobile browsers like Mobile Safari or the Android browser.

But svelte software still has its appeal on any device. Blackberry fans will be happy to know that the latest version of Opera Mini supports several unique-to-Blackberry features, like opening links from other applications and Blackberry’s built in copy-and-paste functions.

As always, Opera Mini is free download, which you can grab by pointing your phone’s existing browser to http://m.opera.com/next. Keep in mind that this is a beta release and there may be a few glitches here and there.

If you’d like to see the new features in action, but aren’t keen to download beta software on your phone, check out Opera’s promo video, which shows Opera Mini 5 beta in action of various phones:

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