File Under: Browsers

Reborn Opera Mobile Sings on Android

Opera old and new on a Galaxy Nexus. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.

Opera software has unveiled the first version of its new WebKit-based browser for Android.

The new WebKit-based Opera is not just different under the hood, for all intents and purposes this is a totally new web browser and, surprise!, it’s better than its predecessor.

If you’d like to take this beta for a spin, head over to the Google Play Store. The Opera Mobile beta requires Android 2 or better and, fear not, it’s a separate app so you can keep the old version around if you’d like.

Last month Opera announced it would be abandoning the Presto rendering engine that has been the basis of the browser since its inception. Instead the company will use the WebKit rendering engine for all its future releases, starting with this Opera Mobile for Android beta.

The revamped Opera for Android isn’t just different under the hood, Opera has redesigned the entire browser from the ground up opting for a more Android-native look. The new user interface is cleaner and reminiscent of Chrome for Android with a single menu button at the top of the screen rather than the space-eating toolbar found in the old Opera Mobile. While I prefer the new UI, it’s worth noting that the new design is decidedly less thumb-friendly.

Other cosmetic changes include combining the URL bar and search bar, and a new tab switching interface also similar to what you’ll find in Safari on iOS.

However, while the first WebKit-based Opera Mobile is clearly different it manages to retain, and even improve on, much of what made (makes) Opera unique.

For example, Opera Mobile’s trademark “Speed Dial” page has been revamped and is much easier to customize with your favorite sites. Speed Dial now looks and behaves much like the home screen on iOS. You can even drag your bookmarks and favorites on top of each other to create folders. The changes make it possible to fit more links in less space.

Opera Mobile’s new iOS-ified Speed Dial screen. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.

Also new in this release is what Opera is calling “Off-Road” mode — the data compressing power of Opera Mini is now available (when you want it) in Opera Mobile. Off-Road mode uses Opera’s servers to compress webpages before they’re sent on to your device. That means faster browsing on slower networks. Off-Road can even save you money if you’re caught roaming or running out of data on a limited data plan. Unlike Opera Mini, which always compresses pages, Opera Mobile allows you to toggle the Off-Road settings.

Opera’s simplified menu with “Off-Road” toggle. Image: Screenshot/Webmonkey.

Opera Mobile’s Save for Later feature can also save on bandwidth if you download pages for offline reading while you’re connected to Wi-Fi.

While there is much to love about the new Opera for Android beta, be forewarned that it is very much a beta. In my testing it was stable enough, but Off-Road mode frequently failed to render pages and there’s currently no way to sync your Opera Link data. Provided Opera works out the bugs though Opera Mobile is shaping up to be one of the best browsers on Android.