Review: Opera Mini
If you’re constantly on a poor Internet connection, your signal is terrible or you’ve got a data plan that’s very small, Opera Mini could be your lifesaver.
Opera Mini is one of the oldest extant mobile phone browsers. It’s been on Nokia’s Symbian handsets since the time of the N95 and was the only way to get a web page to function properly on Windows Mobile (thankfully Microsoft have learnt their lesson with Windows Phone 7). Since then, it’s found new life on platforms such as iOS and Android.
Opera Mini might look like any other browser when you’re zipping around the web, but don’t be fooled, it has a secret weapon: data compression.
Where most browsers will handle websites by sending hundreds of individual requests from your phone back and forth to a web server to get all of its content, using up valuable battery cycles as it goes, Opera Mini uses vast data centres to handle those requests and pushes the content to your phone. That’s better for your battery life – fewer requests means less processing power is needed – and it’s good for data consumption. In fact, Opera Mini’s method of sending data to your device is so efficient, it can cut up to 80 per cent of the data use when opening standard web pages.
There are downsides to using Opera however: while its data compression means you get full web pages for a slither of the data usage and can load pages even on poor connections, Opera Mini’s compression engine does slow down the time between pressing “Go” to open your site and the rendering of the page. Page loading can take quite a bit longer to complete than using the built-in browsers with the iPhone, iPad and Android devices. Some quirks to the way pages are displayed and handled can also mean interacting with forms and password fields can be a little cumbersome. The iOS version cannot be used as your primary browser, as it can on Android devices, due to the limitations of iOS, so it can be a case of juggling between windows. These aren’t major issues, but for those with short attention spans, it could ruffle your metaphorical feathers.
A few extra nice features have been thrown in to the browser too. Opera have included Opera Link, a synchronisation service that keeps all your bookmarks in sync with your PC or Mac. You can also adjust whether you want to be served full web pages or mobile versions of sites, something iOS’s Safari doesn’t allow to be configured.
The iOS version of Opera Mini is universal, running in native size on both iPhone and iPad, and the Android version is equally usable on both phones and tablets. It’s not perfect, but it’s free and it might just get you through a rough patch.