Opera browser beta

Opera has announced that it is making the switch to WebKit, and they're giving everyone a look at their first effort with a beta version of the browser packing the new engine. Building on top of that new engine, the Opera browser beta brings along new features that are meant to help speed up browsing, as well as a new interface design.

Hang around after the break and see how the first WebKit-based Opera browser beta performs.

Opera browser beta quick settings Opera browser beta speed dial

The Opera beta is a sign of more than just the move to WebKit, it's a move towards a new interface that fits into the latest Android design language. Gone are the awkward rounded corners and black interface elements, replaced by a much cleaner grayscale interface with little pops of color. You surely aren't alone if you find Opera beta to resemble the interface of Chrome for Android -- several UI elements are nearly identical -- but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Opera now has a new launch screen that's separated into three tabs. The main page is called "Speed Dial", which is a launcher of sorts for a set of convenient shortcuts and web apps, although most will likely just use it as a bookmarks list. Speed Dial items can be left as individual shortcuts, or grouped into folders. To the right of Speed Dial is Discover, which is a complete news reader integrated into the browser. You can specify specific countries and categories to receive news from, or just view "Top stories". Your web history is found to the left of Speed Dial, listed in reverse chronological order. Pages are grouped by their domain, and tapping it shows the specific pages on that domain you visited in the session.

Also similarly to Chrome, the settings for Opera can be found by tapping the "O" (instead of a menu key) in the top right of the tab. One tap brings you quick settings, where you can go forward, search and share, as well as go directly to your History, Speed Dial and Discover tabs. You can also directly access your Downloads, full Settings and toggle "Off-Road" mode from this quick settings window.

Off-Road mode is a setting item in Opera beta that is meant to help speed up browsing and reduce data usage when you're on a slow connection. It's not completely clear what's being done to improve page load times, but it's likely that they're leveraging some of the technology used for years in Opera Mini to compress and serve data more efficiently. Turning on Off-Road mode puts a thin red bar at the top of the browser to indicate it is on, and the page load times are certainly more consistent. We didn't actually see any downside to not using Off-Road mode, as pages loaded more consistently no matter the connection we were on, but the improvements were most notable when browsing on mobile data.

Opera browser beta tab switcher Opera browser beta settings menu

Opera beta is also incorporating Opera Link, which lets you sync your Speed Dial, History and browsing data between your phone, tablet and desktop Opera clients. This is really nice if you are an Opera user on your other desktop machines, but we know most people aren't. The fact that Chrome for Android offers (generally) seamless syncing with Chrome on the desktop means Opera just won't be an option for many people. But for those who are using Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer on the desktop or are indifferent on syncing to your phone, this won't be an issue for you.

As far as first beta releases go, Opera beta is surprisingly stable and usable. Building on a WebKit engine means pages are far more likely to render properly and fit for the device you're viewing on, and also provides snappy performance. In our time using the browser on a Nexus 4, it performed just as well as Chrome Beta and even performed slightly faster in web benchmarks. Pages loaded quickly, scrolled smoothly and navigated with few hiccups. We did experience a few oddities with pages not loading or displaying a couple of graphical glitches, as well as the default page zoom and text fitting to be a touch off. But this is the initial beta release of the browser, after all, and these issues will likely be fixed soon.

Opera beta sunspider benchmark Chrome Beta sunspider benchmark

Opera has certainly made a huge stride in performance and most interestingly interface in the first release of its WebKit browser, and we've come away impressed with its offerings. If you don't live and die by Chrome sync on your mobile device, Opera is certainly worth a look. The features and design are great, and will only get better as the beta updates come along.


Reader comments

Opera browser beta: Starting the move to WebKit


Does it have a way to prevent annoying flash ads that start playing audio every time you open a page?

Why can't AC set and enforce a reasonable advertising policy?

The very first requirement of a browser for me is a home button. If it doesn't have a home button I will not use it. Second, it needs an Exit button. If either of those two very basic, common features are missing I will not even consider it.

I realize these are your preferences so I am not trying to ridicule them but, out of curiosity, why the need for an exit button rather than just hitting your home button?

I also prefer to have the choice to completely close the application myself when exiting instead of letting Android decide when to completely close the app to make more memory available. By hitting your "home" button on your phone, it only moves the app to the background, it doesn't close it.

Yep, this is the reason. Sometimes I don't want my searches left as open pages in my browser. It isn't for weird, perverted reasons either. My son and wife use my tablet and I wouldn't want them opening the browser if I have been searching for work related things (I work in a pathology lab at a hospital and wouldn't want them to accidentally see some of the pictures, especially my young son) or if I have been searching for gifts or something.

Also, the start page is pretty much like a home button so it does have that.

It's step back. Opera mobile with presto engine is much better. Zooming, text formating everything. In this engine everything is rendering again after zoom or scroll, it lost what it made better then other browsers. Changing tabs is also slow, and button on top. I hope they keep updating classic opera mobile.

Agreed... completely...

I wouldn't mind if they changed some of the UI and design of the Original Opera Mobile. But with the old Opera Mobile, the zooming with text reflow is so much better than all the other Android broswers, there isn't even any competition. No other browser comes close. Panning and scrolling and rendering performance is also excellent. And these things are incredibly important with the limited real estate on a phone screen. (I also seem to have fewer difficulties with web pages that won't load, compared to Chrome or stock)

I hope they get the zoom with text reflow working on this new version to the quality of the old Presto based Opera Mobile. Or at least keep maintaining the old one.

Without the awesome text reflow, there is no reason to keep Opera on my phone. I might as well just use Chrome (and deal with its deficiencies) because it at least has all those handy tie-ins with the other Google Services.

I dont like that I dont have local access to my bookmarks. HUGE FAIL over the current Opera mini/mobile, wherein I can log in and my bookmarks and speed dials are synced. AT LEAST put my bookmarks where I can find them!!!!

Am I the only one who so far has experienced the best browsing experience on the stock internet browser on the gnote 2? Better than anything else I've tried so far. It's super fast, scrolling is completely lag free, and really no faults that I can find thus far. Maybe because I'm on jelly beans latest rom, but even when I was bone stock it was faster and smoother than any other browsers I've tried.... anyone else have the same experience, or am I just going mad? :-P

Nope, stock still rules on the HTC. ONE X as well. Maybe a tad slower than chrome, but a better overall experience.

The stock browser is still better than Chrome on the Transformer TF700; although, Chrome Beta seems to be getting much better. (Or, maybe it feels better because I'm now rooted with AdAway & Lagfix installed.)

For me, this opera beta kicks in the ass the stupid default browser in my GS3. Neither chrome works well as this one. Thanks Opera for the webkit engine, and being only the 1st beta its the best browser for android in my opinion. Super fast render, loading pages, no check boards, just great. I don't know why some people are saying its slow, not as good as the mini etc. i just can assume that they are using some less power phones.

If I wanted a webkit browser, I would have stayed with Dolphin. But fact is Opera Mobile provides the best web browsing experience on a smartphone by far.

Webkit layouts waste a lot of screen space, requiring more unnecessary zooming, panning, and scrolling. Gesture based interface puts more strain on hands and fingers compared to buttons. This beta is missing many options, like default zoom size, which would help a lot with the inferior webkit engine. Sizes are all over the place. Headers are way too big, while regular text and images are way too small and blurry. No opera:config, why? No way to use custom css or js.

I used to be able to double tap and Opera mobile would render perfectly. Text and image sizes were uniform. Scrolling and panning was brisk and responsive. opera:config also present, so I can customize the browsing experience exactly how i want, not how stupid developers want (bloat, slowness, eye sore), and definitely not how webkit wants.

Smart move, it's almost as useful and likable (yet "lighter") as/than Chrome and performs smoothly if you have the respective horsepowers on your phone. ;-)

I have always liked all of the Opera browsers, but never enough to make it my default browser. This latest webkit browser is the best browsers experience to date, for me, on a mobile platform. I really love the browser, and it beta. I love chrome because of all the instant syncing. Opera webkit browser is just enjoyable!