Are a few new features and data savings enough to make you switch?
Opera Mini for Android is first and foremost for those of you who want and/or need to conserve data, just like its "bigger" counterpart, Opera Max. Maybe you have a very limited allotment or maybe you're on a pay-as-you-go plan. Either way, Opera Mini's High and Extreme data saving modes can save you gigs and cash.
That's great, but does it offer a good experience beyond the data savings? After all, it's about the journey, not the destination. And, for the most part, it is a decent browser; however, if you're someone who likes to enjoy absolutely everything the internet has to offer, warts and all, then Opera Mini might not be for you.
With the latest iteration of the browsing app, Opera has added two new features: a built-in ad blocker and the ability to make web apps. These might sound great in theory, but do they really add much to the overall user experience?
The overall layout is incredibly user-friendly.
To start, the ability to search the web, images, video, news, and Amazon, and scan a QR code right from the home page is wonderful. You get where you want to go without having to go through the motions.
Having local news on the homepage is also a boon to Opera's interface, since there's no need for Googling and you can also add news based on your interests through the customization feature. I also like the ability to sync your Opera browsers across devices. This way, you can seamlessly go from desktop to mobile without having to go back and find your place again.
Switching between tabs feels very fluid and is visually great, and you have the immediate option to choose a private tab if you so desire. The overall layout, in fact, is incredibly user-friendly. None of the settings are cumbersome to find, and the layout is full but not overwhelming in the slightest.
Now, the ad blocker ... or, what purports to be an ad blocker. I tried over and over again with various sites and still saw plenty of ads. Most sites that rely on advertising will have native ads that bypass ad blockers, but I was even getting pop-ups. I tried on both Extreme and High mode, just to see if there was a difference. Of course, Extreme eliminates many of the photos and banners that you see in High mode, but that's the way it works anyway.
The second "new" feature is the ability to make web apps. For those of you who don't know, a web app is a home screen shortcut to a website. Opera claims that this new feature is wonderful because web apps take up far less space than native apps. No duh.
Web apps are new to Opera Mini but have been around for years.
At this point, the term "web app" is altogether misleading. Web apps may be new to Opera Mini, but Chrome's had that ability for years and Apple's been doing it since before apps were apps (iOS 1.2). In the age of expandable memory for many Android users, this doesn't seem valuable; they should've had it from the get-go. The only thing a web app saves you is having to open the browser and tap the shortcut in your Speed Dial.
Now let's talk about speed. For starters, the app is a bit sluggish on open. With Chrome, I can open it, tap the search bar, and the response is immediate. With Opera Mini, it takes a few seconds for it to figure out what's what.
Opera Mini claims to get you to websites faster than other browsers thanks to data compression. Maybe my maple syrup Canadian LTE is lightning quick, but I haven't seen any difference in speed, even in Extreme mode. To its credit, my apparent data savings are a whopping 83% – I only received 2.3MB out of a possible 13MB – which is unheard of with other browsers that employ compression. If you're wanting to keep a close eye on your data, in real time, then Opera Mini will be your best buddy. That is… So long as you're OK with seeing half of the internet.
Extreme mode compresses sites to the point where Facebook looks like it did when it first launched. YouTube videos won't even play within the browser; Opera Mini shirks the blame by automatically opening the YouTube app, so keep a close eye. The YouTube app won't save you any data.
In Extreme mode, you'll be saving buckets upon buckets of data, but you'll feel like a second-class internet citizen. Even if my monthly data were cleaved in twain, I still don't think I could handle it.
At the end of the day, Opera Mini feels relatively similar to Chrome and if it was the only web browser installed on my phone when I bought it, I'd probably be using it exclusively right now. If you're tight for data, then definitely consider Opera Mini. (Remember: Opera Mini achieves these features by moving your traffic through a proxy server, as many other companies do.)
Even if you're not tight for data but still have a monthly cap, you should consider Opera Mini. Yes, Extreme mode is a little hard to get used to, but High mode will still save you bundles (well, in terms of percentages). Basically, if you data is of any concern to you whatsoever, then Opera Mini is the browser you've been waiting for.
In fact, you can go download it right now.
Are you using Opera Mini as your exclusive browser? Sound off in the comments below and let us know about your experience!