Opera is one of the most popular browsers on the market, especially in mobile where it adopts the 'Mini' moniker. The reason for its popularity, especially in emerging markets is due to its ability to compress upwards of 90% of the data between external servers and your phone. Having a data plan with multiple gigabytes is common in the U.S. as well as abundant free Wi-fi networks. However, for many markets or people traveling, things are more reserved making every byte really count.
Windows Phone users have limited options when it comes to browsing due to Microsft's constraints. Opera Mini is one of the few well-known browsers to make it to the Store. Today, it received a nice update to version 126.96.36.199 and here is our review.
The interface of Opera Mini is certainly one of the browser's highlights. The first page you see is the so-called 'Speed Dial' section that displays websites that are often frequented. The format should be very familiar to Windows Phone users with its square Tile design. Indeed, users can drag and drop Tiles onto to each other to create folders to group similar sites together. Users can add or delete any sites on the page at any time, making it feel very customized.
Looking at the lower toolbar you can see the Browser Tabs selector and a giant 'O' where users can bring up numerous options. These settings include Bookmarks, Downloads, Share feature, Find on Page and General browser options. Users also get a nifty 'data savings' graph that displays how much data was saved in a graph form as well as actual numbers. For instance, I only used 9.2 MB from an actual 70.8 MB resulting in an astounding 87% savings.
Browsing history can be cleared individually or all at once giving users fine-grained control. There is also private browsing for when you do not want to leave any tracks.
Opera browser can open Zip files directly, and users can download and save images. Later, downloads can be revisited using the download manager. Files are saved to the default areas of the phone, which you can configure in the OS settings.
Another data-savings feature is the ability to save articles and web pages for offline viewing. If you find a webpage, you would like to read later just tap the 'plus' button near the address bar. This file is then saved to the Speed Dial page under 'Saved Pages'.
On the Speed Dial page, there is a universal web address and search bar present. By default, the search engine is Google and unfortunately it cannot be changed to Bing, which is something I would prefer. However, you can set the search engine to Amazon, eBay or Wikipedia by tapping the icon in the bar. This change lets you directly search within those sites and is very convenient if you use that function often.
Version 188.8.131.52 came today and with it a few performance improvements and bug fixes. Additionally, users also get:
- Wide Tile that is also Live, flipping to reveal your data savings
- Change Background, under Settings
- Scroll to top/bottom buttons, which appear whenever you scroll down/up
These are certainly welcomed additions, and the browser does feel and work better than the previous release from June.
Overall, Opera Mini does what it is supposed to do: save massive amounts of data. In terms of raw performance, there is a bit of a lag due to the compression needed from Opera's servers. There are also occasional visual glitches and empty boxes as a result of the compressions. It is not a deal breaker, but obviously you are not getting the prettiest version of that web page due to the data savings.
Another issue is the browser cannot be set as default. So every time you click a hyperlink in an email or WhatsApp message, Internet Explorer opens instead. This limitation is no fault of Opera's as Microsoft just does not allow other default browsers on Windows Phone.
Users have also left some negative reviews in the Store, mostly pointing to stability issues. We have not experienced those, but it is clear others are so your mileage may vary. Today's update is certainly worth checking out to see if things have improved.
Opera Mini is a good choice if you are traveling, data roaming or have a limited data plan. It is not exactly ideal for those with unlimited LTE connections as those users should be okay with Internet Explorer.
Although performance in the browser is slower than what I would like, it is not clear if this is completely Opera's fault. Microsoft's developer tools for Windows Phone 8.1 are quite limited in creating quality third-party web browsers tying the hands of Opera's developers. Will this be better in Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile? Likely but Opera has not yet committed to Windows 10 and a universal app, so it remains to be seen if they will attempt a new version. (Currently, Opera Mini is unable to be found in the Windows 10 Store, but this appears to be a temporary glitch with Microsoft's new format).
For now, those who like Opera's design and need to save data will benefit greatly from Opera Mini, even it can be frustrating at times. Options are always wise, and I'll likely use this browser when I am data roaming when traveling abroad.
Do you use Opera Mini? What are your favorite features? What would you like to see Opera do with Window and Windows Phone? Let us know in comments!
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