Watch out Google Chrome: there’s another mobile-savvy Web browser coming to Android. In March Opera introduced the beta version of its revised mobile browser for Android devices, and now about two months later the Norwegian company has launched the real thing. There’s not too much here that we didn’t already see in the beta edition, but Opera for Android comes with a few useful new additions such as the option to toggle the navigation bar’s location, text-wrapping after zooming and a full screen view of active apps.
Just like in the beta version, Opera for Android users are greeted with the browser’s Speed Dial screen, which groups your favorite websites in one place. Speed Dial comes with Google+, Gmail, Google Search, Amazon and Wikipedia out of the box, but you can add other Web apps by tapping the “+” icon next to the navigation bar. When we added LaptopMag.com to our Speed Dial, an icon for the webpage appeared instantly. You can also create folders by dragging and dropping one icon onto another, just like you would with any Android apps in your app drawer. Opera will ask you if you’d like to name the folder once you do this, so we combined Best Buy and Amazon to a single folder and labeled it “Shopping.”
Swiping to the right will reveal the browser’s History, which neatly organizes recent websites in the order that you’ve visited them. Rather than just throwing together a lengthy list of URLs, Opera for Android breaks it down to the exact time you’ve visited the page and will display the name of the website above the URL.
Sliding to the left from the Speed Dial screen will reveal the Discover tab, which curates news articles and content from the Web. Pressing the “Top Stories” button will launch a drop down menu that sorts stories by category just like any other news app would. Clicking a headline will bring you to a page that displays the first two paragraphs of a story, with a link to the full story at the bottom.
We also found the overall Web-browsing experience to be smooth and fluid. Pressing the “O” icon at the top of the screen next to the search bar launches a drop down menu with options to quickly access Opera’s home screen, view your browsing history, and share content if you’re viewing an article or Web page.
Opera for Android certainly knows how to utilize your device’s screen space. When opening a new tab, the Opera splits the screen into two sections: the top half shows thumbnail views of open web pages that you can swipe through to select, while the bottom shows a preview of the page you’re currently on. Chrome’s alternative, however, displays websites in the form of cards that are stacked on top of one another. You can pull down these cards to reveal the other websites underneath it.
If you’ve had some time to play with the beta version of Opera for Android, you won’t find too many surprises here. However, there are some minor additions worth noting that could improve the overall Web browsing experience.
Opera for Android now lets you toggle the navigation bar’s location by opting to move it from the top to the bottom. It’s not an earth-shattering change, but it does make the transition less jarring for those that are used to having their search bar situated in a particular spot. For example, Internet Explorer on certain Windows 8 devices places the navigation bar on the bottom, while Chrome always places it on the top. You can edit this preference in Opera for Android pressing the “O” button at the top and choosing the “Settings” option.
In the same menu, you can check the “Text Wrap” box which automatically adjusts text to fit the screen as you pinch to zoom. We found this feature to be smooth and responsive; as soon as we zoomed in on a certain paragraph Opera adjusted the text in an instant.
Opera for Android certainly has appealing features and a slick interface, but any Web browser is only as good as its page loading speeds. We timed how long it took to load pages on Google Chrome, finding that the browser loaded CNN.com in 7.3 seconds, Yahoo.com in 3 seconds, LaptopMag.com in 9.4 seconds, and Facebook in 2.1 seconds, creating an average loading time of 5.4 seconds. Opera was just about on par with Chrome, taking 8 seconds to load Yahoo.com, 5.7 seconds to load LaptopMag.com, and 3.4 seconds to load Facebook, which averages 5.9 seconds.
Opera for Android also comes with an Off-Road Mode, which compresses data to make sure you don’t surpass your monthly limit or reduce roaming costs when traveling. This reduction in data usage was particularly noticeable during our testing, considering browsing speeds were significantly slower with Off-Road Mode turned on. It took a sluggish 15.5 seconds to load CNN.com, 7.9 seconds to load Yahoo.com, 16.5 seconds to load LaptopMag.com and 13.3 seconds to load Facebook.com, which makes the average page loading time 13.3 seconds.
While we appreciate that Opera and Chrome load websites at about the same speed, we prefer the way Google Chrome loads web pages. Opera loads sections of the page in chunks, with images usually appearing before text does. Chrome, however, always loads text first so you can begin reading headlines and content as the images appear. But Opera makes up for this with its Offline feature, which eliminates the need for apps like Pocket by letting users save content to read later without an Internet connection.
Overall, we love Opera for Android’s clean interface and helpful features. Speed Dial and Discovery make Opera feel like its own ecosystem rather than just another browser, and its Offline Mode makes it easy to access content without a connection. It may not be a Chrome replacement just yet, but it’s definitely worth the download.