Opera Mini vs Opera Mini

Posted on 12/08/2010

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One problem with staying connected via mobile is the exorbitant cost of data, well here in South Africa anyway. I get by with a piddly 100 MB data bundle that cost R80 and out of bundle the cost per MB rises to R1.50. For those without data bundles bolted on, the cost is typically a standard R2.00/MB. A bit of facebooking, twittering, IM, email and browsing and you can see yourself hitting R150-R200 just for data and that’s for conservative use. Even worse, when I had the N8, with the widget setup over and above standard online uses, my data consumption rate spiraled out of control. I had managed, with some restraint, to limit my data usage to roughly 3MB a day, but with the N8 I used 70MB in two weeks, even after I had turned all widgets to offline mode.  So data really is a prized commodity.

I’m sure some of you are thinking that 70 MB over two weeks really isn’t a lot and you are correct. That was just my network use. Much of my data usage is thankfully over wifi and I would estimate that my combined network and wifi usage is around 300MB and extends up to 500 MB in some months. When out of wifi range I am incredibly conscious of my data and what applications are doing what with it. To that end, the key component of my data conservation strategy is the superb Opera Mini browser. Opera Mini uses clever server side compression to significantly reduce the data footprint of most sites. It strips out non-essential elements like video and other multimedia content. If tweaked properly, pages in excess of 1 MB can be reduced to as little as 30-50 kB.

Opera Mini is typically a Java app, and while I’m not that clued up on programming, I do understand that Java is great for  ‘code once, deploy to many’ strategies. I’ve used Opera Mini on so many different devices, so the benefits of this fantastic piece of software can benefit virtually anyone. The problem with the java app though is that it is painfully slow and it is a drain on phone resources. On my 6710 Navigator, first startup took 30 seconds! From thereon in it takes at least five seconds to startup. I have also found that it uses at least 8MB of RAM. This is fine on say the N8 with 130 odd MB of free RAM on startup but I live with around 35 MB at the moment. Losing a quarter of that to Opera Mini is no good for any multitasking aspirations.

Thankfully Opera have now released a native build of Opera Mini for Symbian devices and the benefits are immediately felt. The first thing you’ll notice is that the ugly pixelated application icon is now a thing of the past thankfully!!!! RAM usage has decreased dramatically, now at about 3MB and speed is signifcantly up as well. The first startup after installation took less than five seconds and thereafter is almost instantaneous. Even navigating around the application, through the menus, there is a noticeable zip about the whole experience. The application also looks a little nicer, subjective though this is. The Java version always seemed a little cramped to me but the use of space is now a lot better which also means that pages look nicer. Now of course since pages are rendered and compressed in Opera’s servers pages will not always look like they do on the desktop, or even on Nokia’s stock browser, but I would sacrifice a bit of dodgy rendering for the cost saving benefits.

Another benefit of Opera Mini being coded natively is that on keypad driven phones at least, it now supports inline editing with prediction. The only was to get prediction in the java app is to set ‘full screen’ editing on which takes you to the standard symbian text editor, not a very elegant solution. With this setting off however text input is clunky and doesn’t behave like standard tap tap input in other applications, so essentially you have two different modes of text input to remember. On the N8 and other Symbian touch devices, the opposite is true. Using the stock keyboard takes you to a separate text editor. Opera have however include their own QWERTY keyboard though, with a very different layout to the Symbian 5th Edition and Symbian^3 keyboards, but this does not support any dictionary so no prediction or auto-correction. Another thing I noticed is that in terms of data connection the natively coded version behaves more in line with other applications. I found that if a wifi connection had a lower priority in than my network connection, Opera Mini always uses 3G, even if the rest of my apps are using wifi. This is no longer the case

Beyond the visual, startup and performance differences both apps bring all the benefits of Mini browsing to the user. One standout feature of all Opera browsers, mobile or desktop, is Opera Link. Opera Link is a free service allows you to sync all your book marks and speed dials between all your browsers. This is great if you switch phones or if like me you also make use of Opera Mobile.  The speed dial feature itself is fantastic, allowing quick access to your favourite sites from the landing page. The search bar supports searching Google, Dictionary.com, IMDb and Wikipedia, which is very useful. There is also a fantastic arsenal of keyboard shortcuts activated using the star and hash keys, further speeding up the process of using the application. Tabbed browsing is on board, and is clearly laid out and user friendly.

If you are don’t have access to wifi on tap or an unlimited or huge data plan, and are conscious of costs, then Opera Mini is the best browser for you. My guess is that if you are in this position, having access to multimedia elements is also not going be a priority for you anyway.  And best of all it is free. If you have a Symbian device then getting the naively coded version is a must for the noticeably improvements over the Java app. It’s still in beta but the folks at Opera do such a great job with their betas anyway that I have found it to be incredibly stable already.

Get it at http://m.opera.com from your phones browser or via your PC from http://www.opera.com/mobile/. For Symbian users, make sure to select Opera Mini 5.1 beta 2.

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Posted in: Apps, Mobile, Nokia, Review, Symbian, Web