Print 11 comment(s) - last by Motoman.. on Sep 19 at 11:53 AM

Opera Mini 5 beta, finally provides a modern browser for Blackberry phones. We love it!  (Source: Life Rocks 2.0)
We test drive the latest from Blackberry

In the world of mobile browsing, there are many proprietary offerings, a handful newcomers (Mozilla's Fennec), and some relatively older players (IE Mobile, Safari, Android browser, Opera Mini).  Of these browsers, Opera is among the few that can make a legitimate claim at leading marketshare. 

With 30 million proclaimed installs worldwide, and close to 40 million actual installs by some estimates, the browser is about as ubiquitous as they come in this crowded market.  As of September 2009, Opera is estimated to be in first place in the mobile browser race with 25.46 percent marketshare (this includes Opera's other mobile browser, Opera Mobile).  The next closest competitors are Safari Mobile on the iPhone (22.24 percent) and Nokia's web browser (20.54 percent).

And that marketshare could soon grow.  Opera just launched Opera Mini 5 beta this week, an ambitious new mobile offering.  Opera spokesperson Thomas Ford describes in an email to DailyTech, "We just released Opera Mini 5 today. Also new is a native version for BlackBerry, for better integration with mail and copy-paste functions. If you've seen Opera Mini before, you will definitely want to look again. The focus for this release is either 'tabs' or 'eye candy'."

Equipped with a Blackberry Storm 9530 smartphone, we were eager to put this new offering to the test?  How did it stack up?  Keep reading to find out...

We first looked at the size of the install.  Mobile devices have limited memory, so while browsers are typically small, install sizes are significant.  We also tested application load times for Opera Mini 4, Opera Mini 5 beta, and the built in Blackberry Storm browser from RIM.  These results are displayed below.

Blackberry Browser Opera Mini 4 Opera Mini 5 beta
Exact Version 4.2.13216 5.0.15655
App Size 3.29 mb 0.18 mb 0.50 mb
Browser Open Time 1.9 s 3.3 s 6.7 s

Opera Mini 5 is quite lean, still, much more so than the built in browser. However, it's just ever-so-slightly bulkier than its predecessor, though you'll certainly forgive this when you hear about all the improvements it packs.  Load times for Opera Mini 5 are a bit slower, but the Blackberry browser is pre-cached, so that gives it an unfair advantage.  You'll only have to reload if you reboot your phone -- so this is a rare occurrence.  Still, we hope the final release loads a bit faster (but again the features make this only a minor gripe).

We next turn to the most crucial aspect of a mobile browser -- the interface.  While the Storm is not "officially" supported, Blackberries are (we're quite sure why the Storm is listed as unsupported).  Nonetheless, interface-wise Opera 5 is a huge leap over Opera 4.  Opera 4's interface was frustrating enough on the Blackberry Storm that it was near unusable.  You would click links and nothing would happen.  You'd have to click 5 to 10 times sometimes to get the browser to finally follow the link.

These problems are almost entirely gone in Opera Mini 5.  Also, whereas Opera Mini 4 would force you to bring up the virtual keyboard via a menu option, Opera Mini 5 automatically brings it up.

The Opera Mini 5 interface is beautiful and modern, with a speed dial-esque home page.  Overall the browser looks less like a mobile browser and more like a PC browser, with features like tabs and a Google search bar.  However, it also includes features to make mobile use a breeze, like icon-driven menus, compression page loads, and on-page scrolling and zoom.

Comparing the browser to the built in BlackBerry browser, it blows it away.  While the BB browser does tie in MMS, Opera Mini 5 does an equally good job of email, has equally natural controls, better zoom, faster page loads, and a better menu system.  And it does tabbed browsing, something RIM still hasn't bothered to add to its browser.

Two minor gripes -- while we like the graphics-driven menus of Opera Mini 5 better than the text driven menus of the built-in Blackberry browser, we'd like to see a text alternative come up if we click the menu key.  Currently, clicking the menu key in Opera 5 does nothing.  The second gripe, resulting from the first is that if you're scrolled down a page there's no quick way to get to the address bar (which there is via the menu in the built in browser).  You'll have to scroll up to the top of the page to get back to the address bar.  Scrolling is fast, but this still is somewhat annoying, though remedied somewhat by the fact that you can just open a new tab.

To finish off our testing, we loaded up some of our favorite web pages and compared load times in each of the three browsers.  We wanted to run benchmarks, but unfortunately Celtic Kane, Sunspider, and Peacekeeper (our favorite browser benchmarks) don't run on the Blackberry.  So without further ado, here's the page load times...

Site Load Time (WAP)
Blackberry Browser 32.7 s 3.0 s 32.9 s 8.22 s 7.72 s 13.0 s
Opera Mini 4 9.8 s 1.8 s 6.8 s 2.6 s 2.4 s 7.4 s
Opera Mini 5 9.1 s 3.5 s 6.6 s 3.4 s 3.8s 2.1 s

We used a variety of pages in our testing.  CNN and SI both redirect to mobile pages.  In mobile pages like DailyTech's WAP version Opera Mini 4 is a bit faster than Opera Mini 5, but given the browser's useless interface on the Storm, this is a rather moot point.  In non-mobile pages like the stock versions of DailyTech, Anandtech, and Gamefaqs, Opera Mini 5 is the fastest.  Compared to the stock Blackberry browser, Opera Mini 5 is overwhelmingly faster, sometimes taking less than a third of the time to load pages.

Based on our preliminary testing, it looks like Opera has a hit on their hands, especially for Blackberry users.  The addition of tabs alone makes it a must have, but the fact that it blows away stock browsers in both page load times and interface makes it an incredible product.  In all our testing it never felt sluggish, and it has the look and feel of a truly modern browser.  With the iPhone and Android phones already having next generation web browsers, Opera Mini 5 is great for users of other smart phones, as it finally gives them a chance to experience the web unfettered by an inferior browser.

We wish we could test other browsers Fennec, Safari Mobile, and more to see how they stack up (albeit on different hardware).  We're currently working to see what kind of handsets we can get our hands on, so stay tuned for more Browser Wars: Mobile Edition entries.

Also be sure to check out our four part comparison of next generation PC browsers [1] [2] [3] [4].

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By omnicronx on 9/17/2009 12:59:11 PM , Rating: 3
is all I have to say.. formatting is not quite there yet, but this is turning out to be a winner. Opera mobile 9.7 is a great browser, and is formatted perfectly on my screen, but opera mini is just too fast to ignore. Now that it actually has a nice touch interface for high rez screens, I will be using it as my default browser.

RE: wow..
By FITCamaro on 9/17/2009 1:51:48 PM , Rating: 2
I'm just waiting for the Storm 2. Right now the plan is to get one.

RE: wow..
By omnicronx on 9/17/2009 1:55:08 PM , Rating: 2
I wonder if the Storm2 will get a new browser based on Iris (they just bought it out, and it is based on webkit), that would definately make it more attractive.

RE: wow..
By Motoman on 9/19/2009 11:53:43 AM , Rating: 2
Izzat gonna have a QWERTY keyboard?

something else to try
By strikeback03 on 9/17/2009 1:47:58 PM , Rating: 2
Might have to try this out as well as some of the other newer browsers. I have Opera Mobile (default) and Skyfire on my HTC Diamond; Opera does work but is incredibly slow to load sites while Skyfire is fast but doesn't support zooming by scrolling around the wheel and on some pages text is not readable. I'd love a browser that can work like opera mobile but at the speed of Skyfire.

RE: something else to try
By omnicronx on 9/17/2009 1:58:25 PM , Rating: 2
I would try opera mini, they both do the same thing (send request to server and have an image based webpage sent back), but Opera does it much better. The only reason I was not using 4.2 on my diamond is because it was not meant for VGA+ displays. 5.0 beta is, and works great.

RE: something else to try
By strikeback03 on 9/18/2009 2:56:11 PM , Rating: 2
Am I missing something, or is there not even a Windows Mobile version yet?

RE: something else to try
By eegake on 9/18/2009 4:56:38 PM , Rating: 2
Opera Mini 4 ( and presumably 5 ) are Java applications. I would assume there's a java run time for Windows mobile, can someone confirm.

OM4 works well on my Palm, but OM5 doesn't come packaged for it yet.

By Suomynona on 9/17/2009 1:45:01 PM , Rating: 2
I hope Skyfire makes it into the list for the next mobile browser roundup. I was quite disappointed to see it wasn't even mentioned in this article. It has a lot of nice features and has been my browser of choice over Opera for a while now.

I Agree
By bldckstark on 9/18/2009 11:55:47 AM , Rating: 2
I loaded the beta yesterday, and I agree. It is certainly better than anything I have used on my Storm to date. Pages look good, and it is easier to move around and zoom into what you want. The speed is just bonus at this point, since the built in browser, and Opera 4 are almost useless. It has to function well enough to use before speed has any impact.

Symbian Version
By jtesoro on 9/19/2009 3:26:26 AM , Rating: 2
I hope they release the S60 version already so we could see a better comparison. Been using Opera Mini 4 on my Nokia for a long time. It's working very well and I can't relate to the flaws mentioned in the article above.

"We can't expect users to use common sense. That would eliminate the need for all sorts of legislation, committees, oversight and lawyers." -- Christopher Jennings

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