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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 4.7.0.148 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 DailyTech.com DailyTech.com (WAP) Anandtech.com CNN.com SportsIllustrated.com Gamefaqs.com
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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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

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.




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