Opera Software has released an initial Beta of a new version of the Opera Browser for Android that's based on the open source Webkit browser engine instead of Opera's own Presto engine. Opera is winding down Presto development and will eventually use Webkit for all its products.
The new release, called Opera 14 Beta, is available now in Google Play for devices running Android 2.3 and latter. It was announced in a post today on the My Opera - Opera Mobile For Android forum.
According to the post, what's new in this version is:
- everything :)
- New UI
- Improved Speed Dial, all your bookmarks and saved pages in the same place
- Discover, a new way to discover content and collect news
- Off-road mode, Opera Mini compression built-in
- Omnibar, combined search and URL field, with auto-completion
- no support for tablets bigger than 7.5 inches
- problems with localized strings not fitting into places
- problems with rendering 'Discover' section on Samsung Galaxy Y
- crashes on start on Samsung Galaxy S2 with Android 2.3.5
- crash on start on Motorola RAZR device
- hardware back key issues on Samsung Galaxy Y
- display issues on HTC One S (Android 4.0.4)
I tried the Opera Browser Beta on a Motorola Photon running Android 2.3.4. Performance on this older Tegra 2 based device seemed quite good with fast page loads and no apparent user interface lag. Rendering seemed accurate on the pages I tried and I didn't encounter operational issues with any site. I did experience one crash in about an hour's worth of browsing, not bad for a first beta.
As expected in an initial Beta release there are lots of missing features. The most glaring omissions are:
- No text reflow after pinch zooming
- No bookmarks
- No Opera Link
The user interface changes are a bit of a mixed bag. I like the unified search and address bar and being able to create folders on the Speed Dial page. But I miss full screen mode and the ability to create custom searches. I'm not a fan of the new tab picker. It only shows four tabs at a time and requires double tapping to select a tab. The end result is that it takes more taps and swipes to switch tabs, and making users work harder is never a good thing.
The Discover feature (images below), which is essentially an RSS reader, looks great and is easy to use, but I wish it let me choose individual feeds rather than only being able to pick from a fixed set of curated categories.
Overall, I'm quite pleased with the Opera Webkit Beta. It's very polished, stable and fast for an early Beta. It's usable as is, although the lack of text reflow and bookmarks (or a way to import them) keeps it from being my daily driver for now.