Opera Mini 4.0 is out of Beta! You can download it by pointing your phone or PC browser at operamini.com. There are no new features in this version compared with the last Beta. What there are is lots of bug fixes and compatibility with more handsets. Compared with Opera Mini, 3.1 though, 4.0 adds a huge list of enhancements; the main ones being OperaLink which synchronizes mobile bookmarks and Speed Dial with desktop Opera, and Desktop Rendering, Opera’s answer to Nokia’s Mini-Map. There is also much improved CSS and HTML support although the promised support for italic fonts doesn’t seem to have made it into this release.
Opera Mini works flawlessly on the Nokia N95. I actually prefer it over the phone’s vaunted Nokia Webkit browser for everything except uploading and downloading which Mini doesn’t do at all. Although WebKit has nicer fonts, Opera Mini’s usability is so much better than WebKit thanks to a combination of four things:
- Dedicated page up and page down keys – These are as critical to efficient browsing on a phone as they are on a PC, I don’t understand why so many browsers including WebKit on the N95 omit them. Scrolling through text line by line is so inefficient.
- Mobile View – Both Webkit and Mini 4.0 have a mode that shows a miniaturized version of a full sized web page where you move around to find an interesting section and then zoom in to view just that section full sized. Nokia calls it a “mini-map“, Opera uses the term “desktop rendering“. This mode is good for viewing wide content like tables and detailed images but most of the time I prefer using Opera Mini’s other mode called “mobile view“. Mobile view resizes images and reformats text into a single column so that horizontal scrolling is never needed. Mobile view may not be as pretty, but it sure is efficient. WebKit has no equivalent to Mobile View, you are always viewing a small portion of a wider page. WebKit and Mini’s desktop rendering modes both try to minimize horizontal scrolling by resizing individual columns to page width but you still need to scroll horizontally as text flows around images and continues in a different column. Horizontal scrolling is a time waster, as is navigating the zoomed out mini-map to find the main content of a page. The images show Opera Mini 4’s three modes; Desktop Rendering zoomed out (top), zoomed in (middle) and Mobile View (bottom).
- Key board shortcuts – WebKit has a few nice shortcuts but nothing like Opera Mini which has a huge list of 1 and 2 key shortcuts like # plus 0 to reload and # plus 7 to bookmark the current page. And then there is SpeedDial gives you quick access to your 9 favorite bookmarks by pressing * plus 1-9. Plus there are a bunch of 1 key shortcuts in desktop view; 2 = page up, 8 = page down, 4 = column left, 6 = column right.
- Cache – Opera Mini has an enormous cache. You can have 20-30 big web pages with lots of images in the cache and jump instantly back and forth through history. WebKit doesn’t seem to cache pages at all, the back button always reloads the page even if it’s a little 2KB mobile page.
Unfortunately I don’t have a data plan for my N95 so I only use it when I have WiFi connectivity. I refuse to pay over $40/month for unlimited web on a contract plan with T-Mobile or nearly$70 with ATT when I can get it for $10 on Boost prepaid. So my main web phone is still the Motorola i855 on Boost. The first Beta of Mini 4.0 worked very well on the i855 but the 2nd and 3rd Betas had this awful bug where there was no browser cache, hitting the back button would always reload the page. Which was slow and completely broke Bloglines – which marks everything as read on the reload so you went back the page was empty! I was really hoping Opera had fixed that in the new release and it looks like they have! I have 31 pages totaling over 500KB in the cache right now. I was never able to get Beta 3 to cache more than about 60 KB. I’m a little hesitant to declare success until I load a day’s worth of Bloglines posts from my 100+ feeds into Mini 4.0. Update: I’ve been using the new release for 48 hours with no issues on either of my phones. It works great with Bloglines with no cache problems. This 4.0 release is the best version of Opera Mini yet for iDEN phones.