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Smartphones Now: Opera Mini 2 Opens Up Real Mobile Web Browsing

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Opera Mini is free and runs on the portable Java runtime, so most modern mobile phones are supported. In addition, the program itself is small, most versions being under 1 MB.

We’ve been using Opera Mini on a Palm Treo 650 on the T-Moile data network. Generally speaking, our EDGE connection here in Seattle is around 166k down, which doesn’t seem to be so bad until you try downloading a content-heavy page, for example the front page of CNN.com, which weighs in at around 310k. The Opera proxy server chews it up and spits it back at around 31k. That’s a savings of 90%, and therein lies the beauty.

Besides just optimizing the page itself for your small screen and limited bandwidth, the proxy server also converts images on the fly. This eliminates much of the wasted overhead of traditional browsing while still giving a full experience. If your screen is 320×320 pixels, viewing a 450-pixel image is too much. Most mobile browsers just scale the image down, while downloading the whole thing, which is inefficient. Opera Mini’s proxy actually converts the image to a mobile device-friendly size, with a link to the actual full-size image.

To run the program on our Treo, we first had to install IBM’s Websphere Java Virtual Machine, a free upgrade from Palm’s Website for most Treo users. While the application download page for this runtime software says it requires 8MB (which is significant when your Treo only has 22 usable MB total), we found that once installed it uses less than 1MB, and runs fine from the expansion card.

Here lies another wonderful feature of the browser: integrated Wikipedia searching from the home screen, as well as Google and your bookmarks and history. Since mobile Web browsers are often used for quick reference, this is perfect. And it’s fast.

The up and down keys smoothly jump from link to link on a page for easy one-handed browsing. The left and right keys function as page up and page down, respectively. The scrolling is smooth and intuitive, stopping the top of the page with the last line of text from the previous screen. When clicking a link, the transition to the targeted page is fast, and the "page turning" animation really is an effective way of showing that your page is loaded.

All is not perfect, however. The "home" and "menu" keys, which are just under the screen on the left and right, don’t work as "soft keys", as they would on a mobile phone. We’re guessing this is a limitation of the OS, however, and not the browser itself. Another gripe is that, being a Java application, it can be a little unstable at times. There have been a few instances of the program freezing while retrieving a Web page. This requires a soft reset to the back of the unit, which requires removal of the battery, which, in turn, requires putting our drink down. We were not amused. Fortunately, this happens infrequent enough to truly be considered problematic.

Opera Mini [Product Page]

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