Opera today launched the first preview version of its Chromium-based desktop browser for Windows and Mac since the company announced the switch from its own browser engine to Google’s in February. This switch has allowed Opera to add new features like support for Google’s SPDY protocol into its browser, but Opera Next includes quite a few more new features than just a new engine.
Opera, for example, has revamped its Speed Dial new tab page, which allows you to easily filter your shortcuts and sort them into folders. The browser now also finally features just a single bar for URLs and search queries, just like Chrome. It’s also been given a full user interface redesign, which now gives the browser a markedly more modern look.
The team also developed a new customizable news discovery feature that “allows you to lean back and get fed with new articles from your country, or whatever region you want to get inspiration from, right in your browser – all in one place.” It’s basically Google News in your browser and includes the ability to filter stories by category (arts, food, technology, etc.). It’s not clear how Opera chooses which stories to display here, but after a short test, it feels like the service aggregates a good number of relevant sources, and the Pinterest-like layout works well for quickly scanning the news.
Also new in this version is Opera’s new “Stash” view, which allows you to quickly bookmark sites (just press the heart icon in the URL bar) and then later compare them with a resizable page preview. This feature, the company says, should be especially useful when you are comparison shopping or doing travel research. Here is what this looks like:
It’s clear that the switch to Chromium and Google’s rendering engine is already making the browser feel faster and allowing the company to focus a bit more on the features that can differentiate it from the competition instead of having to worry about its own rendering engine.
In return, however, the new version is also missing quite a few features. The browser, of course, still includes some Opera staples like the Turbo mode (now called “off-road mode”), but gone are Opera Notes, Link, tab thumbnails and a number of other features Opera users have been accustomed to. It’s not clear if they will come back in later versions.
With this launch, Opera has also spun out the formerly built-in email client, which is now available as a standalone product. It’s a surprisingly lightweight mail client that may actually have a leg up on some of the recent startups that have tried to reinvent email. Opera Mail easily lets you attach labels to messages and filter out emails with attachments like documents, images, videos and audio files.