First Look: Opera for Android

Opera makes Presto browser engine disappear; pulls open-source WebKit out of a hat

Opera Software

Opera Software recently announced that it would no longer use its own browser engine, called Presto, and would instead switch to open-source WebKit, which also powers Chrome and Safari. The first version of Opera for Android using WebKit was released on May 21. The official name is simply Opera, but we’ll refer to it as WebKit Opera to differentiate it from its two predecessors: Opera Mobile Classic and Opera Mini, both of which used Presto and are still available in the Google Play store.

WebKit Opera
Speed Dial: Start page looks like an app launcher

WebKit Opera implements a revamped GUI where each shortcut to a favorite Web site is represented either as a thumbnail of the site’s web page or an icon derived from its favicon. The result is that the new Speed Dial looks exactly like the app launcher screen of a mobile OS. You can rearrange the order of the icons by pressing on it and dragging it to another spot on the grid. You can even combine shortcut icons together into a group. Tap the icon for the group, and it expands to show the website shortcut icons within it.

WebKit Opera
Tab selector: Tab switching through an eye-catching GUI

The tab selector in WebKit Opera has also undergone a graphical revamp. Thumbnails of web pages of active tabs remain set in a carousel-format GUI, where you swipe horizontally through them and tap on the one you want to jump to. Now the thumbnails are bigger and the animation is smoother. From the tab selector UI, you can open a private tab, which won’t save cookies, history and other traces of your browsing activity. A private tab is denoted by the black theme of its navigation bar, compared to the light grey of the default, non-private tab.

WebKit Opera
Discover: Newsfeed done Pinterest-style

Discover is a newsfeed that pushes current news and other stories to the browser. Each is displayed as a panel with leading headlines and pictures, and arranged in a layout similar to Pinterest. Tap any one of the panels, and you’ll be shown the entire article. Discover presents stories in several categories that are provided by traditional news outlets. You cannot add your own story source to Discover, nor remove a specific one that comes with this service. The only customization you can do here is switch off the story categories you don’t want to receive.

WebKit Opera
Off-Road mode: Compression scheme saves on data usage

Off-Road mode is a data-saving tool you can switch on to more efficiently use your mobile data allotment if you are not on an unlimited plan. It can also be helpful if your phone isn’t getting a strong signal. It routes incoming data through Opera’s servers, compressing them before sending them to your phone; it also scales down the sharpness of pictures to save on data usage. You can set their image quality from low, medium, high, or have Off-Road not download images at all.

WebKit Opera
Needs improvement: Text wrapping

One of the best features of the other two Opera mobile browsers that made them superior to most other Android browsers doesn’t work as well in Webkit Opera: text wrapping, which is when zooming in on a page triggers enlarged text to be automatically reformatted to fit within the side margins of your device’s screen. Opera Mobile Classic and Mini feature excellent text wrapping, but it’s not as snappy in Webkit Opera. Hopefully this will be optimized in future releases.

WebKit Opera
WebKit Opera: A completely new browser

Generally, we found this first release works very well, with a build and performance that feels solid. WebKit Opera shouldn’t be viewed as a direct successor to Opera Mobile Classic and Opera Mini. The developers didn’t just slap the Opera Mobile Classic/Mini GUI on over the WebKit engine. It appears they started from scratch, coding a new GUI that works best with WebKit. It’s not really a new version of Opera for Android, but a brand-new browser for the platform.