Opera Mini 3.0 – review

I did not even have the time to test Opera Mini 3.0 Beta that the full release is ready.
I have felt bad for complaining about the HTTP headers and not even give a shot to the full features. So here comes a little review.

Installation was smooth. I downloaded the MIDlet and installed. During the installation the client checked my internet connection and automatically picked the best one. It also generated keys for security.

Test #1: HTTP headers
I visited my test site at http://t.wurfl.com/ to grab some headers. I STRONGLY suggest the download from WAP, because as Mike Rowehl pointed out, the default browser’s user-agent will be store in an HTTP header.
These are the custom headers:

  • X-OperaMini-Features: advanced, download, camera, folding, inputhints
  • X-OperaMini-Phone-UA: SonyEricssonW810i/R4EA Browser/NetFront/3.3 Profile/MIDP-2.0 Configuration/CLDC-1.1
  • X-OperaMini-Phone: SonyEricsson # W810i

Test #2: Photo Blog
I wanted to upload a test image. Entered the Photo Blog link from the main page, took a picture of a nice flower… And discovered that the only supported blog is Opera’s! What a bad surprise. Reading from Opera Mini’s site: Now you can take images with your phone camera and upload them to any of your blogs, forums or e-mail blog right from Opera Mini.
Looking at the screenshots it’s clear they are uploading to Opera’s blogsite, but I thought that was just an example. I could not find any preference in the settings menu.
Reading on Opera Watch, they say you can post to myspace or other blogs. I am sorry I really could not find how to do it!

Test #3: my blog
The page looks very good. On top there’s a link to subscribe to the feed (read more to know about feeds support). All my articles are well readable and the ability to scroll up and down quickly with left and right joystick makes it very usable. Scrolling is smooth.
Images are rescaled and respect the proportions from the original layout. Just like on my desktop I can click on an image and zoom. Initially it fits the screen (little bit of vertical scrolling on big images, but that’s OK) and then I can zoom more to see the real image. I can also download the image.
All the right column of the blog is moved on the bottom of the articles. So I first need to scroll all the articles and then reach the right column. Not perfect, but probably the only possible solution on a small screen. Going through the “label cloud” and previous posts list is OK considering the high number of links. Again the ability to scroll up and down of one page is very helpful.

Test #3 bis: Tom Hume’s blog
Tom Hume‘s blog has a left column with links and images and then the articles on the right column. I wanted to see how Opera Mini would handle it.
The approach is very smart as I see Tom’s picture, a couple of other links and then all the articles. Links to Flikr and previous posts have been skipped totally. I don’t know if this is a feature or a bug, but works very well. I think it’s a feature! :D

Test #4: slashdot
Slashdot works smoothly. I would add “as expected”. It provides a CSS for handhelds and the content is reduced to the minimum. There’s a form to login and then the articles.
I personally don’t like the layout, you can’t really understand that the title are not part of the article as they are rendered as normal links. A bit of background color would have made it much better on Opera Mini, but I guess the CSS is made to work on any mobile browser.
Reading an article means also loading all the comments. It gets very long. I think slashdot should have made it more efficient for a mobile device. Again, not Opera’s fault!

Test #5: searching with Google
Smooth and effective. Works like a charm.
I followed some random links and all worked nicely.

Test #6: Gmail
I went on http://www.gmail.com and logged in pretending to be a desktop computer. A big alert was on top of each page reminding me that standard HTML was being used. A link to move to the advanced AJAX version was available. Clicking would simply reload the same page.
The entire site was barely usable. Each page started with the left column of gmail, so mailboxes and labels. No contacts. Then the e-mails. It was crowded and mostly hard to read. I guess the mixture of the standard HTML interface and the small screen caused this. To read emails I had to scroll down about 3 pages.

Test #6 bis: Gmail mobile
When logging on the standard gmail I tagged the “remember me on this computer”. When accessing http://m.gmail.com I was logged in automatically.
The layout was much cleaner and simpler, of course. Navigating around was pretty easy and fast, of course.
Should be noted that I could not make the accesskeys work. Is this something that I need to discover in the online documentation?
Lists of links were all folded. Clicking on the + sign would open the list and I could pick the desired link. Quite nice feature. I am not convinced this is a usability advantage, but was nice to see it. Interesting. I will need more time using it to give a final judgment on this.

Text #7: RSS feeds
I tested my blog’s feed, of course. Clicking on the feed (always presented as the first link on top of the page) loads a page where you can see a first link that says “subscribe” and below the contents of the feed.
Subscribing brings you to the Feeds page. Feeds can be sorted alphabetically or by time.
In the Feeds page you see your subscriptions with a tiny icon, a title, and the number of unread news. Once you visit a feed all news are marked as read.

Overall results
The general user-experience is very good. I browsed a lot of sites and I could access all the information I needed very easily.
It is clear that some sites are more friendly and some others are harder to render.
No objects such as flash were rendered by the browser, but that’s OK too.
Browsing is fast and smooth and I really, really like the ability to scroll up and down quickly. Ebay is really ugly, but works. PlayDeep, an e-commerce site, works and I could place an order. Too bad that all the simple javascript in the page did not work at all. Every time a javascript event was supposed to happen I saw a big error message and the phone vibrated.
Sites that are providing a good CSS for handhelds clearly work better than other sites so thumbs up for the authors that took the time to draw a good stylesheet for small devices.
Memory does not seem to be an issue as it used to happen with old WAP browsers and sometimes still happens with some modern browsers.
Pop-up windows are managed OK. It is probably not clear to the user the difference between a normal link and a pop-up, but I also don’t see much advantage in notifying it as the browser only shows one page at a time.
I did not like that when picking something from a list (select element), the list is shown as a new page and when I pick the element the browser goes back to the web page. I would have liked the standard dropdown list like in all browsers. This is a feature that has also been present in the Openwave browsers for years. According to openwave this is a usability feature that helps the user pick the desired element more easily. I personally don’t like it and always feel strange when I click on a list and see an effect similar to opening a new page.

As an end-user I like the ability to automatically detect the best connection, but as a geek I would have liked to have a menu in the settings to change it and not a button to re-test. I want to be in control. :)
When loading pages a tag “Processing” appears at the bottom and then changes into “Loading” and shows the KB that are being downloaded. I know that “Processing” means that the Opera Mini-Proxy is downloading, analyzing and adapting the page, but it’s odd to see it on the client. It feels like the client is processing the page before having downloaded it. Just a small comment, this does NOT mean that the client is bad! Not at all!

Last thing is I would like to know what the “features” in the HTTP header are. I can guess that “camera” means I can take picutes and that download means I can download images. Is DRM supported? “inputhints” means that my phone supports T9 or does it mean that sites can use the format attribute? “advanced” means what?

How I did it
Tested with a Sony Ericsson W810i, running Opera Mini 3.0.
Mobile Operator is TIM, in Italy and using EDGE connectivity.
I will check my next bill to see how much this test costed me. Unfortunately the online service provided by TIM does not provide the detailed traffic.

Download from web: http://www.operamini.com/
Strongly suggested wireless download: http://mini.opera.com/

Want to see how it will look on your mobile? Look at the Opera Mini simulator.

Other Reviews:
Dan Appelquist: New Opera Mini Integrates Photo Blogging
Dominique Hazaƫl-Massieux: Off-line browsing on a mobile device
Helicoid’s mmm: Opera Mini 3
Mike Rowehl: Bloglines Mobile and Opera Mini 3