Opera Mobile vs native browser on Nokia E72

Comparison between Nokia E72’s native browser and Opera Mobile by a regular user

I had a Nokia E72 for the last 3 months and I have used it on a daily basis as my main phone. Of course, this includes browsing. Since I spend quite a bit of time browsing and most of all I want it to be efficient and snappy, I tried the native browser first and what I assumed would be the best browser available for the E72 later: Opera Mobile.

Preamble

My normal browsing starts from four main sites: dabr (i.e. Twitter), Facebook, Google reader, search. From there I normally follow links and consume content that is on the larger Internet.
Also, getting used to the non-touch interface was hard initially because I got so accustomed to zooming and panning easily with my finger. Anyway, since touch is just not a feature of the E72, I will not be discussing here if touch is better than non-touch.

Native browser

The first few weeks I used exclusively the native browser, I wanted to have a clear idea of how the browser works and what is the performance. My hope was that it would simply be good enough.

There are two main cases to consider of course, the site designed for mobile and the site designed for a generic Web browser. In my daily roving on the Internet I end up on everything from good optimised sites, to Flash-only site.
The performance is obviously different and a mobile site always worked better, in any case it is fair to say that the browser overall works. To me that’s a fact, you can go on pretty much any site and it will work. Flash is not supported, but that is OK with me (Flash lite IS supported, but I cannot remember when I last saw any content).
When you visit Web sites that are not designed for mobile devices, the browser normally shows you a portion of the screen and then you can scroll in all directions. This is a feature that Nokia introduced many years ago (was it 2005? 2006?), when they first released the WebKit-based browser and it’s still there, working exactly the same way. Although it took me a bit to get used to navigating the page with that small map on the top right, it does the job. Average sites will work well and you will be able to browse around and read your content. The articles or body of the page is normally adapted in a thinner column that fits your screen and this makes it easy to read (yes, in rare occasions you have to scroll a tiny bit, but that is also true for Opera Mobile). The inability to zoom out makes it hard sometimes to get an idea of where are things on particularly complicated pages (think of mashable or techcrunch) and of course you will occasionally not be able to see a picture all in one screen (you will have to scroll to see it).
Page loading overall feels slow and while it would be OK on a 3G or even 2G network, it is never snappy, not even on Wifi. Of course, when I am at home or in the office I will most likely use my PC, but I still happen to quickly check on my phone once or twice a day and in those occasions it should be immediate. Speaking of mashable, the page is just too complicated for the browser (or maybe the CPU) and scrolling around and reading, is close to impossible and certainly not pleasant.
Another thing that drives me crazy is that the browser supports multiple tabs, but you are not able to actually open a new one. What you can do is go on a site, click on a link that opens a new tab and THEN and only then you can switch between the two (or more) tabs and have multiple pages open at the same time.

My conclusion is that it’s not a bad browser, but is not exactly up to my requirements as a power-user.

Opera mobile

Given the non-complete satisfaction of the native browser, I went on and started looking for Opera. While my first thought was for Opera Mini I soon realised that Opera Mobile is free as well. Of course, the idea of using a proper browser with all the bells and whistles seemed too good to be true.

Installation went smoothly and while to this day I am still not quite sure how to manage the quick links that you have when you open Opera, I immediately felt at the helm of A PROPER BROWSER. Tabs, quick links, google search always handy. It felt very good. Opera Mobile immediately became my favourite browser and I started using it every day instead of the native one.

Unfortunately it did not take long for me to go back to use the native browser occasionally, and eventually abandon Opera Mobile. Here is why.

Loading feels snappier than the native browser, although I have not done proper measurements I have for example switched between the two in the same network conditions. On top of that add the zooming in and out, it works and it’s a really nice feature. The very same interface to zoom out seems flawed in its design, though. While you are still loading a page the right soft-key has the dual functionality of stopping the page load AND zoom out, which means you cannot zoom out until the browser is done loading. I am a very impatient user and the idea of zooming out and starting to look at other details while the page finishes loading is something that I would love to do. A minor issue that ruins a feature the would otherwise be so good.

I have 3 major issues with Opera Mobile that are really blocking from further use.
The first one is that it often generated memory limit errors when browsing long enough and this eventually also generated a couple of crashes. Not good.
Secondly, many times I received a page timeout error, something that rarely happened with the native browser, which tells me that Opera has probably set the timeout limits too low. That seems very strange for a browser that is designed to be used on a mobile device that might have bumpy connection speeds and unstable networks.
Thirdly, a side effect of Opera’s bullish approach of “we know best, give us the best content you have” creates some issues on highly optimised sites like Google reader. The short version of the story is that it does not work, the long version is that the design for desktop browsers is just too complicated for a small screen and too slow to use and the mobile design does not work well with Opera Mobile.

These three things, unfortunately, made me kiss good bye to the power of tabs and search at your fingertip.