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Opera Mini

Tue Feb 21, 2006 - 2:20 PM EST - By Douglas Morse

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Treo's built-in web browser, Blazer could sure use some sprucing up, and the folks at Opera Software say they have just the thing, Opera Mini, for use on some Treo SmartPhones. Technically, however, Mini is not a browser. It's a Java client - big gotcha - that retrieves re-formatted, compressed pages from an Opera-savvy server. Most recent cell phone models have a small Java client built in, so Opera Mini, at about 200k, can reside in a phone�s memory. Ironically, Treo 650, a high end smartphone, does not ship with a Java client, and adding one - also mercifully free - chews up almost 2 MB, a high cost to replace Treo's native Blazer. Actually, you can�t really �replace� Blazer, since it�s in ROM, but rather you can just ignore it and install a third party replacement and use that instead.

Blazer doesn't really "blaze," and Opera's potential strength is its server-side compression, which could greatly reduce the number of bytes transmitted. Translate that to smaller files, faster download, lower cost, especially if you�re on a metered data plan instead of unlimited data. Other gotchas get in the way, however, not the least of which is that the program doesn't yet support Verizon and some other phones/networks. (For a current list of what is supported, see this page.

There you'll find:

�Opera Mini is available to all Sprint and Cingular customers. Availability for T-Mobile customers is dependent on the subscription plan. BREW-enabled phones, including Verizon, are currently not supported." Is that you? If so, the same page has directions for obtaining the software, along with a link to get the Java client from Palm. The Java client is free for Treo owners, but you still have to supply personal information to download it.


At first glance, Opera Mini looks promising. The start pane shows three input boxes. �Surf the web,� helpfully begins with �www�. Put a URL in it to browse. �Google,� awaits a search term. Underneath is a Bookmark list, including �My Opera� and �CNN� to get you started. "More bookmarks" is below, hidden until you scroll to it. You can tap the arrow to see where you've browsed � a history feature.

Red bands at the top and bottom of the screen eat up a lot of space. However, you can turn these off by pressing star (*). The top bar is purely cosmetic, while the bottom functions as a dumbed down task bar with the word �Menu" in the lower left corner. Tap that button to show options: enter a web address, look at your bookmarks, go to your home page, or exit. It also includes an expanding Tools menu to check your history, adjust settings, or get help. The center of the lower task bar shows the time, and on the right are the �Back,� and �Stop� buttons.

In its current incarnation, Opera Mini does not let you change the font size, and even worse, lacks a standard Treo style menu bar at the top.


The five-way control is implemented exactly the reverse of Blazer. Annoyingly, the left/right buttons scroll the display up and down, while up/down bounces from hyperlink to hyperlink on the web page. You can follow a highlighted link by pressing the center button, as you�d expect. When you first click a hyperlink after launching Mini, a dialog asks if you want to use airtime until the application terminates. This is helpful for cell phone users who are charged for all data usage, but those of you with unlimited data plans would want to turn this nagging notification off. Unfortunately, Opera Mini provides no such option.

When surfing on a tiny screen, image control is vital. Images not only take up a lot of bandwidth, but consume precious screen real estate and can really lengthen download time. Blazer allows only two options: on or off. I tend to turn images off to make pages load faster. In this sense, Opera Mini performs better than Blazer. The options are to load images, load low res images, or load no images at all.

On a 2� screen, layout is everything, and under some circumstances Opera Mini is fine; in others, it fails miserably. Without images, it falls apart. Huge chunks of screen are wasted with blank space. Mini also lacks a Blazer-like wide or desktop mode.

The more I used Opera Mini, the more problems I encountered. It doesn�t support frames. Instead, it lays it out in one big column without relation to the page it�s from. Its support of tables is nil. I make movies and sell my DVDs through the Amazon Advantage program, where information about sales is presented in a table. Blazer shows this information clearly. Opera Mini makes a mess out of the data.


Although Opera Mini�s servers are secure, the connection to your cell phone and the servers is not. Every time you go to a secure site, you are warned that the connection is not secure.

Text entry is infuriating. Click on the box to enter a web address, and a memo pad interface pops up. Although "www" is filled in, ready to go, the cursor is at the front, forcing you to futz around before you can actually enter an address. Blazer is far superior at entering Web addresses with its single tap boxes for �www�, �.com� and so on.

Although Opera�s quirky method will probably be fixed in a future release, it is typical of the problems with an early version. This is also the second piece of software I�ve tested recently with no support for the menu button -- the other was LibertyControl. Mini is meant to be used with short cuts of hash mark (#) followed by a number. The scheme is obviously a boon to cell phone users, but not all that convenient on Treo. These shortcuts are conveniently listed in the help menu. Perhaps they're intended to substitute for a standard navigation bar, but most programs have both shortcuts and standard controls. Our smartphones are treated as dumbphones.

Opera Mini does not support downloads. You can�t retrieve .prc files and run them, nor download document files and open them, nor save Web page images. These missing features alone knock down its rating.


How much zip do you get when running the app? Not nearly enough. Behind the scenes Opera Mini sends page fetch requests to Opera�s servers, which send the request to the actual website. Too often you�re staring at a processing dialogue while Opera Mini summons information from Opera�s servers, which reformat the web page to fit on Treo's screen, compressing the images and mangling the entire page into one long column.

The idea of using proxy servers to pre-format web pages is not new. In fact, early versions of Blazer worked through proxies. Recently, Palm stopped supporting those servers, so owners of early Treo and Palm models are out of luck. Opera Mini�s use of Proxy servers does reduce the size of the pages, though with that annoying delay for Opera server processing, so load time didn�t seem any faster.

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