Opera Mini 5 Beta

I few days ago, I downloaded the Opera Mini 5 beta. The Download page told me they didn’t know if my phone would handle it, so I figured I would write about my experiences.

My Phone

My phone is a cheap Sony Ericsson W200a, which is the pay-as-you-go version of the W200. The screen is 128×160, though I use the 160×128 horizontal setting.

Review

When you first start the program (after installation), you get the “OperaMini” splash screen (which is cut off to “peraMi” on mine) while it loads, and then the speed-dial page. This page has been completely retooled with a 3×3 grid and a big, beautiful UI, which works great with a large touch-based device. My phone, however, is neither large nor touch-based, and the UI takes up the entire screen. In 128×160 mode, the ‘Exit’ button is completely cut off, and only the first option in the pull-down menu can be seen. In 160×128 mode, the ‘Exit’ button is half-visible, but you can’t see a single option in the pull-down. It’s easy enough to blindly scroll through them, try them out, and remember what each does (reminds me of playing a Japanese version of Final Fantasy), but that’s not something the average user wants to do. The large amount of padding around the different UI elements is part of the problem, and the screen is so small that the element sizes feel too big and out of proportion.

Opera Mini 5 gives you some standard browser controls, such as Back, Forward, Home, and New Tab.
The forward button is handy, because Mini 5 switches around the Back and Menu softkeys. That’ll take some getting used to.
Even on my cheap phone, switching between four tabs was quick, with only a hint of lag. There was a bit more lag when I had two of those tabs loading data, but the fact that I can switch between a number of tabs and refresh many of them at once is pretty impressive, and will be wonderfully useful. In Opera Mini 4, I was constantly returning to the Speed Dial to go to another site, and was relying on my sessions to keep me logged in.

Opera Mini 5 saves passwords for you, too! When I log into something, I get the confusing message, “Password m…” which I suppose means “Password memorize?” or something.

This brings me to a big problem of mine: System font size. Even when I set the size to extra-small, the UI stays the same, such that in the Settings (or any other menu), I can see only two options on the screen at the same time. The padding, again, is also using up half the screen.

The extra-small font in Opera Mini 5 is a lot better than in Opera Mini 4. It’s very solid and readable, though the letter ‘d’ tends to look like ‘cl’. The difference is that there is only one column of pixels between the bowl of the ‘d’ and its ascender, while there are two columns separating a ‘c’ and an ‘l’.

I had a bit of a finicky time trying to select a small checkbox, but it’s otherwise very good at navigating through links.

Summary

In summary, there are a couple problems with my experience:

  1. It’s not made for my screen. The splash image is too big, there’s too much padding on the UI elements, and the Back/Forward/Home/Etc. icons are very, very large.
  2. The system font is a bit big. Text notifications get cut off with ellipses, and I can only see two menu options at a time.
  3. The smallest font setting has some invisible hairlines.
  4. Some fields (such as when entering a web address) only use the abc method, with no T9 option. It’s a lot slower, even though most websites use english-based names.

I propose some solutions for my problems:

  1. Have a ‘small’ option which strips away most of the padding and shrinks the icons down to size.
  2. Allow the user to change the system font size, so that words don’t get cut off. Alternatively, use multi-line notifications (there’s no reason you have to fit two long words on one line, when the screen is 160px tall).
  3. retool or otherwise optimize the smallest font setting so that the hairlines in the ‘d’, at least, are visible. The rest of the letters look fairly goocl.
  4. Allow T9 in the web address bar, even if it uses abc by default.

Overall, it’s quite a change, and I think it’s a lot better than the previous version.

P.S.
My phone’s ‘return’ button, which would usually be either ‘back’ or ‘cancel’, based on the context, is completely unusable throughout my entire experience. I suppose that’s something that has to be added on a per-phone basis, which is why I only added this as a foot-note.

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