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View Full Version : Opera Mini 4: A new star is born - the FREE(!) Web browser you MUST give a try to

11-12-2007, 07:22 PM
Opera Mini (http://www.operamini.com/) has a short history (the project was started only slightly over two years ago), but, today, with the release of version 4, it has become one of the most useful, best browsers available for anything handheld.

In this review & tutorial, I provide you with a complete tutorial of installing and using this recently released browser and, in addition, I explain why you may want to prefer it to other Web browsers.

First, some screenshots taken on wildly different platforms / devices:

(VGA Windows Mobile Pocket PC screenshot)
(QVGA Symbian S60v3 Nokia N95 screenshot)
(176*220 Windows Mobile Smartphone screenshot)

Note that note of the above screenshots use real full screen mode – hence the top and bottom bars. The last screenshot with enabled full screen mode can be seen in the following screenshot:


1.1 Why you will want to use it?

You’ll find it a god-send particularly when
you’re over a VERY slow (for example, GPRS) connection and want the fastest browsing solution, preferably with images
yours isn’t an unlimited data plan; that is, you pay big bucks for every Megabytes
you don’t want to pay for a third-party browser (they, in general, cost big bucks)
you’re a desktop Opera user (you should be – give it a try, you’ll love it, particularly if you have a notebook with a high-resolution (at least SXGA+) screen – Opera’s zoom-in features are way better than those of Internet Explorer and are only matched by Mozilla) and you want to synchronize your bookmarks with it as easily and automatically as possible
you look for an easy-to-use, non-separate, integrated RSS reader – that is, you need a Web browser that also notifies you when you surf to a page also having RSS feed
your mobile device is resource-constrained, while you’d like to keep tens of Web pages, preferably with images, open at the same time (without the need for reloading). This is where most (if not ALL) other browsers severely fail, even on high-end mobile devices packed with tens of Megabytes of free (!) RAM memory.
you want something like the minimap feature of the Nokia Web browser on newer Nokia devices, the NetFront 3.4 Technical Previews (which, being just previews, are severely restricted and lack Flash, more than 10 favorites and other goodies) on Windows Mobile or the iPhone Safari browser but usable on any platform (incl. any Windows Mobile device) – but even faster and having much less resource demands
you want something with hardware button / keypad support. Opera Mini supports them just great. If yours is a phone with the dialpad on the front of your phone, you’ll REALLY love these shortcuts because, then, you will rarely (if ever) need to use the softkeys (or, on touchscreen devices, the stylus) to navigate the menus. Using button shortcuts is WAY faster. As opposed to this, (on Windows Mobile) NetFront and Minimo doesn’t support buttons at all and (on Symbian) Nokia Web isn’t very good either. The MS Smartphone version of IEM is, shortcut button support-wise, is also definitely inferior to Opera Mini – it supports far fewer operations than Opera Mini.

In the following two sections, I compare it to the other browsers available for the two current, major mobile operating systems, Windows Mobile and Symbian. (Freely skip the one not pertaining to you.)

1.1.1 How does it compare to other Windows Mobile browsers?

While there’re quite a few Web browsers on Windows Mobile, only few of them are actually usable: the built-in Internet Explorer Mobile (preferably with a capable plug-in like PIEPlus, Spb Pocket Plus 4.x (but NOT older versions) or MultiIE), Opera Mobile and NetFront. These three browsers (and the other Web browsers and IEM plug-ins I, generally, don’t really recommend: Picsel, Thunderhawk, Minimo etc.) all have their strengths and weaknesses, on which I’ve thoroughly elaborated in my two (a separate one for Windows Mobile Pocket PC’s and Smartphones HERE (http://www.pocketpcmag.com/blogs/index.php?blog=3&p=1828&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1) and HERE (http://www.pocketpcmag.com/blogs/index.php?blog=3&p=2084&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1), respectively) Web Browsing Bibles

1.1.2 How does it compare to other Symbian browsers?

On Symbian, there’re two other, really decent Web browsers.

Opera Mobile (http://www.opera.com/products/mobile/products/s60/) is available for all S60 v2 (!) and v3 devices and is pretty decent. For example, unlike its Windows Mobile counterpart, it supports in-page text searching (which is painfully missing from the WM version). It, however, doesn’t use a compression service, which means long downloading times over slow links and has pretty high memory requirements.

Nokia’s Web browser coming with all S60v3 FP1 models is also very decent: it supports in-page searching, Flash Lite, minimap view and a lot of other goodies. However, it’s decidedly slower than Opera Mini and if your phone is a Nokia N95-1 with 64M RAM only, you’ll inevitably run into the MAJOR problems caused by its taking a lot of memory.

While Opera Mini 4 allocates about 10 Mbytes of memory to itself (which is a big letdown on the N95-1), after the initial memory allocation, no more memory will be allocated and you can safely go on browsing.

1.1.3 When will you still need to stick to a traditional Web browser?

Unfortunately, there’re several areas Opera Mini doesn’t excel at. While, say, 95% of the time it works just wonderfully (no wonder I use it for most of my Web browsing on both Windows Mobile and Symbian phones) for just accessing the Web, in the remaining 5% you’ll need to “fall back” to other, traditional, non-Java-based browsers. You wi

if you need full JavaScript and/or AJAX support. Only a subset of these standards are supported (albeit still a LOT more than in Internet Explorer Mobile, Thunderhawk or Picsel!). See THIS (http://my.opera.com/operamini/blog/javascript-and-ajax-support-in-opera-mini-4) for more info if interested.
These browsers will inevitably be invoked when you make Opera Mini download a file (this, however, doesn’t mean you will need to stick to using these browsers!)
As you can’t make Opera Mini the default system browser, links received in e-mails and HTML files in the local file system will still need to be browsed via these browsers – unless (if it’s a remote Web page, not a local, say, HTML file or file attachment) you paste the address of the page to the address bar of Opera Mini (OM for short).
If you need Java applet and/or Flash (Lite) support. It’s with very few pages that you do need them; for example, Handango’s Friday giveouts, requiring full Flash compliance, are one of them. And, for YouTube, you will want to use alternate methods to play, NOT direct, in-line playback. (If you do use the TCPMP plug-in under Windows Mobile, then, you will still need to use IEM.) That is, generally, it’s when you want to play some online Flash games (see THIS Flash Bible for more info if interested) that you will need to stick to a browser supporting Flash.
There are some other restrictions; for example, you absolutely MUST edit text longer than 4-5 kilobytes. Then, because of the MIDlet Manager (also abbreviated as KVM) restrictions, you’ll end up having to switch to a “real” browser – at least for the time of editing.
You need to save Web pages to the local file system and/or copy text out of them. Unfortunately, OM is completely unable to do this. Unfortunately, with current KVM’s, not even copying a URL (for example, that of the current page) to the clipboard is possible.

Again and again, speaking out of experience, a casual user will very rarely need to switch back to these browsers and, after finding out how easy Opera Mini is to use, how quick it is to load pages and operate and how wonderfully low system requirements it has, he or she will want to stick with Opera Mobile.

1.2 Installation

(Note that this section only contains WM5+ Windows Mobile Pocket PC screenshots showing the MIDlet manager Jbed. As I recommend Jbed the most and I do urge you to install Jbed on your phone too, I didn’t bother including screenshots / instructions on installing OM under other MIDlet managers. Similarly, I don’t give you Symbian screenshots either – installing and running OM is done in a very similar way as under WM.)

1.2.1 Installing a MIDlet Manager

If you have a Windows Mobile device with at least WM5 as the operating system (sorry, previous operating systems aren’t supported – not even WM2003SE, let alone even older OS’es) and it’s not the latest models (for example, the Kaiser / Mda Vario III / Tilt) of HTC, then, you will want to download the Jbed MIDlet Manager HERE (http://www.winmobiletech.com/092007MidletBible/Cloudyfa_EsmertecJbed.cab). If you do this on your desktop computer, transfer the CAB file to your handset and click / activate it from File Explorer (or any other explorer tool like Total Commander). Just install it (it’ll be installed in the main memory) and you’re set – you can go on installing Opera Mini itself.

Jbed will run on ALL Pocket PC’s and Smartphones running at least WM5. If you have an earlier operating system, check out the “Platform compatibility” section (with three rows corresponding to non-phone-enabled Pocket PC’s, Pocket PC Phone Edition and MS Smartphones in turn) in the main MIDlet Bible chart (http://www.winmobiletech.com/092007MidletBible/CompatibilityAndMain.html) for download links; then, you’ll want to use either TAO Intent or IBM J9. Of the two, I’d prefer the former, but that’s only me.

Note that you can ONLY use this MIDlet manager if and only if your locale is set to a language using Western characters: Spain, France, Finland, you got it. (This doesn’t only cover Western languages; for example, Estonian only uses letters already present in some other Western languages. That is, while Estonian is an East-European language / locale, it’ll still work.) If, on the other hand, you have a, say, Slavonic locale (for example, Slovak), Jbed will NOT work. If your locale is Russian, then, you will want to check out THIS (http://4pda.ru/forum/uploads/img-56885-EsmertecJbed_RUS_200708_02_2_1_0419mui.rar) file instead; linked from HERE (http://4pda.ru/forum/index.php?showtopic=1333&st=1140). Note that the latter MIGHT work with other East-European locales; I haven’t tested this myself.

Also note that if you have a non-phone WM5+ Pocket PC (for example, a Dell Axim x50(v) (with the WM5 upgrade) /x51(v) etc.), you will also need to download THIS (http://www.winmobiletech.com/092007MidletBible/Fix_dlls_for_PPC.zip) file and unZIP its contents to \Windows on your Pocket PC.

1.2.2 Installing Opera Mini itself

If you’d like to download the browser onto your desktop computer and, then, transfer it to your phone, go to THIS (http://www.operamini.com/download/pc/generic/generic_advanced_midp_2/) page and click the opera-mini-advanced.jar link (I don’t provide a direct link to the latter as it always changes, as newer and newer builds are released). A JAR file will be downloaded. Transfer it to your PDA via ActiveSync, a memory card, a wireless connection, the WinCE File System plug-in of Total Commander etc., fire up Pocket File Explorer on your phone and click it. It’ll initiate the install process.

If, on the other hand, you’d like to do this on your phone, enter the address http://mini.opera.com/ into any of your Web browser on your phone (screenshot HERE (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/downloadOM4FinalPDA1.png)) , scroll down and click “Try the new Opera Mini 4” link (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/downloadOM4FinalPDA2.png). This will take you to the page http://mini.opera.com/?rel=4, where you only need to click “Download high memory version” (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/downloadOM4FinalPDA3.png). Then, the installation will start – just like with the offline process outlined in above.

It’s pretty easy to install Opera Mini. You’ll just need to answer OK, Yes and Continue. For example, when you’re presented THIS (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/OM4FinalAnswerOK.png) screen (asking you whether OM should be put in the root folder or any subfolder), THIS (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/OM4FinalAnswerYes.png) and THIS (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/OM4FinalAnswerYes3.png) question to to launch it. During the process, you’ll see other dialogs; for example, THIS (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/OM4FinalAnswerYes2.png) showing the compilation process.

Now that you’ve launched the app, keep answering OK / Yes / Accept as can be seen in THIS (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/OM4FinalAnswerYes4.png) screen. On the next screen, you’ll (again) press OK (the “Yes, but ask me next session” will be selected by default; it’s perfectly OK with us) (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/OM4FinalAnswerYes5.png). After this, answer Yes to the next question too (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/OM4FinalAnswerYes6.png) and, then, activate Accept to accept the license agreement (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/OM4FinalAnswerAccept.png).

Upon the first execution, after you click a link (and, therefore, initiate a network connection) you’ll need to press at least one button several times until the progress bar is full (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/OM4FinalPressButtons.png). You can do this with any button if you have numeric buttons; do this with the D-pad (any directions) if you don’t.

1.3 Usage

After this, you’ll find using OM pretty straightforward by using the two WM5 softkeys (or the touch screen). I’m pretty sure you’ll find it easy to use.

Note that in the review of the previous beta3 (http://www.pocketpcmag.com/blogs/index.php?blog=3&p=2271&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1), I’ve already spent a LOT of time explaining how link synchronization and managing RSS feeds work. Please do refer to the article for a complete overview of both these techniques.

Users new to OM will surely notice that entering text is done differently than using regular Web browsers. Now, if you click (move the focus to and press the Action button on it) a text input field / area, you won’t be able to do an “in-line” edit, but you’ll be taken to a separate and, in most cases, full screen text editor. Jbed’s text editor is one of the best (for comparison: TAO Intent’s (a well-known, widely used KVM) editor has severe restrictions: it doesn’t support copy/paste operations), but keep in mind that it (as with ALL the other KVM’s on Windows Mobile and some KVM’s on Symbian) can’t edit texts larger than some 4 kilobytes.

Note that after exiting (Menu / Exit) or shutting down (with an external task manager tool or by resetting the device) OM, you will need to go to Start / Programs and select the Esmertec Jbed icon (highlighted HERE (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/EsmertecJbedIcon.png)) and click (or, press Launch while it’s selected) “Opera Mini” inside (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/EsmertecJbedIcon2.png). Note that if you’re a somewhat more advanced user, you can easily invoke OM4 without starting Esmertec Jbed first (that is, you save some screen taps / button presses) by following my remarks in the “Direct, system-level links (shortcuts) to MIDlets” row of the main chart (http://www.winmobiletech.com/092007MidletBible/CompatibilityAndMain.html) of the MIDlet Bible.

Under newer Symbian versions, you need to basically do the same as above. The difference is that these newer Symbian versions (as opposed to, say, the MIDlet Manager on the S60v1 N-Gage) puts a direct link to OM into Applications (example screenshot HERE (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/N95HighlevelIcon.png)); that is, you don’t need to create these links yourself.

1.4 Changes since beta 3

In addition to some, mostly “dumbphone” (that is, not Symbian / Windows Mobile-related) bug fixes, there is some welcome news for touch screen users.

First, you may already have noticed how complicated it is to reorganize the favorites list on the mobile phone. You repeatedly need to select Manage / Move up (or, down) to move a given favorite up or down, which involves a lot of work (and there’re no sorting capabilities built-in). Of course, if you have access to a desktop Opera browser, you can quickly do this stuff by either quick sorting (Sort / View by … in the context menu) or mouse-based drag and drop.

Now, if you have a touchscreen-based device (for example, a Pocket PC), you can, with the stylus, just highlight a favorite (as you would do when using the traditional way of reorganizing them) and, then, keeping the stylus down, drag it to its new position (note that this will not be animated – that is, you’ll only see the favorite moving after you’re lifted up the stylus from the touchscreen).

In addition, there’s another goodie you might want to know: now, keeping down the stylus on a Web page results in the context menu to be shown. The context menu slightly varies on the markup you’ve invoked it on:

links have a "Link" submenu, allowing for opening the link either with or without images (and also getting its address) as can be seen in HERE (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/OM4FinalContextMenu2.png)
images have a “Open Image” shortcut, which, in addition to showing the image in a new window, also let for downloading and saving it (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/OM4FinalContextMenu3.png)
the page itself (no links / images) “only” have the mobile view switch, reloading and information shortcuts (http://www.winmobiletech.com/112007OM4Final/OM4FinalContextMenu2.png)

This context menu is also accessible by pressing “1” on the keypad - or, of course, emulating the keypress on the on-screen software input panel or, finally, assigned to a hardware button. This all has been thoroughly explained in the MIDlet Button Bible (http://www.pocketpcmag.com/blogs/index.php?blog=3&p=2259&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1) – make sure you DO read it because it’ll REALLY ease your life and increase your productivity.

Note that this all has also been (shortly) mentioned HERE (http://my.opera.com/community/forums/topic.dml?id=212766).

The home screen also has some new links; for example, the brand new "GameJump" taking you to some freely available Java MIDlet games directly downloadable to your phone. They aren't particularly good; that is, don't expect anything like Gameloft or I-Play-like (see the links to the best Java MIDlet game developers at the end of MIDlet Bible!). I've tested three of these games on my N95: Arcade Park 1 (compared to the native PPC version (http://www.pocketpcmag.com/blogs/index.php?blog=3&p=2118&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1), REALLY weak), CS Garfield (pretty OK but there're much better, albeit commercial bowling titles for Windows Mobile) and Spin Blocks (not worth bothering on devices with QVGA or larger screen because it uses 176*220). All in all, there's no free lunch; however, you may still want to look around for some games.

1.5 Frequently asked questions / misconceptions

1.5.1 Proxy servers and Opera Mini 4

Some people state (see for example THIS (http://my.opera.com/community/forums/topic.dml?id=212531) and THIS (http://my.opera.com/community/forums/topic.dml?id=211392)) the final version of OM4 doesn’t work with proxy servers any more, unlike with earlier OM4 beta builds. I’ve thoroughly tested this and found out that they do work assuming you explicitly switch the network access mode from Socket to HTTP (Menu / Tools / Settings / Network protocol).

1.5.2 Lack of code signing and the consequences

As you may already have noticed, Opera Mini is unsigned. This, unfortunately, means (depending on the actual KVM used and the operator restrictions / customizations) nagging screens when trying to access the Net. With Windows Mobile, you can “hack” the most widely used KVM’s, including the highly recommended Jbed. With Symbian, where the situation can be worse - again, depending on what additional restrictions are added by your mobile operator. Of course, you can always de-brand your device as is explained at, say, HERE (http://blogn95.blogspot.com/2007/08/whats-all-this-debrand-and-upgrade.html).

You may also want to read THIS (http://my.opera.com/community/forums/topic.dml?id=207952&t=1194878059&page=1#comment2323045) post (in THIS (http://my.opera.com/community/forums/topic.dml?id=207952), pretty instructive thread) on why OM4 isn’t signed by default. (In a nutshell: the high price of the Verisign root certificate would have forced the developers of OM to make their browser commercial.)

I hope someone will be able to come up with a signed version of OM4 that works on at least Windows Mobile (with Jbed at least) and / or Symbian phones.

1.6 Recommended links

Please DO read the articles linked above; most importantly, the MIDlet Bible (http://www.pocketpcmag.com/blogs/index.php?blog=3&p=2266&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1). It explains a LOT you might not ever have thought of. You will find it REALLY useful. If you do want to use Opera Mini to its full potential, you MUST read it and all the related tutorials (for example, the one on button handling, which is of extreme importance with OM4).

Tim Williamson
11-12-2007, 09:28 PM
Good review, but could you be a little more thorough next time? ;)

I still need to check out Jbed on my Dash.

11-27-2007, 09:56 PM
In the meantime, I’ve managed to make Opera Mini the system-level browser capable of opening remote links from OTHER, local applications (for example, Messaging). This is what many-many people sought for and now – it’s possible. That is, it’s one of the greatest hacks of all times and, as you’ve guessed, REALLY enhances the usability of Opera Mini. It works on both Pocket PC’s and Smartphones.

Article cross-posted to PPCT (http://www.pocketpcthoughts.com/forums/viewtopic.php?p=445977), AximSite (http://www.aximsite.com/boards/applications/221597-my-major-breakthrough-now-you-can-use-opera-mini-system-level-web-browser.html), XDA-Developers - 1 (http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?p=1695308), XDA-Developers - 2 (http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?p=1695309), XDA-Developers - 3 (http://wiki.xda-developers.com/index.php?pagename=MAJOR%20BREAKTHROUGH%3A%20My%20latest%20invention%3A%20now%2C%20you%20can%20use%20Opera%20Mini%20as%20the%20system-level%20browser%21), FirstLoox (http://www.firstloox.org/forums/showthread.php?p=72878#post72878), BrightHand (http://forum.brighthand.com/showthread.php?t=250737), HowardForums (http://www.howardforums.com/showthread.php?p=10285013), SPT (http://forums.thoughtsmedia.com/showthread.php?p=127179), MoDaCo (http://www.modaco.com/content/Pocket-PC-General-Discussion/262169/-MY-MAJOR-BREAKTHROUGH-now-you-can-use-Opera-Mini-as-the-system-level-Web-browser/), Opera Mini forums (http://my.opera.com/community/forums/topic.dml?id=214655).