I’ve mentioned before the great Opera Mini, a free web browser for mobile phones. I said in my initial comments that I thought it was better than PocketIE on my PDA, and that I’d download it in an instant if they made it available for PocketPC.
Well now they have. It is currently only available as a beta for users of Windows Mobile 5, and Windows Mobile 2003, plus it is only available as a CAB package, which makes installation a bit more of a manual process – although the site has instructions on how to do this. The beta will also expire in June, which I suspect is an indication that they are going to charge for the full version.
As a totally unscientific comparison, I thought I’d view the same site in both PocketIE, and the new beta version of Opera. For the purposes of the comparison I ran both browsers in portrait mode, (although both will quite happily run in landscape) as like many, I have a PDA that is very much designed to work as a portrait device, and is a bit annoying in landscape. I also chose to use the full graphics version of the BBC News site, as it is a well known site, with a pretty complex layout.
This first shot is what PocketIE produces in single column mode. It does a slightly better job if you allow the browser to lay the page out using a wider space, but then of course you have to have a horizontal scroll bar.
Particular highlights are the mess it’s made of the menu bar across the top of the page, that links to the other parts of the BBC web site, and provides a search facility. Indeed, this takes up most of the visible page, where it even overlaps the BBC logo. Scrolling on down things don’t get much better. All in all it’s a bit of a pain, badly laid out, and a lot of scrolling to use.
By way of comparison, before I show you what the page looks like on the PocketPC version, I’ve loaded up the same page in Opera Mini. Again, you can’t actually see the news, as all you’re getting are the headers. However it has made a better job than PocketIE, fitting in more than the PDA – equipped with a VGA screen don’t forget.
Of course for any serious use on a screen this size, I’d recommend using the mobile version of the site that the BBC provides at http://news.bbc.co.uk/text_only.stm. This is a lot quicker to load, as it transfers a lot less data – also a factor to bear in mind if you’re using any sort of connection that is charged by data volume.
Finally, here is exactly the same page in the PocketPC Opera.
Even in portrait, the menu bar fits neatly into one line at the top of the screen, with the logo and the rest of the header in about the top quarter of the screen.
You can see the top story, plus the first part of the next few stories below – you’ve even got the navigation links on the left hand and right hand side of the screen. In addition, it also includes the headline ticker above the top story. Indeed, aside the from the big gap underneath the picture in the main story, it looks pretty much like the site would look on a desktop.
As you can see, it’s managing to do this by using significantly smaller fonts than PocketIE, but if you can read those, then it is a pretty impressive feat, and actually promises to give a pretty good approximation of the desktop experience.
As I said, it is a beta, so it does produce some layout glitches from time to time, for example on this site it sometimes leaves a massive gap under the desktop ticker, but I expect that those will be sorted out before the actual release. Certainly even in it’s beta state, it is still a pretty usable tool, and I’ll look forward to the full release in a few months.