more on opera mini

The reason my previous blog post was rather short was that I was running into the maximum amount of character limit imposed by opera mini. I think it’s a bit odd to have this limit for a textarea but I suppose there’s a reason for it.

Anyway, I really like this browser. It’s good enough that you can actually load the wordpress userinterface in it. It’s even usable! Though navigating it is a bit hard because opera mini basically transforms the page into a one column layout intended for small screens. So that means that all the controls are on a separate row. This works best for pages that are accessible and have the important content before the navigation. Of course the content of the wordpress userinterface is the various controls and there are a lot of those (30+)!

Other sites I tried were the new york times, slashdot, geenstijl.nl, nieuwnieuws.nl, nu.nl, osnews.com, tweakers.net (some of these sites are dutch). They all rendered fine and very fast compared to the native browser of my phone (renders the full page). Whatever opera is doing is working really well. Of course some sites have poor accessibility. For example, the nyt frontpage is a mess of advertisements, links and two line page introductions. When you squeeze that into opera mobile the result is not pretty and it is pretty hard to find your way through this mess.

The message is simple: if you want your websites to be usable on the soon to explode mobile internet market (and why wouldn’t you want that?) you will have to adopt xhtml  non table based layouts and conform to accessibility guidelines. Incidentally, this will also boost your google ranking. Basically google can be compared to a screenreader. Compared to a blind person using a screenreader it is actually pretty stupid. You need to point out what is important by using semantic html rather than font tags. If everything is a div or plain text in table cells decorated with css or font tags then you have no semantic information in the page. This will make it hard for google to separate the relevant information (like the title header of your page, important keywords in the text that you bothered to highlight) from the irrelevant stuff (navigation, footer, etc.). It will also make it hard for screenreaders to transform it into something readable and it will be totally unusable on hundreds of millions of mobile phones.
Of the sites listed above opera mini did a reasonable job. It did as much as can reasonably expected of it. I’ve used opera’s full mobile browser as well, it does a slightly better job. Opera mini does most of the processing serverside however. This has two important advantages: less content is sent to the phone and the phone spends less time rendering. Both these things save a lot of time. Using opera mini was the first time I had an acceptable browsing experience on a mobile phone. Pages download in seconds instead of minutes. The back button actually works pretty well. So does the cache (so you can go back and forth between the frontpage and articles linked on the frontpage) in a reasonable timeframe.

The user interface is pretty good (though clearly not designed for the nokia 9300 which has a widescreen (half vga) with the navigation buttons on the side instead of the usual narrow screen on most phones. The formfactor is actually really good for browsing and reading websites. A particular problem was that the menu button on the phone was not integrated with the browser menu. So there are two different application menus one activated with one of the navigation keys and one activated with the menu key. Also some of the keys have an unexpected result. The full keyboard features an escape button which usually can be used as cancel button. Using it when entering a url it actually behaves like an OK button.

Despite these minor annoyances, I intend to keep this browser. I like it.

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