Opera Mini

I've been using Opera Mini for a while now (thanks to one of my Nordic correspondents, who sent me the .jar file early on), but it wasn't until yesterday that it struck me that it was now generally available (yeah, I've been that busy).

If you've been reading my blog for a while you'll know that I find Opera pretty much useless as a desktop browser, but I've been pretty happy with it on the Series 60 platform - whenever I can get the proper builds, of course.

And I like the mini version about as much, so I upgraded to 1.1.2292 and gave it a little spin, confirming my assertion that it's pretty damn good for a Java-based browser.

Yes, Operetta is a very different beast from its cousins, but ultimately not much different from most "split browsers" (such as Blazer and other Palm browsers of old): the Java client you install uses an optimized protocol to talk to a cluster of Opera servers, and those act as proxies for your requests, parsing and simplifying HTML and images into something that your phone can digest a little better.

This makes it possible to surf a lot of content than your average phone's WAP/XHTML browser would barf on (and it displays pages in an excellent anti-aliased font that makes it very useful on my V600i), but has a few issues:

  • It works atop a straight-up Internet connection (which might not be available to most people, or tariffed differently). I've seen some notes on a WAP gateway mode, but haven't tested it that way.
  • It renders pages in a single-column format (same as other Opera browsers), which can make navigation tricky sometimes.
  • Most formatting is stripped out (a suitable compromise for most cases, but not always, especially where bulleted lists are concerned...)
  • Images are sometimes compressed to the point of being unrecognizable, and there isn't (yet) a way to zoom in on them.
  • It has a widely varying degree of latency (even over UMTS, although I've found it very usable under GPRS), since your requests are through Opera's proxies and there is some added processing involved. Commonly-accessed/popular pages load quickly, obscure sites (and your own personal stuff) will always take a while longer.
  • It has some trouble with basic HTTP authentication and session management (most likely because my requests aren't always handled from the same proxy server, although recurring requests seemed to originate from the same IP address while I was looking at my server logs).

It does, however, have a built-in bug reporting feature, so I expect most of those to be fixed eventually.

Of course, one of the most interesting aspects of Operetta is that it completely bypasses the operators' service and makes you, to all intents and purposes, an Opera customer - i.e., completely dependent on their ability to support you. This is an issue for me, but I expect a lot of folk to download it gleefully as a way to bypass operator portals and the like.

Time will tell if the service is sustainable as the user base grows across national borders, but in the meantime, there's some fun to be had.

And for the curious, here's a header dump:

HTTP_USER_AGENT      Opera/8.01 (J2ME/MIDP; Opera Mini/1.1.2231/hifi/myopera/int;
                     SonyEricsson V600i; en; U; ssr)
HTTP_ACCEPT          text/html, application/xml;q=0.9, application/xhtml+xml,
                     image/png, image/jpeg, image/gif, image/x-xbitmap, */*;q=0.1
HTTP_ACCEPT_CHARSET  iso-8859-1, utf-8, utf-16, *;q=0.1
HTTP_ACCEPT_ENCODING deflate, gzip, x-gzip, identity, *;q=0
HTTP_TE              deflate, gzip, chunked, identity, trailers

You will notice that their proxy honors common HTTP conventions (such as X-Forwarded-For) and that it tacks the handset's make and model on to its User-Agent string (although the way in which it re-formats content makes it impossible for you to send handset-specific content).

Although I am still relying on my V600i's built-in XHTML browser for accessing Backpack - which, incidentally, has recently added Vodafone Portugal to its reminder service (wasn't me, honest), I find that Opera Mini is more than good enough to check on my RSS feeds (after some tweaking on my newspipe front-end) and that it's more than good enough for casual browsing.

So far I've only had the chance to run it on the V600i (there wasn't any point in running it "unofficially", so I kept it to myself), but I'll be playing around with it a bit more as time permits and more phones cross my desk.

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