Opera's new Android browser hits Google Play, rebuilt from the ground up

Opera's new WebKit-based Android browser sports some nifty features and a bevy of under-the-hood changes.

After three months of public beta testing, Opera is finally ready to take on Google's Chrome with its rebuilt Android browser. On Tuesday, Opera released the final version of its first--and possibly only--WebKit-based browser.

The jump to WebKit resulted in more than just a speed bump. The overall interface of the new Opera browser has been refreshed with a lighter color scheme, and there's a new Discover tab that aggregates popular news stories from categories such as Arts, News, and Technology.

Opera for Android also has a built-in downloads manager, which lets you start, stop, resume, save and rename media files you keep on your phone. Handy-dandy.

The browser additionally offers a few standout features. One highlight is Off-Road mode, which uses Opera's servers to compress website data and send you a smaller, more optimized version of the site. (Opera Mini users already know the drill.) The drop-down menu at the top contains the feature, though webpages might not look exactly the same when using Off-Road mode due to the compression technology.

That said, why would you do use Off-Road mode? Simple: Because it helps keep you under your Draconian mobile data cap.

Opera also brought back a feature popular that was left out of the initial beta: text reflow. This allows text to recenter on the screen as you view websites or zoom in on pages, removing the need to scroll sideways to read wide paragraphs of small text.

Nuts and bolts

The biggest changes are found under the hood, however. The new Opera is based on WebKit, the browser engine powering both Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome, rather than Presto, Opera's long-used custom rendering engine.

Opera said it transitioned to WebKit (and away from Presto) so that the company can focus its attention on developing new features for its browser, rather than spending time tinkering with the nuts-and-bolts of website rendering.

Opera's time with WebKit looks like it will be short-lived, though. In the months since Opera announced its move to WebKit, Google said it will fork WebKit into a new engine dubbed Blink for use with its Chrome browsers. Opera told TechCrunch that its browser will jump ship to Google's fork once the code becomes available.

Google Play's stats show that Opera for Android has been downloaded between 10 and 50 million times in the last 30 days. Globally, StatCounter figures show Opera is the third most popular mobile browser after the defaults for Android (31 percent) and iPhone (24 percent), thanks to its 15 percent share. The numbers are a bit different Stateside, though, where Opera commands a measly 2 percent of the market.

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Daniel Ionescu

TechHive (US)
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