Opera Mini 7, the super lightweight sibling of Opera Mobile 12 (free, 3.5 stars), is now faster than ever. Designed for those on limited bandwidth and unspectacular hardware running Android 1.5 and higher, Opera Mini requires only one-tenth the bandwidth of a traditional mobile browser. Sound too good to be true? You do relinquish embedded video support?Flash and HTML5?but to me that's not a significant sacrifice for the bandwidth you end up saving. Opera Mini's closest competitor, Dolphin Mini 2.2, renders pages at a snail's pace in comparison, but you get almost all the multimedia support of full-featured mobile browsers.
Both Opera Mini and Mobile set the right stage. I pair the two because, unlike Dolphin Browser Mini 2.2 (free, 3 stars), which employs a different interface than its sibling, Opera Mini 7 looks nearly identical to its full-size counterpart?an incentive to stay seated with Opera. Both Opera browsers lack the swagger of Firefox 10's (free, 3.5 stars) swipeable trays, but the clean bottom-fitted navigation bar, defined by the Opera "O," looks and performs well. The tab-sorting tray, which reveals miniaturized page views, is a visual treat. Minimalists will appreciate how Opera provides a Full Screen Mode as well as the option to individually disable both the navigation and status bars. There's even a Mobile View that compresses full-size Web pages for the mobile screen.
As with its kin, Mini supports text wrapping, though the feature is made more potent with the latest release's dynamic pinch-zoom: text responds to the slightest pinch. You can also search for terms within a page?a nice touch that's missing in Dolphin Mini.
Unlike Firefox or Dolphin, though, Opera carries an old-fashioned sensibility: separate search and URL fields. I consider this a frivolous use of already limited mobile screen estate; however, I'm certain that some users appreciate the distinction. At the least, it makes choosing search engine?for example, toggling between Google and Wikipedia.com?more accessible.
Every time you open a tab you're greeted with a fully customizable collection of your favorite websites called a Speed Dial. The feature is clever enough that it's won imitation by Safari and Chrome ("Top Sites" and "New Tab Page," respectively) and duplication by Dolphin ("Speed Dial"). Your Speed Dial comes pre-populated with some Opera favorites (e.g. Facebook), though you'll have to manually configure your sites because Opera's Speed Dial doesn't automatically populate with frequently visited sites, but at least you can add an unlimited number of shortcuts.
On feature phones without social networking support, Opera Mini's Speed Dial is a great way to populate all your feeds.
In the context of alternative browsers Firefox and Dolphin, Opera's greatest drawback is its subtraction of Add-ons. While the desktop client recently gained Extensions, Opera has yet to make them available for either of its mobile browsers. On the other hand, some international users who cannot access Google's Marketplace will appreciate that Opera is the only Android browser to bundle a mobile store through which to download apps.
Opera offers a host of browsers: whether you're surfing on a tablet, desktop, or one of 3,000 different headsets, Opera Link synchronizes your bookmarks, but it also transports those custom Speed Dials and search engines. I would love to see Opera take the feature a step further, and, in the model of Mozilla, add history and passwords to tote.