This summer I spent two weeks in southern England vacationing with my family; beautiful country side though not really known for its blazing high speed broadband connections. Chance would have that Opera Mobile 9.5 got released while I was there and naturally I faithfully downloaded it and checked it out. I did not have a chance to regret it.
Before we continue I have to put up the standard issue beta disclaimer for the browser: Opera Mobile 9.5 is not in final form. Be aware that it might bring your Windows Mobile phone to its knees, even destroy it completely also bear in mind that there's a slight chance that the beta status of the product will affect your ability to have children. Consider yourself warned! :)
Before we dive in you should know that Opera Mobile 9.5 will only work on Windows Mobile devices equipped with a touch screen. Why you ask? The reason is the fact that navigating web pages on Opera Mobile 9.5 is pretty much driven with the touch screen alone. While that is a bit of a let down for non-touch screen device it's also the main reason why you should care about Opera Mobile as a Windows Mobile user. What it means is that basically you can get an iPhone-like browsing experience on Windows Mobile. Simply put you don't have to use those annoying little scroll bars in Pocket IE to get around the page instead you swipe your finger across the screen which will produce a nice scroll complete with the rubber band effect found on the iPhone.
Auto full screen is a great feature. It does exactly what you'd expect it to do: When displaying a web page Opera will switch to full screen mode automatically and leave it there until you click the little transparent menu icon which will bring up the browser chrome and enable you to enter a new URL, view your favorites, or switch tabs.
The tab feature is a particularly nice touch at least for me as I've often found myself needed to browse away from a particular page because I needed to look something else up. A very annoying problem that Opera Mobile does away with like that. Now there's a small caveat as only three tabs are support at any one time. At first I thought that it would be a major deal but as it turns out you really never need that many active tabs; at least I never hit the upper limit during my normal usage of the browser.
Add to this the fact that Opera Mobile will display web pages in their complete form like you're browsing from a PC and we're in business. Much like Safari on the iPhone Opera will display the web page in its entirety on the tiny screen and allow you to zoom in on areas of interest by double tapping the screen.
All is not well in Opera land though and the beta part of the product did rear its ugly head. While touch scrolling works fine most of the time I did find that it would screw up during page load. Trying to scroll on page while loading it would more often than not send the browser scrolling to the bottom of the unfinished page, warp speed and all. Also on the subject of weird behavior with loading pages I found that the auto full screen feature would mess up when trying to scrolling during page load and continually switch on and off until the page finished loading. The bug is very profound on a slow connection like GPRS but you hardly notice it browsing on a WLAN or using 3G.
It does seem like a couple of issues are related to trying to navigate pages while Opera is loading as I found it exceedingly difficult to tab the links. This wasn't helped any by the fact that no visual cues are provided which will give a clue whether or not the link you just clicked was indeed clicked properly. Again on slow connections this is more pronounced as the only cue you get that you actually clicked the link is when the destination page actually turns up. This also goes for button on web pages which don't produce any cues to the fact that they were actually clicked.
Opera Mobile does lack a little polish here and there which I discovered on my phone which is outfitted with a hardware keyboard that unfortunately Opera doesn't seem to be aware of as it helpfully kept popping up the software keyboard whenever I tapped a text field. Just a minor annoyance that I hope Opera will fix with the next release.
On a nice side note I became aware of the bug because Opera is a damned fast browser at loading content. Even on very slow connections text starts displaying very quickly and were it not for the scrolling bug you'd be reading web content in a matter of seconds on a GPRS connection. After a while I simply turned of the auto full screen mode while on GPRS so I could browse away to my hearts content. The feature is very good and I did turn it back on when I was able to connect via a faster connection.
What this boils down to is basically that the combination of touch scrolling and PC-like rendering of the web pages make for a usable web browsing experience on Windows Mobile where previously I'd say that it was lacking in a number of ways though better than what you'd find on comparable Symbian-based phones. During my vacation I found myself browsing the web more than I ever did. Even I returned home I found myself reaching for the phone where I previously would have gone and fired up the desktop to browse. Opera Mobile is that good missing polish aside.
If you own a touch screen Windows Mobile phone I highly recommend that you go and give Opera Mobile 9.5 a spin. You won't regret it.
The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent
my employer's view in any way.