Opera on Mobile in 2020: Tempting!

The big red O symbol of Opera software

Reviewing Opera on mobile this time because I love browser hopping. I wanted to see if it could be a compelling browser for daily use and what unique features it has compared to other mobile browsers. Let’s dive in. 

The first launch of Opera on mobile 

After downloading and installing Opera mobile, you’ll be greeted with a preview of your “speed dial” and a dialog box asking you to set the theme. I really like this approach and wish more apps out there asked on first runs.  

First run of Opera for mobile

The speed dial 

Opera is known for first coming up with the speed dial concept, but one thing that bugs me about the feature on mobile is it’s tedious to remove the default links. Instead of being able to check each one and tap delete, you must drag each one individually to delete it. This has to be on purpose because it’s so frustrating, and I think the devs count on people just leaving the paid-to-be-included links there. 

Appearance Settings 

Opera detected that I had my system set to dark mode and automatically adopted that. From here, the user can choose what colors they want. I went with purple because I think it’s awesome for dark themes on an AMOLED screen. 

To my knowledge, no other browser has theme options (other than white/dark mode), at least on mobile.  

Settings tab 

The very first thing I usually do for any new app is check out the settings and see what I can toggle on and off.  

The settings in Opera mobile on Android

Notifications and news service 

I don’t know about you, but I never want a browser to give me notifications. The browser exists for me to open and start surfing. If you want it, Opera on mobile has a news service built-in that you can choose to use or turn off.  

There is also a toggle for Opera notifications, which you really don’t need on. I can’t imagine what good would come from getting announcements from Opera other than it being another marketing tactic. Off! 

Syncing 

If you use Opera on desktop and have an account, you can sync your bookmarks and things. A pretty standard feature, but works smoothly compared to Brave mobile’s awful sync and Samsung’s lack of desktop browser. 

Search Engine settings 

The available search engines you can choose from will differ by region, but I am happy that I can choose DuckDuckGo from the list. Google is the default because they probably pay Opera the most, and that’s fine. As long as I have choices, I don’t mind. 

Search engine list

Already filled in exceptions 

These days, you have to be careful when looking at some of these settings because browser vendors sometimes like to “fill in” exceptions by default for some things. Upon looking at the site permissions>notifications area, I was surprised to see Facebook’s URL already set to allow. 

Notifications permissions

Maybe this was out of convenience or perhaps a deal with Facebook through Opera on mobile; I’m not sure. Folks, always check the defaults. 

Ad Blocking in Opera on mobile 

If a web browser on mobile doesn’t have built-in ad blocking (looking at you, Vivaldi), it’s not worth using. I’m happy to report that Opera has a simple toggle that is by default ON for blocking ads. You can also glance at the total number of ads blocked in the settings, however, I would like to see the stats on a page by page basis in a toolbar. 

Ad blocking feature on Opera for mobile

Opera’s ad blocker 

I’m a bit picky when it comes to how well ad blockers work, so I did a quick test on some sites that I knew had ads. 

First, I went to USAToday to see if some of the ads would be blocked. There were indeed blocked, but there were gray advertisement placeholders there. Usually, good ad blockers on desktop computers will shrink these so that you never notice them. Not a deal breaker since this happens with both Brave mobile and Edge mobile too. 

example of ad blocker on usatoday

Another site I tried was Paul Thurrott’s tech site. He has a script that seems to detect ad blockers and Opera did not get around it, unfortunately. 

example of anti ad block

I tried these sites with a bunch of other browsers, but the only one that came through on both of these tests was the Samsung browser. The reason for that is the devs at Samsung allow ad blocking extensions, which Adguard is one. With that combination, advertisement placeholders are gone, and Paul Thurrott’s ad detection script didn’t yell at me when I visited in the Samsung browser.  

Opera mobile night mode 

I remember using Opera way back when on iOS and raving about the legendary night mode. It’s here on Android, and I am also assuming iOS. Yes, you can turn on Apple’s night shift mode or use the reduce blue light mode on your Android device, but Opera gives you way more options for comfortable late-night surfing. 

night mode for Opera mobile

There’s a web page preview so you can see what you’re getting as you tweak the settings. My favorite options would have to be forcing dark web pages and the option to dim your keyboard. Those are little extras that help Opera stand out, in my opinion. 

Opera on mobile’s tabbed interface 

The tab previews are nice and big and are easy to sort through, but might not be compact enough for some people who prefer lists or smaller squares.  

UI for tabs in Opera mobile on Android

Private mode 

I was a little surprised by the private mode in Opera because it’s sort of out in the open. You can open tabs, tap on private, and see all the secret stuff. I would prefer there being a password or fingerprint unlock.  

However, there is a notification that hangs around for you to quickly close the secret tabs if you do something else in another app. 

VPN and Data saver 

I think a lot of people new to Opera browsers these days mostly know it for the free “VPN” included. It is technically not a VPN, but more of a proxy service. Back in the day, I mostly used this feature to get around YouTube blocks, but it is a bad idea to think that Opera’s VPN is private and will keep you safe. Only use the VPN for light purposes. 

The data saver feature is pretty cool, and I think many people won’t need it, but for those that worry about data caps, this awesome. Turning on data saver will run pages through Opera’s servers, where they will shrink and minify the data sent to your phone, resulting in smaller websites, images, and less data to download. I don’t feel comfortable having all my surf traffic go through Opera’s servers, but I do like that this option exists. 

Crypto wallet 

I’m not that knowledgable about cryptocurrency other than being able to earn BAT with the Brave browser, but Opera recently added the ability to send and store cryptocurrency straight from the browser. Again, I wouldn’t use this feature, but it’s neat that it’s there if it stays out of my way. 

Crypto wallet

Bug or on purpose? 

One small thing I noticed was when searching in secret mode was the search icon in the address bar remained the Google logo and not my default search engine. I double-checked this, and the search still goes to DuckDuckGo, but the Google logo seems permanent in the URL area. Not a deal-breaker, but felt a little suspicious to me.  

weird issue in private browsing

Final Thoughts for Opera on mobile 

Despite some of my complaints, I have a soft spot for Opera on mobile and desktop. The devs are good at coming up with unique features and implementing nice quality of life improvements to the browser.  

I found that pages loaded incredibly fast, and the interface was pleasant to use. If you already use Opera on the desktop, this app is a no brainer and a must-have. For others using Chrome mobile, I implore you to hurry up switch to Opera, Edge, Brave, ANYTHING else that has some protections built in when surfing. 

In terms of privacy, I feel uncomfortable with Opera, mainly due to its parent company being a Chinese company with a less than stellar reputation. The good folks on the dev team have worked hard to make a great browser, and I do believe it’s worth checking out if you’re curious about some of the features I mentioned today. 

Links:
Download it! (Android)
Download it! (iOS) Note: Opera only offers “Opera Touch” for iOS

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