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Opera Mobile pops up on Android

But the fat lady ain't singing yet

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Opera Mobile is now available for Android, providing an alternative for Android users who are finding Opera Mini too mini and Google's pre-installed option too chocolately.

The Java-based Opera Mini has been available on Android for a while, and offers a very comparable experience to the newly available Opera Mobile, though the latter renders images better and is slightly more integrated into the Android experience. In fact, in that regard, both options fall far short of the bundled Android browser.

Opera Mobile isn't hugely outstanding in other regards either; the browser that made Windows Mobile viable is less essential when Google's WebKit-based option is bundled with Android phones. Opera is slightly faster at loading pages, and synchronises with Opera's desktop browser through Opera Link, but Google's browser is much more closely integrated with the OS and its own services, demonstrating how the chocolate factory can so effectively exploit its market dominance.

We've been running both browsers side by side for the last few days: long enough to notice the advantages of owning the service, the browser and the OS. An image search with Google using the in-built browser renders them as though they were local, complete with swipe-driven navigation and hidden address bar. This makes browsing internet images almost indistinguishable from those on the device. Meanwhile, Opera is limited to Google's mobile interface. Using Google Reader or GMail is equally unsatisfying in Opera: everything works, just not as well as it does with the bundled option.

Not that Opera is without its advantages: the display of tabs is infinitely superior to Google's list, which often leaves us closing the wrong tab by accident – though neither Google nor Opera are as user-friendly as Firefox's left-hand column of icons. Opera is faster though: faced with our most-lashed-together broadband it was nearly 20 per cent faster loading pages, though we were disappointed to see that the figure didn't improve significantly when we switched on Turbo mode. Turbo mode is supposed to make things faster by taking he heavy lifting onto Opera's servers - but it seems our Galaxy S was handing the heavy lifting just fine.

Opera had no problem browsing the sites we threw at it, including El Reg's arcane content management system and JavaScript benchmarks, which placed Opera a smidgen slower than Google's offering, but the same amount faster than the latest beta of Firefox for Android.

Opera Mobile is a competent browser for Android, but not one that can justify itself on performance alone. If you like Opera's interface, and use the desktop version, then it is worth downloading, but if you use Google's apps and can cope with the poor tab navigation, then there's no compelling reason to seek an alternative. ®

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