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Opera with WebKit for Android hands-on preview

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Opera WebKit browser
Opera WebKit browser

Opera revealed earlier this year that it plans to ditch its long-running Presto rendering engine in its mobile browsers and move over to the much more common WebKit engine (the same browser engine used by iOS and Android). We were able to get a quick look at a very early preview version of the new browser running on a Nexus 4 smartphone here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The new browser — simply named Opera — is replacing the older Opera Mobile browser going forward (though the Opera Mini browser will continue on for devices that are running versions of Android older than 2.3 Gingerbread). The design of the browser has been refreshed and updated to better match Android's design aesthetics, and the URL box and search box have now been combined into a single unit. Opera has also refreshed its Speed Dial new tab page with the ability to organize saved web pages into folders and reorder the icons. The tab browser has also been cleaned up and modernized compared to the older versions of Opera Mobile. As a whole, the redesigned layout reminds us a lot of Google's own Chrome for Android browser.

Of course, the most important feature of the new browser is its new rendering engine, and in the brief tests that we were able to run it on it, it seemed to work pretty well. Scrolling and pinch-zooming were smooth and fast once a page has fully loaded, and it didn't have any trouble rendering our site and playing back videos. Opera has also implemented its server-side data compression technology that it uses in its Opera Mini browser to reduce the amount of data that web browsing consumes by as much as 90 percent. Future versions of the new Opera browser will also incorporate the company's Link software so users can sync browsers and tabs between the desktop and mobile versions of Opera.

Opera says that the new browser will be available to users sometime this year, but it has not committed to a specific release date. The company also plans to release a version of the browser for iOS at some point in the future. With so many other, excellent browser options available to users of both iOS and Android available, it'll be interesting to see if Opera is able to claim some of the browser spotlight with the help of WebKit.