I decided to do an Opera browser review since it’s not really getting any attention compared to the other big hitters. It’s been a long time since I’ve used Opera, so let’s find out if it has what it takes to stand among the increasingly saturated browser market.
Respecting your elders – The history of Opera
For those not familiar with Opera, it has a long history and was first released in 1995. It was one of the first browsers to have tabbed browsing, mouse gestures, and other advanced features that we take for granted today.
Opera was a paid product and depended on paying customers or people using the ad-supported version. It was later in its life that it became a free browser to try to gain marketshare. However, the browser never really took off with the mainstream and was known as a power browser among enthusiasts.
I tried Opera off and on through its years, but never considered switching to it due to small differences in UI/rendering compared to my main browser I was using at the time.
Opera is reborn
In 2013, Opera announced that it was going to drop its current browser and rebuild it on top of Chromium, the base from which Google Chrome is built. This was a drastic move and angered many diehard fans. Why did we need another Google Chrome clone? What could Opera possibly offer that would make people prefer it over Google’s offering? To be honest, I didn’t see anything that stood out to me until I tried the “new” Opera in 2016.
Opera browser review (version 38)
I’m running it on a Mac, but most of the features and functionality should be the same on all platforms.
What Opera does well
Let’s start off with what makes Opera worth a try for anyone looking to switch.
It’s built on Google’s Blink engine
Opera uses the same rendering engine as Google Chrome, so you never have to worry about websites not displaying properly like the old Opera in the 90s. If it works in Chrome, it’s 95% likely to work in Opera.
It’s not Google
Some people are not comfortable using a browser from Google, which tries to learn as much about you as possible and build an internal profile of its users. I can’t say whether or not Opera is better in this regard, but for those that want nothing to do with Google, this is a good choice if you want Chrome’s rendering engine but not Google.
While not for everyone, Opera has done a great job at keeping the browser looking lean and staying out of the user’s way.
Built-in ad blocker
I didn’t think this was going to be a big deal, but boy was I wrong. Opera implements an ad blocker directly into the browser itself, which means you don’t have to use extensions. The result is extremely fast performance with ads blocked.
Compared to Google Chrome (with an extension ad blocker), I find that Opera loads pages significantly faster. For those interested, the list that the ad blocker uses is supposedly the famous “Easylist” used in other ad blocking extensions.
Power Saver mode
It’s no secret that Google Chrome and other Chromium based browsers are battery hogs, which means you don’t want to be using them on a portable computer if you care about battery life.
Opera has somewhat improved this situation by implementing a power saving mode that through various tweaks, attempts to give you longer battery life when using the browser. It’s not as efficient as using Safari on a Mac or Microsoft Edge in Windows, but it’s definitely better than normal Google Chrome.
Every browser needs to have extensions that enhance its features, right? Opera is no slouch here. There are Opera-specific extensions for a lot of additional functionality as well as the bonus of being able to run Google Chrome extensions.
That’s right, in most cases extensions written for Chrome will work with no issues in Opera. For those that love their extensions, this could be the feature that convinces them to switch.
Picture in Picture mode (PiP)
This is a killer feature for me. Have you ever wanted to have a video open from a site like YouTube while you were doing something else? Having a YouTube video open in another tab and trying to look at other sites is frustrating because I can only listen to the audio.
With Opera’s PiP feature, I can pop open the video and make it hover on my desktop. I can resize it and position so I can enjoy whatever I’m watching while going to other sites at the same time. Once you use this feature you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it!
What Opera needs to improve
Every browser has its faults and Opera has them too. These are some of the points that I think could prevent someone from making it their default browser.
Opera looks nice upon opening it for the first time, but users might be shocked that you can’t do much to change the interface. For users wanting a more custom experience, they will be better served by going to Firefox or Vivaldi.
Not enough preferences
In Opera’s attempt to make things minimalistic, I think the preferences became a casualty. Considering the history of Opera, it’s difficult to face the reality that this new Opera browser is not where near as advanced or lets users configure multiple settings. The target audience seems to have changed, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
Opera browser review -Final Thoughts
When it comes down to it, people are going to choose the software/browser that they are used to. It’s not worth the effort for most people to switch from what works to something unknown.
In my case, Opera has not replaced my daily browser, but it has complemented my workflow. If I feel I want to put up a YouTube video on my desktop without feeling trapped in the browser, Opera’s new PiP feature has me hooked.
It’s also nice to be able to quickly fire up an alternative browser without extra add-ons for some light browsing or testing.
For anyone that is not tied down to their current browser, I say give Opera a chance. There’s currently a free VPN service in the developer version which hopefully will make its way into the stable version in the coming months.