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Palm Tungsten C - OperaMini




Palm Tungsten C - OperaMini Tungsten C

Opera, the makers of the best web browser and already cornering much of the mobile phone market, have gone a step further and launched Opera Mini for low-spec mobile phones. This move is destined to open up real web browsing on a vast range of mobile phones that were hitherto just too 'lite' to cope. OperaMini is primarily aimed at mobile phones, but inevitably word is spreading... as are Palm OS versions.

I've installed Opera Mini on my Tungsten C and am using it constantly for wifi browsing. It works smoothly, renders pages extremely quickly, and isn't prone to crashes (which is more than I can say for over half the browsers I've tried out). You'll need to install Java support for your pda, which is available at WebSphere.


UPDATE
3rd May 2006. Version two released. I haven't tested it out fully yet, but it allows skinning, downloads (though this seems restricted to phone users due to how it triggers the download function, which is a shame) and numerous other enhancements. All you need to do is install the Java app as above and then go straight over to Opera and grab the files. Check out the Palm page. Or go straight to the Tungsten C page where you can download the prc.


[OperaMini is now region specific so you won't need to do anything to re-set the language to English]
The basic set-up is very straightforward, and with the new version differs slightly from the screenshots here. Basically, the menu is at the bottom right of the screen and you just click through to get to user preferences and so on.

The Java environment can also be tweaked. On my T|C I went into the standard Palm preferences interface where it shows up as Other>IBM Java VM. I've got mine set to Double Buffering > Use high resolution coordinates > Set Memory Maximum = 8Mb > Set Maximum Java Thread Stack Size = 32Kb. I've no idea whether these are the best settings, but I'm assuming that given the speed and memory space on a T|C I might as well go for maximum values.

OperaMini
This is the basic set-up

First impressions
I've been using Opera Mini pretty hard since I installed it, and the browsing experience is good. The interface is easy to use, and I've now got my main bookmarks set-up (and deleted all the default Norwegian ones!). Opera Mini has succeeded on nearly every site I've tried (the one exception is a chat board that no pda browser I've tried can access). Download time is excellent, and pages are sharp. The server-side reformatting is pretty good, but has a tendency to resize all graphics which isn't what you'd always want. I think this is because everything is re-sized. This can create some slightly odd page layouts, but then that happens on all Palm browsers. Generally the small-screen rendering offered by Opera is excellent (as you'd expect), but at the moment there aren't any options to configure it locally. Update I've realized that you can change the image settings. By requesting "Higher Image Quality", images are rendered to full-screen size (Palm screen that is), so there's good flexibility here.

Text entering
This is very straightforward. When you hit a form-field a text screen opens up and you can enter as much as you like. This is a breeze on the T|C. Password information shows as ******* (it would be better if you were shown the real character before it transformed to a *, but I can live with this). I've used it succesfully to log on to various web forums and post messages.

Javascript and other web-page issues
If you've tried to browse with the default Palm 'Web' browser you'll know how frequently a page fails either because of a javascript link or because the link is set to open a new window. OperaMini has no problems with these at all (which means the whole of this site, for example) is accessible. It doesn't always seem to recognize in-page anchor links, and the 'close' buttons I use on some of my own pages don't work (which is sensible, because the button is actually telling the browser window to close). The toolbar back-button navigates those pages correctly.

Problems
No show-stoppers yet, but I have had to do a couple of soft re-sets. This is about par for the course with a new application, and on a couple of occasions I suspect it was a Java issue rather than the browser. Overall, I'm very happy with it and am confident that it will become my main pda browser. The rendering speed is truly excellent.

Getting on-line
Just launch the application. You can enter specific web addresses via the Menu or use bookmarks. At the beginning of each session you'll get a warning page about being on-line:

OperaMini
This page comes up after launching on-line.

The Menu is located bottom left of the screen, which reflects the 'phone' origins of the browser I guess. I like the location as it's nearer to everything else I'm using and is also pretty much how I've got my desktop version of Opera set-up. Anyway, it's really easy to use so this is a definite plus.

OperaMini
The menu is located bottom left

Navigating
Navigation is mainly via standard links so no surprises there. Drop-down navigation menus open into a clean text page for selection. On some pages I've noticed that re-direct links are automatically highlighted (auto re-direct doesn't work). Moving around the page is interesting. OperaMini has vertical scrolling only (that's the beauty of their small-screen rendering - I often use a similar setting on the desktop version). You can use the scroll bar, but there are easier ways. Using the 5-way button, a right-hand click scrolls down by a page (left-hand click scrolls up). A down-click tabs through links (up-click takes you back the other way). Clicking the centre-button launches the link.

Bookmarking is done via keyboard commands. Again this reflects the limitations (and differences) of phones, but I find it about as easy as the menu tapping routine on other pda browsers. The Help files that come installed give the following list of keyboard shortcuts (all preceded with the # sign).
· #1 - enter address
· #2 - view bookmarks
· #3 - page down
· #4 - enter home page
· #5 - view history
· #6 - view page info
· #7 - bookmark this page
· #8 - settings
· #9 - web search
· #0 - reload page
· ## - forward
· backspace - back

The star key gets rid of the toolbars to give you even more screen space. When you do things like 'add bookmark', make sure you exit Opera Mini properly to make them stick. This means Menu > Exit. The same goes for any other settings you alter (such as deleting unwanted bookmarks). UPDATE Most of these early problems are resolved in version 1.1.

Page Rendering
Opera Mini handles complex pages very well and very quickly. Tables are rendered in a logical 'vertical' manner which can take a moment to get used to, but is actually quite easy to follow. Images are re-sized, which can make them too small, especially if they contain 'real' information. Note: you can change the setting to "Higher image quality" to get full-sized graphics. Text is generally very readable, but very small fonts are rendered too large. Flashing gifs, visual backgrounds and similar visual gizmos are stripped out, which I mark down as a plus. It means that pages are generally better suited for the small screen, and I've found most of my own site pretty navigable (and legible) on Opera Mini (which isn't something I can say for Palm's Web or WebPro 3).

Issues/Things to Discover
So far I've been using Opera Mini via my home wifi set-up. I'm not sure what problems (if any) it will have on wifi sites where you need to log-in and use a local proxy. There's an http proxy lurking in the Java preferences which may - or may not - be relevant. Mine's blank at the moment. I've also not figured out if it offers off-line browsing. Occasionally hitting a link will force the page to reload rather than access the linked page. This may be a server-side/proxy issue, but hitting the link again tends to work.

In terms of stability, I'm still testing it out (and tweaking settings as you go never makes for a good test). That said, I've had nothing more than a soft reset to do and my other apps all seem stable.

Useful Links
As this is all still in the very early stages, I've included links here to more information. The first three links are the officical Opera pages and forum. The rest are threads I've found helpful around the web.


Palm Tungsten C: Introduction
Palm Tungsten C: Customizing Your Palm
Skinning with ZLauncher
EiP PDA site

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back all text copyright Paul Cecil, 2005