Though I’ve never used the Opera browser I’ve always found it (and its followers) intriguing. Opera never gained much traction, but enough that it usually shows up on most browser usage statistics and evades getting lumped into the catch-all, “Other.” The user base seems to be a loyal, fickle bunch, but hey, aren’t we all? When we find a browser we like, we stick with it and don’t stray from it – even when new opportunities arise.
Which brings me to Opera Neon – a new browser from Opera. Opera Neon is a “concept” browser, like those concept vehicles automakers showcase at trade shows – they can be cutting-edge sleek, or downright ridiculous. It’s so conceptual, Opera can’t even figure out the tagline: “Opera Neon – the future of web browsers?” or the more mysterious, “Opera Neon. What if…”
As of this review Opera Neon is on version 1.0.2459.0
Opera Neon. What if… or What the…?
The download is a 3MB installer file (meaning the executable downloads Opera Neon), so I’m not certain of the size of the browser but the download seems to be pretty quick. Once installed, here’s what you see:
While it’s different, it is “fairly” intuitive, though descriptors would be nice (I had to test each one to see what they were):
The “Bubbles” in the middle are your Speed Dial – presets and your Favorites. “Gravity” lets pages you visit frequently rise to the top (like cream) and the lesser viewed sink to the bottom.
The left-hand side displays five functions (New Bubble, Audio/Video player, Snap, Gallery and Download), along with the Hamburger menu (the three-line icon) at the bottom.
The Hamburger menu gives you basic functions, as well as access to the settings and history
I won’t go into much detail about the settings but I will say there is little in way of help:
Within the Settings, there is a link for Opera Neon help but when you click it…
…there is none (the links are for Opera, not Opera Neon). Let’s just say the “Help,” isn’t.
I'll go through some key features. Some will be familiar, others may have a twist, and some are new, hence the “concept” moniker.
The Bubbles are your tabs and are located on the right-hand side of the screen. The Bubbles provide a limited preview of the webpage which seems more aesthetic than functional:
The Bubbles on the right? Those’re the tabs. Click the “+” on the left to open a new one.
The AV Player is an interesting applet. It identifies audio or video links in the open webpages and allows you to listen/watch via a tiny window while working in different webpages:
While perusing PCPer, I was able to watch and hear the Middle Earth: Shadow of War preview which was running on another open webpage.
On my 15” laptop, the window was approximately 1.5” x 0.75”. Based on my rough estimates, that means the window is only using about 2% of the screen to display the whole video. Obviously you’re losing a bunch of clarity, but I was surprised at how much I could make out in the tiny window.
Like several new and emerging browsers, Opera Neon offers split screen:
Drag one of the Bubbles towards the top and a header opens to put the Bubble on the left or right.
Eyeballing the screen, it looks like a 40/60 split, which is adjustable. Also, if you happen to drag the Bubble onto the webpage and release it before you get to the header, it acts just like “paste & go.”
Snap & Gallery
These two work in tandem. Snap allows you to take snippets of the webpage, like Window’s Snipping Tool. The screen grabs are stored in the Gallery for you to use later, perhaps to insert in an email, or post on Facebook. FYI, the Gallery pictures are stored in the Opera Neon’s AppData folder.
Snap lets you take screen grabs…
…Gallery is where the pics are stored
I like the Bubbles for several reasons. On my touchscreen laptop, they’re very easy to hit and move – much easier than the usual tabs at the top. Placing them on the side provides more vertical real estate (to that end, a slimmer address bar would yield even more space).
Opera Neon also utilizes the sides quite well. Considering I often have a couple inches of wasted space on my monitor when webpages are set at 100%, it makes sense for a browser to take advantage of the area.
In Firefox, look at the wasted space - tabs on the side makes sense and gives more vertical space
The AV Player has potential but is very finicky and it was trial-and-error getting it to work. The small window is perfect if you want to passively watch but are really paying attention to the audio. Conversely, while Opera claims it auto detects AV feeds, it would miss some feeds, especially if there was more than one on a page, but never missed an advertisement – the one AV I wished it would skip. Moreover, functionality is limited to Play or Pause, no skipping scenes or moving to the next song in a Youtube playlist.
I eventually set up three AV feeds in the Player for me to enjoy while working, but it required some coaxing on my part and, honestly, I don’t know if I could do it again.
The browser is Chromium based, but I didn’t see a way to add extensions in the settings and that puts it at a disadvantage compared to other Chromium based browsers.
I couldn’t find a bookmarking function. I was able to add pages to the Speed Dial, but you can’t organize the Bubbles, except for the “gravity” feature. That means most of my bookmarks (pages I want to find later but don’t use often) will be cluttered at the bottom of the Dial.
Something odd started happening literally right before posting this review (I was testing the review on the forum website and was doing some clean up). It started acting wonky on some websites, including Amazon, Newegg and (gasp!) PCPer. I couldn’t determine why it was impacting some sites and not others.
Newegg and Amazon started popping up like this right before I posted my review…
…PC Per fared worse. I tried uninstalling and re-installing which was to no avail.
Using speed-battle.com, I tested Opera Neon against Firefox (my default browser) – Firefox smacked Opera Neon around with an overall score of 1421 vs. 908 (higher is better).
Conclusion: 4 (out of 10)
While I enjoyed the UI, and it became my go-to browser on my touchscreen laptop, some of the advantages may not carryover to other devices. It had idiosyncrasies which hindered the experience, and support seems to be non-existent. Some features didn’t work as I anticipated, or wanted, for that matter. On the flip side, like an exotic concept car, you can be the first in your circles to use Opera Neon and you’ll definitely turn heads and get some looks when you show it off to your friends and coworkers.
NOTE: I was waffling between a “6” or “7” rating when I experienced the wonkiness above forcing me to significantly lower my rating, especially since a fix is unlikely.
TL; DR Saving Time: Intriguing interface; some nice features not available in all browsers
Daylight Savings Time: Feels half-baked; no support, learning is via trial-and-error; no extensions. Sudden website issues.