The times they might be a-changin’, but when it comes to browsers on computers, you might be forgiven for thinking that it’s yesterday once more. For, no matter how long the changelogs and how numerous the bug quashes, the stark fact remains that modern day browsers on computers look rather like their mums and dads from a few years ago (a few years is enough for a few generations to mature in tech!). In fact, browser design has tended to be a bit on the stagnant side of late, with the predictable box like interface, space for tabs and so on. Changes are found mainly in terms of features and functionality, rather than appearance. A classic case of substance triumphing over style, as it were. Which while not bad in itself, can make browsers a trifle dull and predictable.
So you can imagine how pleasantly surprised we were to see the folks at Opera (those who gave us tabbed browsing, remember), suddenly dip into their design reservoirs and come out with what they termed a “concept browser” because praise be, it looks like no other browser out there.
And this hits you from the moment it launches. For unlike other worthies which promptly present you with a white box and an address bar, Opera Neon gives you… well, bubbles. The launch screen of the browser is totally transparent, so you get to see the wallpaper on your desktop (though not the apps on it, thankfully) and a bunch of colourful bubbles representing the sites that the browser recommends. There is also a transparent box that serves as both a search and an address bar. Click on a bubble to open the site it represents in a more traditional “browsing rectangle.” Or enter the URL in the address bar, and you will see the site you are headed to appear as a bubble on the right-hand side of the browser.
The right hand side serves as a collection of open tabs and is basically a collection of bubbles, each representing the site you have opened. You can drag any bubble to the centre of the browser below the search/URL bar to make it a bookmark bubble, which will appear whenever you open a new tab. Drag a bubble on to an open site and you can view the two websites together, side by side, in split screen mode. It is simple and very easy on the eye. Yes, we could get finicky and say we want previews of websites when the mouse hovers over the buttons but even without that, the effect is very pleasant indeed. Mind you, we would have liked the option to shut a tab from within the browser box itself (it only has a minimising button) – right now, you either close the tab from the File menu or minimise it and then delete it from the bar on the right.
On the left-hand side are a group of icons, and there is some interesting functionality built in here. The first icon is a “+” sign for simply opening a new tab (we think it should have been on the right along with the open tabs list, but well, it is fine here as well), the second is interesting a button for controlling multimedia that is playing. So if you have a song that is playing in one of the tabs you can pause or play it from here while working on another tab. Neat. And if there is video playing in that tab, you can use this button to make it play in a small, resizable box that you can move around and place anywhere within the browser even while you work on another tablet. Neat? Nah, super neat! There is another button for taking screenshots, one for viewing screenshots already taken and finally an icon that gives you access to downloads.
The browsing experience itself is very good if all one wants to do is well, browse the Web. Opera Neon operates at a decent turn of speed and while there is the occasional crash (as if to justify the “concept browser” tag), we faced no major problems using it. That said, it is not really and while the “power browsing” crowd might bemoan the absence of the sort of features that we get on more established browsers – there are no plugins, no options to take notes, no options to even group tabs. Given its slight stability issues, we would not recommend using this as your default browser.
As far as browsing functions go, Opera Neon sticks to the basic, well-trodden path. But it dances rather than treads on it. The new interface touches are a refreshing change and we really hope Opera builds on this and takes it further, adding more functions and features without compromising on its colourful “bubbliness.” We would love to see something like this on Android and iOS too.
Give it a try, we say. To discover that browsing the Web can be a different experience. And fun too.