It didn't take long for Android's built-in WebKit browser (that performed well in our recent mobile browser Battlemodo) to see a little competion in the form of Opera Mini 4.2—the ubiquitous and lightweight software that's installable in some form on just about every mobile platform that can run Java apps. A beta version was released for Android today, and we put it through a quick test.
Opera Mini is notable for its practice of first loading your requested page on its own servers, which compress the pages and images before squirting it out to your phone over the network for quicker load times. And speed is definitely its forté on the G1—on T-Mobile's 3G network in NYC, pages like the New York Times, ESPN and Gizmodo all loaded with only a second or two of "Processing" delay. Granted, what you see are horizontal lines instead of text and a few shaded boxes instead of images, but zooming in doesn't cause any additional loading delay, except for some images. Zooming is pretty easy with a double tap or trackball click, and it works just like it does in other version of the browser. Hitting the G1's "back" button zooms you back out, which is unintuitive at first but ends up making sense.
As far as betas go, it's not terrible, but text entry fields have a strange bug which results in them taking up the entire screen (as you can see in the gallery), and the only way to go back is to press the "Menu" button and close out the form. So while you probably wouldn't want to switch to Opera for all of your browsing—it's a great backup to have for a quick load of a newspaper site or anything else fairly simple, especially if your connection isn't great.