Opera, that plucky browser publisher that is neither Microsoft nor Mozilla, has released Opera Mini 4.1 beta with promises of 50 percent faster page loading, among other claimed improvements. The thing is, they might be right.
Mini 4.1b is definitely faster than Mini 4, although actual speeds depend on your wireless connection and the kind of phone you're using. The standard page view loads up what looks like a large thumbnail of the page with images small but discernible and strangely crisp for their size. The "mobile" view presents the URL's information in a more mobile-friendly, stacked format.
Another big improvement is that phones equipped with JSR-75 will be able to upload and download files without switching to the phone's native browser. This should make life easier for everybody uploading those latest party shots to Facebook, except for some Blackberry users who aren't compatible with the protocol yet. That same protocol also lets you cache entire Web sites and surf offline.
Other useful improvements include in-page searching and autocomplete suggestions when you're typing out Web addresses on your tiny mobile keyboard, and a search bar has been integrated into the URL bar. The default setting for this is Google, but people using small screens can also permanently hide this or the URL bar through the settings options.
Opera fans who also use version 9.5 beta of the desktop browser can synchronize their bookmarks and other personal information, too.
The mobile's beta browser handled mosts tasks flawlessly, but it was not perfect. Navigating to Google.com kept bringing up the Norwegian-language version of the site, a minor flaw but immensely frustrating without knowing the translation for "Google Reader." Some font rendering also looked a bit rough, as if a few bits were lost in the signal.
For users looking for a different cell phone experience, Opera Mini 4.1 beta is a lot more stable than I was expecting and is worth checking out.