Hands-on: Opera Mini 4 beta 2 for BlackBerry

Opera Mini 4 beta splashed out today some new features tailor-made for BlackBerry users. Here's what happened when the browser met the Pearl.

Opera Mini 4 beta 2
I created this sweet search shortcut for CNET Download.com in Opera\'s latest refresh of its Mini browser. (Credit: CNET Networks)

Today Opera announced the latest release of its mobile browser, Opera Mini 4 beta 2. What makes this build stand out are some software trinkets designed especially for BlackBerry devices. Webware.com editor Josh Lowensohn described them in a news release. Now it's time to describe their effect on a luminescent BlackBerry Pearl I just happened to get in my possession.

In most cases, Opera Mini 4 beta 2 performed exactly as promised--beautifully fast and with a clean interface. I was able to scroll with the pointer mouse (a hand with index finger extended), play with screen width, and take advantage of zooming and scrolling with keypad numbers.

I also created multiple search shortcuts, a very neat feature for frequent searching from your favorite sites. The beauty here is that you get to decide which sites you want to promo, as opposed to many alternative mobile browser tools that only feature partner content. Opera has a few of those too, like eBay, BBC, and Yahoo search. They're fairly easy to remove, making way for your own picks. Of course, this isn't exclusive to BlackBerry users, but here's how you execute it on one of RIM's devices.

On a Web site, scroll over to any search bar and click. You'll see the window to enter text. Don't type, just click once with the scroll wheel. Press the soft key for menu options and select the second choice, "Create search." Open those options again and confirm this is really what you want to do (apparently mobile Web users are a fickle bunch.) This takes you to a separate search page where your other search engines are located (see above image.) Assuming you're on the start page, clicking in the search box--no matter what it shows--returns you to this page. Click your engine of choice and enter your search term. Opera will put you on the page, with the results waiting, in no time.

While it's extremely satisfying to see these features play out on the device in my hands just like they're meant to, one feature--the most key in my estimation-- has eluded me throughout this trial: landscape mode. Opera's guide makes it sound simple enough. You press "star-pound and flip your phone to the side" for temporary viewing, or, for a more permanent view, you should be able to engage "Landscape mode" from the settings menu.

Easy, right? I pressed "star-pound." Nothing. I pressed "star" first and then "pound." Still nothing. I held down. I jabbed quickly. Even though I know there's no accelerometer to instantly detect shifting orientation, I pressed the buttons in any combination I could think of and still turned the phone. I tried it in the Web page, on the start page, in full-screen mode, in fit-to-width mode, zoomed in, zoomed out, you name it. OK, fine. Next tactic, mucking around the settings. Visual affects is on, the clock is on, auto zoom is on, and the options are pulling up bupkes.

To the forums! Alas, the only entry on landscape mode at the time of this post failed to open (typical.) This is nowhere near my final attempt. I'm determined to see these BlackBerry-enhanced features for myself on the genuine article, and on this Pearl in particular. In the meantime, BlackBerry users, tell us about your experience with this fresh-from-the-oven beta release. Your peeves, your plaudits, and your wish list for future features.

About Jessica Dolcourt

Jessica Dolcourt reviews smartphones and cell phones, covers handset news, and pens the monthly column Smartphones Unlocked. A senior editor, she started at CNET in 2006 and spent four years reviewing mobile and desktop software before taking on devices.