My Opera DS Browser hands on [Update 5]
Saturday, June 24, 2006 2:47:21 AM
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UPDATE:Additional screenshots in this gallery.
Without repeating too much of what Jon already touched on in his hands on preview of the Opera Browser on DS, I wanted to offer my impressions of the software and go into some additional detail for those interested, which is probably millions of rabid Nintendo fans, Opera enthusiasts, gadget junkies, early adopters, and curious fence sitters still holding out for more information.
Being a fan of Nintendo products for 2 decades, and a current Opera 9 and Opera Mini 2 enthusiast, it’s safe to say I had high expectations of quality, simplicity, and intuitive features walking into the room Tuesday morning before the Opera 9 launch party. Little did I know those expectations would be surpassed by the prototype cartridge (of all things) in mere minutes of use.
Sure, Bram Cohen (Father of BitTorrent) and Jon von Tetzchner (CEO and Founder of Opera Software) were among the guests in the room that day, both giving presentations and eating lunch with Jon and I, but I don’t think our eyes peeled away from the table where a solitary DS lite sat with the sun lighting up it’s glazed housing all morning, the GBA cover removed. We knew it was here.
As soon as the presentations were over, we scampered over to the table and fondled the DS lite until our buddy Brian Johnson (Opera Community Manager) waltzed over and presented us with two grey bits: the Opera DS prototype Card and the GBA RAM Cartridge (no announcements have been made for RAM cartridge use beyond the Opera DS Browser).
Plugging them in and turning the system on in a normal fashion, I asked Brian if there was “anything special I had to do to—I …guess not.” Online like that! Brian said it is the same as setting up to connect to any WiFi hotspot as you would a normal DS Game that has WiFi connectivity. So if you were trying to connect to a router with a WEP Key, you would need to handle that in advance and save your setting. The WiFi in the banquet room was open for free access and just as fast as you would have expected any other Opera browser to be, I was already accessing my blog on my.opera (pictures of my blog below), looking at eBay, and checking my web mail. All of this was so intuitive I hadn’t realized I wasn’t even asking for instructions, its seriously that intuitive.
There were two display settings I often switched between to get a good feel for what the browser was capable of. The first mode has a full screen view of the web page on one screen and a zoomed in version on the other. At any time you can swap the screens. If you have the full screen mode on top and the zoom view on the bottom, you can drag around the bottom page to move your view; when you do this a screen highlight shows on the top screen giving you an outline of the portion you are focusing on. If you swap the screens so that the full screen view is on the bottom and zoomed view on top, you drag the outline and the zoomed view above shows you what you have placed the outline on. Scrolling is smooth and easy. I really like this new way of having two views of a page at once, and no it is not and does not get annoying.
The other viewing mode scaled web pages to fit the width of the DS but spread vertically over both screens, the same thing Opera Mini 2 users are used to. If you are using Opera 9 right now and switch to small screen mode, it’s basically the same thing. That’s because Opera uses the same code in all of it’s browsers, so you can be absolutely sure the quality browsing experience they offer on a desktop PC and on your mobile phone is the same secure, fast and intuitive software, this time designed to take full advantage of the Nintendo DS’s dual screens, hardware buttons (for fast access to modes and shortcuts), and of course the touch screen.
Across the far top and bottom of the screen are tiny toolbars that display site info and provide easy access to an entire host of web navigation features you would expect in the form of little icons. Touching and holding on them displays a polite tool tip letting you know what they are but memorization took mere seconds since they have familiar icons already. There is even a nifty dual screen logo that animates in the top tool bar when loading.
Clicking links is performed by either selecting them with the D-Pad and pressing A or on the bottom screen by tapping them. When tapped, a link sparkles a bit with some orange circles that animate out of it, letting you know you’ve clicked it, a nice touch that shows Opera put many man hours in on this design, enough to know that visual cues would be an eye-pleasing addition to browsing on a smaller screen.
For text boxes, when clicked, the bottom screen gets a touch keyboard similar to what you find in picto-chat, but with some Opera touches and other commands to make web use more of a pleasure than a hassle. Typing is fast and responsive; text can be entered as fast as you can move. There is also a customizable handwriting and shortcut style for entering information (screenshot below).
Favorites are saved in a customizable folder tree.
The fonts are incredibly sharp. I didn’t come across a single page where I thought it didn’t look perfect. As a side note, I’d like to mention that there is a help system built in that mimics a web page itself, so as you are learning the ins and outs of the software, it is secretly giving you some initial experience with the controls, reducing the learning curve ever so slightly.
Signal strength is displayed in the far top left and as with any DS game, you can be anywhere in the room and have a full strength signal. I couldn't leave the room however, because Jon (CEO Jon) would have crushed me with his viking strength.
I’d like to point out that Jon and I were only testing a prototype version on a DS lite, so the GBA RAM cart was sticking out a bit and the DS Card was a rewritable development card (the final product will be the same size as a regular DS game).
There has been box art revealed that shows a DS lite version and an original DS version. I speculate that the only difference is the shape and look of the RAM cartridge for the GBA slot. As many of you already know, Nintendo released a smaller DS lite version of the DS Rumble Pak in Japan, so it seems they are going to create a smaller aesthetically pleasing DS lite RAM cart as well to keep your lite looking small, smooth, and sexy at all times, nothing sticking out, no matter what software you’ve got in it.
Full size DS lite box art
Full size DS box art
Downloading and storing things like music on the RAM cart is not supported so don’t expect to use this as a mass storage device. One reporter at the event did have a pretty inventive idea, he speculated creating a web page hosted at home that he could log into over the web and control his home audio via a DS friendly web interface. That got me thinking, and now I have plans to do something similar, but incorporate home lighting and other processes so I can have full control of my house from any WiFi hotspot. I will chart my progress as I go forward.
Available in Europe, the US, and Japan for about $32, distribution is to be initially handled online (similar to the Play-Yan media device and the Nintendo WiFi Connection USB adapter). That means that for the millions and millions of DS and DS lite owners, the whole Internet is about $32 away. For others, $129 for the DS lite and $32 for the browser is still the cheapest, fastest, most secure and reliable path to the Internet available to date.
With companies like Nintendo and Opera working together to make it happen, you can trust the quality of the experience will be unsurpassed.
Thanks for reading. More photos here.
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