Let's face it, navigating the Web on a Pocket PC using the default IE browser isn't a very pleasant experience. Its fiddly controls, unreliability and tardiness have led many to look for replacements.
To date, I've found Opera Mobile 8.65 to be the best of the bunch. However, this beta release of version 9.5 is even better, and shows that Opera has what it takes to conquer the PDA web browsing market. Opera Mobile 9.5 furthers the high standards set by the previous version, in terms of speed, features and easy-of-use.
The interface has been completely redesigned and is all the better for it. Don't get me wrong, it was good before, but now everything is so easy to reach and touch-friendly that it's almost as intuitive as browsing the Web on your PC.
What I liked about the user interface in Opera Mobile 9.5 is its no-nonsense approach. It's subtle and yet practical, to the extent that you don't really notice it's there, but when you need it it's very easy to do what you want. The stylish gray and black design keeps things as minimalistic as possible, while the large buttons make for easy access to common browser features, such as favorites, tabs, and the back and forward commands.
On the subject of features, the latest incarnation of Opera Mobile is stuffed with them - you can add multiple tabs, save pages for offline viewing, share content via SMS, MMS and email, organize your log-ins with the password manager, and access pages quicker with auto-fill addresses. Perhaps my favorite addition though is the new page zooming tool, which allows you to get a closer look at the page with a double-tap of the screen. Another double-tap will take you back to full-screen viewing again. It's one of those features that's so cool and yet so simple, you wonder why it wasn't done before.
You might be thinking that all these cool new goodies will slow the notoriously speedy Opera Mobile down - not so. Somehow the developer has managed to package everything into a browser that seems t run a fair deal quicker than version 8.65.
Because this is a first Beta release you can't expect it to be perfect and indeed it's not. Running Flash plug-ins and embedded streaming video is out of the question because ActiveX is disabled, there are some problems when you try to install it on portable storage, and the text wraps in overview mode.
I'm sure these bugs will be ironed out in time, and when they are I think we'll be talking about Opera Mobile as arguably the best way to browse the web on a Pocket PC.