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The real deal behind Opera Mobile 'Turbo'

Opera Mobile is getting some work done under the hood to improve the browser's velocity. At CTIA 2009, we decode what that really means.

Last week, when Opera Software announced Opera Mobile 9.7 for business partners, the Norwegian company also mentioned that a version for consumers would come "soon." At CTIA 2009, Opera told CNET that "soon" means May.

Opera Mobile 9.7 preview
Everything is the same but the rendering. Opera Software

What sets Opera Mobile 9.7 apart from the current 9.5 beta version for Symbian and Windows Mobile phones is the inclusion of Opera Turbo, a rendering and compression engine that shrinks data down to 80 percent. What's more, the Turbo engine uses the exact same server engine as Opera Mini's, Opera's proxy browser for Java phones.

This is interesting. An effort to speed up Opera Mobile using Opera Mini's rendering servers means that the full-Web Opera Mobile was simply not fast enough for Opera's liking--or, perhaps just not as fast as some of the competition. Opera showed off side-by-side versions of Opera Mobile 9.7 in action, one with the Turbo feature on, the other with it off. Turbo-ized surfing was indeed much faster when squeezed through the server, though photo quality predictably took a hit. Yet if speed is what you're after--especially over shaky EV-DO, EDGE, or other 2.5G cellular networks--Turbo gives you options. Yet, does feel in one sense like Opera is taking a step back. Does this mean that Web surfers don't really want the full mobile Web, or that speed trumps all else?

As I mentioned, Opera Mobile 9.7 alpha is still a bit raw. For one thing, you have to manually turn the Turbo booster off in a buried advanced-options menu. Switching back and forth between Turbo and regular settings would be a pain for users who might easily forget. Why turn it off? The Turbo enhancement is terrible for AJAX-heavy Web pages like Google Maps and for streaming video, both of which require high image quality. Eventually, Opera says that the Opera Mobile browser will be able to autodetect the page type and switch Turbo on and off automatically, making the exchange seamless, though that may not happen by the time the beta is released to the public in May. Hopefully, it will be perfected when the general release drops, probably some months later.