Web browsers aren’t always interesting. They have a task, a purpose, and don’t always see the sort of innovation that can be called “exciting”. Opera, which is now owned by a consortium of Chinese companies, has decided to liven things up. And right on cue, we have the Opera Neon, which is an experimental desktop browser for Windows and Mac computing devices, and focuses on minimalism and modern design cues as well as functionality.
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Incidentally, this isn’t the first-time Opera has tried to make a second web browser along with the default Opera browser—sometime ago, they launched the Coast browser for iOS devices, which also had focused on minimalism and a clutter free browsing experience.
Open Neon for the first time, and it becomes very clear that this isn’t the standard fare web browser, such as the likes of Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, which you may have been using all along. The home screen has your favourite websites (these can be customized) as bubbles placed in such a way that it feels like they are floating around the screen. Your desktop background/wallpaper is visible, because the browser home screen is translucent. It might be time to change that default Windows or OS X wallpaper to something fancier, perhaps?
The stuff that you may be accustomed to seeing in a web browser, such as the bookmarks bar, the tab bar and add-ons, are not there. Instead of the tab bar, you get bubbles on the right side of the window. If you wish to keep multiple browser windows open at the same time, they can be made to share screen space as well.
There is a media control panel as well, which lets you manage playback of media content that may be embedded in web pages.
All in all, Neon seems quite refreshing and fun to use for a while. It is quite fast, the minimalism stands out and there is no doubt that this does have the basics in place which a lot of other web browser could do well to follow.
However, it is far too early in the Neon’s development cycle, if we are to assume that Opera will persist with this, for you to switch to this as a default web browser for home or office use. The primary reason, at least on the MacBook Pro 2016 (Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage, OS X Sierra 10.12.2), is the battery life—15 minutes of using Neon saw a battery drain of as high as 20%. We really couldn’t pinpoint the reason, but the battery usage returned to its normal frugal self the moment we closed Neon and switched back to Safari. While this may be an isolated issue with this set of hardware, power users will miss certain other features.
Presently, it doesn’t support extensions, the kind we are used to in the likes of the Google Chrome web browser. Secondly, the entire experience, though smooth, does pose a learning curve beyond a point. You will need to get used to the way tabs are handled, for example. And for a browser that Opera itself calls as experimental, we aren’t entirely sure if you should invest your time and energy in switching to Neon for the moment.