Opera’s been making a lot of bold claims with its advertising lately, including offering a free VPN service in its browser and being the fastest browser on the market currently.
Opera’s gone through a lot of changes since its height of popularity during the pre/early-Chrome Windows XP era, and I’d like to take another look at it and see if it stands up as a modern (or better) browsing option.
Overview and Features
Compared to booting up XP-era Opera, modern Opera feels rather different. Many of its features recall Chrome (especially due to being based on Chromium, but more on that later), but the interface itself reminds me more of my early experiences with Edge than anything else. Opera somewhat lacks its old “unique” feel and now looks and plays a lot like the “best of” modern browsers. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, but it definitely is noticeable.
In addition to Opera and FireFox’s shared love for Speed Dials on New Tab pages, scrolling down also greets you with an Edge-inspired news feed which is a pleasant addition.
Something I didn’t appreciate as much is that Opera automatically imports your information from your default browsers without asking you. I noticed this when I started opening new tabs and heading to different websites. My bookmarks had been imported, too, but it took some finagling in Opera’s Bookmarks Manager to mimic my Chrome Bookmarks Bar properly.
One way Opera differentiates itself from other modern browsers is by keeping its menu button omnipresent in the top-left corner of your screen. Once you open it, you may start realizing the Chrome parallels with similar options, though Opera does have the decency to reskin a lot of its options menus so it doesn’t look like some copy of Chrome.
Of note in this menu is “Opera Turbo,” a classic feature of Opera browsers that compresses web pages for slow connections to get faster loading times. Back in the day when I ran an old computer with a slow connection, Turbo was a welcome feature and still might be for many of you.
As far as performance goes, I noticed immensely faster booting times with Opera compared to that of Chrome in addition to better performance whenever I’m playing a game and just using Opera in the background. While Opera isn’t as performance-minimalist as it used to be in the olden days, it feels like a slimmed-down Chrome (with vital extensions integrated right into the browser) with all the performance and very little bloat.
That being said, let’s get into what piqued my interest in Opera again.
Is the VPN False Advertising?
As far as I can tell the VPN feature works perfectly fine. I’m able to maintain high Internet speeds (aside from my poor ping), browse and watch HD videos with no noticeable slowdowns in performance. From checking geolocation and IP tracking, the VPN also seems to be doing a good job of not showing where I actually am. I can’t verify if it’s hiding my traffic from my ISP or not, but from what I’m able to see it is. If nothing else, it’s certainly more secure than using an unrouted connection. Using Opera’s VPN service on public WiFi would likely add some security benefits, for instance.
That being said, it raises a lot of questions.
How are they paying for this? VPN services usually cost money, and for good reason: managing and anonymizing web traffic is expensive. How on Earth is a for-free browser running a free VPN service with unlimited data usage and no major speed throttling?
Well, there is a catch. The “free VPN” that Opera advertises requires the installation of Opera’s developer branch. (The same applies to using the AdBlocker, actually.) Attempting to enable the VPN on the normal version of Opera sends you to the SurfEasy webpage which is also allegedly free but is actually offering itself on a free trial basis, with payment information required to begin.
How Opera is paying for the VPN service in the Developer version is beyond me still. Be wary of that.
I first started seeing ads for Opera on Facebook, touting itself as a browser with a free VPN and a built-in AdBlocker. The normal Opera browser doesn’t fit that description at all. Opera developer does, but I can’t help but feel a little lied to.
About the AdBlocker
Opera’s built-in adblocker is fairly nifty and mostly seems to work just like uBlock or ABP, albeit with the penalty of being less customizable. However, being integrated with the browser itself introduces a multitude of benefits, including less of a performance drain and nifty features like testing loading speed with and without advertisements.
So, is Opera “the fastest browser on the market with a free VPN?”
Sort of. It’s definitely as fast as Chrome minus extension bloat, but I also have yet to load this installation of Opera with all the extensions I use on Chrome. (Of note is that Chrome and Opera extensions are cross-compatible, so don’t let those be a reason to hold you back.)
That aside, Opera’s manner of advertising its integrated adblocking and VPN features bordered on deceitful. If these features were actually properly integrated into the main Opera browser, I think Opera would make itself a viable alternative to Chrome and other big browsers. During my trial period with Opera, though, I came across some little issues that I’m not used to. Despite being based on Chromium, Opera doesn’t always load pages properly, and sometimes that can be quite noticeable when scaling windows in different ways.
Overall, Opera lacks a lot of the polish that its big brothers possess. However, it’s a perfectly suitable browser for low-end machines, and integrating features like adblocking and a VPN service is fairly innovative. Maybe one day the big boys at Microsoft, Google and Mozilla will take note. For now, Opera stands alone in this new arena.