Opera recently released one of the most unique desktop browsers we’ve seen in many years. Opera Neon is a proposed glimpse in the future — it’s where Opera sees web browsers eventually heading. It has an entirely different user interface with some unique multitasking features and the overall experience is quite intriguing.
It’s not likely that you’ll suddenly download Neon and be able to replace your current browser. Opera makes it perfect clear that this browser is meant as a preview, something that will evolve and expand over time. But that begs the question: is Neon really the future?
Opera Neon feels like an operating system in itself. It actually reminds me of a more elegant, lightweight AOL Desktop from back in the day.
Neon doesn’t open up a blank New Tab page like most browsers. It opens with your favorite website icons floating over a serene background image. Above that is the address bar to navigate elsewhere or search. When you open a website, it purposefully pops over in a new layer to give the illusion that it’s a window running within something like an Internet OS.
In keeping with this theme, tabs don’t look like tabs. They look like dock icons over on the right. In fact, you can even minimize a website window off to the side to get back to the background with your favorite links. Drag an icon over a different open website to create a split screen — especially useful if you frequently use web apps.
On the left is another sidebar with much smaller icons. This is where a lot of the new features live. Neon has the standard New Tab icon, the Player, the Snap (read: screenshot) feature, your Gallery of snaps, and downloads. More on these in a moment.
At the bottom is the Menu icon with similar options to that of Google Chrome. Opening the Settings bridges the gap even further since Neon runs on the Chromium browser engine.
Opera Neon is the sleekest web browser I’ve come across in some time. It’s a total breath of fresh air. What pleases me the most personally is that I get what Opera is going for here. The World Wide Web is an entire world to explore and Neon is the portal into that new world. Everything about the design feels very intentional from the dimensionality to the lightweight fonts and the minimalistic icons.
But it’s not enough for Neon to look good, it has to bring the heat.
Smart, New Features
Moving past the looks, Neon also has some excellent new features. The most notable ones live in the sidebar.
The Player allows you to play or pause video from one tab even if you’re not currently viewing it. Even better, you can see a list of all current videos open and control them from the sidebar. Click the pop-out button to expand into picture-in-picture mode. It only works while the Neon browser window is expanded, but it works great as a built-in video player. It’s 2017 — this feature shouldn’t even be the future, every browser should have it.
Another media related feature is the Snap feature and gallery. I’m a little less certain about the future of this one. It’s just a built-in screenshot feature. The Gallery lets you view your collection. I guess it’s valuable to take quick clips of web pages for later, but taking regular screenshots has always worked just fine for me. As far as I can tell, you can’t even download your screen snaps from Neon.
The Snap feature is useful but needs to evolve. My first suggestion: turn it into a GIF maker or at least tack that on.
The last important feature though not entirely unique is split screen. Drag one tab onto another to get a prompt: left view or right. Choosing one will snap that window alongside the other. It works much like split view on macOS and iPad. You can drag the divider in the middle to adjust the sizes.
The feature comes in handy both for productivity and text editing, but for web apps too. Opera uses Messenger as an excellent example: your friends and conversations on the left, and a larger window for another website on the right.
Outside of those, Neon mostly has the features you’d expect from a modern web browser. It has simple navigation, Incognito mode, history, and a download manager. These all work just like you’d expect.
Where Neon Misses the Mark
As much as I can appreciate how capable of a browser Opera Neon is already, it lacks some key features at the moment. For one, it doesn’t support any type of account login and backup so you can’t access bookmarks and sync settings across devices.
On the topic of bookmarks, Neon doesn’t have a proper bookmark manager at all. The only form of bookmarks you get are the floating icons on the main screen that you can simply rearrange. It doesn’t even have a Bookmarks menu in the toolbar.
The biggest but most understandable omission at this time is lack of extension support. Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox have thriving app and extensions for their browsers that enhance and personalize them. They also add a tremendous amount of value and functionality. It’d be hard for me to ditch Chrome without some of my extensions.
That said I understand why it’s not there because it’s no easy task to implement extension support in a way that keeps the UI clean and browser fast and efficient. Hopefully it will come in time.
My last gripe isn’t something Neon lacks, but a feature that needs improvement. I’m not a fan of the full-screen mode, which just lets the current tab take over the entire screen. I’d rather keep the sidebars and features in tact while in full mode so I can fully immerse in the whole Internet OS presentation of Neon. Chrome has an option to show or remove toolbars in full screen so Neon should follow suit.
Is Opera Neon the Future?
It’s hard to state definitively whether Opera Neon is headed in the right direction, but it should get credit for being different than what’s out there now. I always found it odd how browsers are treated just like any other app on an OS when they end up being so much more than that. Neon turns the browser into a mini OS within an OS and Opera has executed the concept well.
It’s not without its flaws, but Opera is on to something. I’m excited to see Neon grow past its core unique features into something even more progressive and practical.
Opera Neon is a free browser available for Mac or Windows.