Opera for Android helps monitor mobile data use

Opera released updated versions of its Opera Mini and Opera Mobile browsers for Google Android devices on Tuesday. The new software includes a mobile broadband meter showing how much data has been used for browsing. Other improvements include a faster Opera Turbo feature, inline video on Honeycomb tablets and faster page rendering with the Opera Presto engine.

At a time when most carriers are moving away from unlimited data plans on smartphones and tablets, the new data meter is a welcome addition. The meter is a dedicated web page within Opera Mini 6.5 and Opera Mobile 11.5, making it easy to view total broadband usage while browsing, which can translate into actual cost savings on limited data plans.

One of Opera’s key advantages over other browsers is data compression on its servers: Optimized web pages are sent directly from Opera to client devices, saving up to 90 percent of the bandwidth over a non-compressed page. The company supports most of the major mobile platforms, including Apple iOS (s aapl), which is one of the most popular phones for Opera use. However, at the platform level, I’d expect Android(s goog) devices to use Opera browser more.

In iOS, Apple doesn’t allow any browser other than its native Safari browser be the default. That means any link tapped in iOS will open in Safari, even if a third-party browser such as Opera is installed. The experience is less than optimal. On Android, however, it’s a simple check box to make any browser the default option. That’s why I suspect the new data meter for Opera is first appearing for Android smartphones and tablets.

While viewing the web while using less data sounds appealing, some have opted to pass on Opera because browsing preferences and history are used at the server level. I suspect that more people will begin to overlook this issue as data demand rises in the face of monthly mobile bandwidth caps or metered data plans. In some sense, Android owners are already giving their data to Google if they use the stock browser, so why not go with another company and save big on the bandwidth?