Opera brings privacy mode to basic mobile browser

As is becoming increasingly apparent, the gap between smartphones and featurephones is narrowing for many users, who might just be after enhanced communications capabilities and streamlined surfing, rather than raw horsepower. Opera’s Mini browser caters to these customers, who are generally found in emerging markets, and it’s worth keeping an eye on the functionality this lightweight browser gains over time.

On Wednesday morning, the Norwegian software firm brought out a new version of the browser’s low-end iteration, Opera Mini 4.5. This is intended for basic Java-capable phones – those with beefier phones that still fall short of “smartphone” status can download a more functional version, Opera Mini 7.5.

One of the standout features of Mini 4.5 is a new privacy mode – bear in mind that it’s little over a year since Google(s goog) brought Chrome to Android, incognito mode and all. In keeping with the intended markets, Opera is pitching this as ideal for sharing your phone with friends who can then check their Facebook without any logins or data being saved.

The browser now features a download manager that allows the user to pause, resume and manage downloads (this was previously available on Opera Mini 7.1, but not on the basic version). It has also been given a general refresh, both visually and in terms of footprint (it is now lighter), and boasts new touch enhancements such as kinetic scrolling for touch-capable phones.

As Opera Mini product manager Christian Uribe noted in a statement, we’re seeing features gradually trickle down from the recently overhauled smartphone version of Opera down to the lightest-weight version.

“Having an excellent download manager is just as important for the students downloading class work to their phones as it is for business people with more advanced phones,” Uribe said.

Add to this the fact that (as with all Opera browsers) Mini 4.5 users get to use data compression technology that can cut costs by up to 90 percent, and it becomes clear that the low end of the mobile business is nowhere near as dumb as it used to be. Which is just as well — for many of the intended users, these basic phones are effectively their personal computers.