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I’ve always been interested in the latest shiny thing so when I was asked to review Opera’s feature-filled latest release, Opera 26, I jumped at the chance.

Opera, like it’s musical counterpart, has always been the choice of aficionados. It doesn’t come included with your operating system and nor is it peddled by the world’s largest search provider. You have to make the conscious choice to be an Opera user. And oh are you rewarded for that choice.

In countless performance tests, Opera comes out ahead. Opera is often the first of the major browsers to implement new features — it had tabbed browsing 6 years before Internet Explorer — and seems determined to continue this tradition. While the gaps have closed between modern browsers — especially when it comes to how they render webpages — there is still room for them to differentiate.

I’ve come to appreciate Opera more and more as I’ve used it. Everyone knows Opera is fast and stable. What I’ve grown to love is the interface and their innovative takes on Speed Dial and Bookmarks.

The Interface

The latest version of Opera is gorgeous. I checked it out on both OS X Yosemite and the Windows 10 Technical Preview, and I really liked how it respected the design conventions of both operating systems. Other browsers are guilty of ignoring the OS style and having the same design across every platform. It’s great to see Opera tweak the design of their browser to fit in with whatever OS you’re running. Few things look uglier than an app that’s clearly designed for one platform being forced to run on another.

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Aside from the platform specific changes, the underlying design is the same. It’s clean, minimalist and very pretty. There is little to distract you from the web content. The interface of the Speed Dial, Discover and Bookmarks sections is also stunning. They’ve gone with a flat, tile-based design reminiscent of Windows 8. It works great.

Speed Dial

If you’ve ever tried to create a bookmarks bar filled with favicons to quickly navigate between your favourite sites, you’ll know it just doesn’t work. The targets are too small and the bookmarks bar looks ugly and takes up precious screen-space. Opera pioneered Speed Dial back in 2007. It’s a customisable grid on the new tab page for the websites you visit most frequently.

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Speed Dial’s now become standard in some form in all the major browsers but Opera’s is my favourite take on it. I tried to use Chrome’s for a while but the constant refreshing based on what sites I’d visited recently and ugly, 137 pixel wide screenshots made me give it up. When I started using Opera a couple of weeks ago for this review, I decided to give Speed Dials another shot. I’m glad I did. It’s a great way to quickly access websites — like MakeUseOf — that you visit all the time.

Bookmarks

Bookmarks are one of the earliest browser features. They’ve been around since 1993. Between then and now, very little changed. If you spent any time on the web, your bookmarks menu quickly became a mess of unsorted URLs and — if you were super organised — the occasional folder that grouped a few related ones together. I don’t know anyone who’s seriously used these browsers bookmarks feature for the last few years. I certainly started leaving tabs open or sending things that needed to be read to Instapaper Manage Your Bookmarks & Reading List with Instapaper Manage Your Bookmarks & Reading List with Instapaper Read More .

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The latest version of Opera changes all that. They’ve gone back and completely redesigned bookmarks from the ground up. Rather than a single long list of URLs, with Opera’s new Bookmarks feature you get a beautiful visual grid of all the links you’ve saved. As you add a new bookmark by clicking on the little Heart in the URL bar, it’s really easy to add it to a folder so things don’t get out of hand.

You can even share bookmarks — either individually or as folders. If you’ve ever needed to share a couple of websites with someone — like a list of possible hotels for a trip — it’s a great way to do it.

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When I’m busy, I hire a virtual assistant. For the past two weeks, any time I see something that would make a good Christmas present for someone I know, I add it to my Christmas Presents Bookmarks folder. The page updates every time I add a few new things. I share the bookmarks with my virtual assistant, and ask him to order the presents online. It’s totally revolutionised how I do my Christmas shopping!

I’ve also been using Bookmarks to keep track of article research. Each article gets its own folder and any site I come across that’s relevant gets saved to it.

Opera, My Way of Sharing

I had no intention of stopping using Google Chrome when I started this review. I was just planning on spending a few days playing around with Opera so I could write a review saying, “It’s another web browser.”

Instead, Opera has replaced Chrome as my go-to browser. It runs better on my Mac, it’s far prettier and I’ve started to rely on the awesome new Bookmarks feature. If you’re someone who spends a lot of time on the web, you’d do well to check out Opera too.

Win A New Laptop

It doesn’t matter which operating system you run, Opera looks great on either Mac OS X or Windows. To allow you to enjoy the lovely Opera interface as well as its spectacular features, we’re giving away a MacBook Air and Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro courtesy of Opera. Three runner ups will be selected, and each will receive a $150 Amazon US gift card.

Congratulations to Emily Clively (MacBook Air), Anders Bahri (Lenovo Yoga 3), and David John Angaiak, Clayton Decker and Thomas Nguyen (Amazon gift cards).

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