Review: I Spent a Week with Vivaldi as my Default Browser

I promised myself I wouldn’t launch into a diatribe about the inadequacies of the big three browsers, so I’ll summarize, as follows. Chrome, once my go-to for speed and useful extensions, has become a memory-eating beast, whose tentacles seem to occupy every part of my computer’s RAM. Firefox, which also served me well in its earlier years, is lately the king of unexpected behavior, with frequent crashes and inability to cope with scripts written into websites and occasional “whiteouts” in which the contents of all tabs vanish. Internet Explorer lost me forever a long time ago. To IE’s credit, I’ve found the newer versions to be truly an improvement over the last few years, but not without similar problems to Chrome and Firefox.

Okay. Diatribelet over.

On a lark, I tried Vivaldi, the new browser designed by a former CEO of the company which makes the alternative Opera-browser, which seems to have a small, but fervent following. Vivaldi represents a fork in Opera’s development, building on the perceived strengths of an earlier version before certain back-end changes in the Opera browser. As of March 2015, Vivaldi is available as a “technical preview” (think: Beta version with minimal support) signaling the recognition that there are still many bugs to work out but that the product shows promise, both of which I find true. Though I’ve run into a few problems after using Vivaldi for a few days, I’ve generally found it to be generally functional, with some nice features. Promising, but not quite for prime time.

1. Quick command menu. Vivaldi displays all the keyboard shortcuts along with open tabs and bookmarks into a single menu which can be searched or navigated with the arrow keys. I like that the keyboard shortcuts are customizable, as some of them are particularly non-intuitive, notably Ctrl-Q which should quit the currently open application (and don’t tell me otherwise) but in Vivaldi opens the quick command menu.

Vivaldi-Quick-Commands

2. Stackable tabs. I really want to love this feature, but I’m not there yet. By shift-clicking a set of tabs, and right-clicking on one of them, you can choose to consolidate them into a single tab. It’s useful, insofar as you can organize open tabs by topic. You can still navigate to the left (Ctrl-3) or right (Ctrl-4) but there are no other keyboard shortcuts to help you navigate them faster. I feel like the Vivaldi team is onto something here, but until there’s a faster way to create and navigate stacked tabs, it’s not a feature I’ll use.

Vivaldi-Stacking-Tabs

3. Speed Dial. This feature is still a little quirky in Vivaldi, but it’s much better than Chrome’s very limiting recent tabs feature. Whenever you open a new tab (but not a new window) Vivaldi offers up a visual grid of links to sites you might like to visit. It’s customizable, so you can add or remove sites, create folders which contain multiple sites, or add new pages – confusingly, also called folders – to which you can add more links or folders (the first kind). The default set of links have some easily identifiable visuals, but anything you add doesn’t (yet?) generate images from the page associated with the link.

Vivaldi-Speed-Dial

I could imagine this being pretty useful, and I’m hoping that Vivaldi will fix some of it’s shortcomings. Also, it would be nice to be able to change the background image on the new tab page (though I do like the suspension bridge pic) and navigate between speed dial folders using keyboard shortcuts.

4. Notes. The notes panel is conceptually interesting. I’m a huge Evernote junkie, and will probably continue to use that for anything I want to squirrel away as I browse, but it seems helpful to have a notepad built into the browser. Does this integrate to anything else? I seem to be able to create folders, but I can’t figure out how to create notes inside of a folder, or move a note into folders.

Vivaldi-Notes

If the developers can (no idea how) find a way to let you upload individual notes to any number of platforms (Evernote, Google Drive, Delicious, etc., etc., etc.) this would be a powerful feature.

5. Laundry list of minor annoyances.

  • Home Page. I really prefer to have a blank home page. Even Speed Dial (which appears on new tabs, but not on the first tab in new browser windows) would suffice.
  • Address Bar Auto-Fill. The auto-fill in the address bar is a bit slow for my liking. I’m a fast typer (typist? Is that still a thing?) and I’m in the habit of typing the first few letters of URLs of sites I visit frequently and pressing Enter to get there fast. I find that I need to give Vivaldi a second or two to give me the suggested site.
  • Google’s passive-aggressive reaction to Vivaldi. Google tells me constantly my browser is out of date. This is mostly okay; I can still use Gmail and Google Drive, though Vivaldi intercepts keyboard inputs which are the same on Google Drive and in the browser, such as Ctrl-vF for find, whereas Chrome will direct your keyboard commands to the controls in Google Drive.
  • Remembering passwords … or not. There’s no global option not to save passwords, so Vivaldi will ask you every single time you visit a new site and enter a password whether or not it should remember it.
  • Browser history and private browsing. The browser history is accessible from the speed dial page, but it seems like I should be able to get at it from the main menu, too. No? Also, Ctrl-H really should open the browser history, not the notes panel. Also, there’s no private/incognito browsing in Vivaldi.
  • Interaction with other apps. If you click on a URL in another app, like TweetDeck, Vivaldi opens the URL (good) but not necessarily to the window in which the URL is loading. It seems to open the most recently-viewed browser window but loads the URL in the browser window which was opened first. Sometimes, too, it seems to hang without opening a URL

In summary, Vivaldi is promising. The thought of having a browser which doesn’t eat up all my memory, is fast, and has some nice features is appealing. The other options have been difficult enough lately that I might keep Vivaldi as my default browser, technical preview or not, for the time being.

 

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