Opera Mini iPhone Review

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Opera Mini iPhone Review

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Opera Mini has just been approved and is available in the Apple App Store. I have to admit Opera Mini was my favorite browser on my old clunky Apache 6700 Windows Mobile 6.5 phone. It was lightning fast. Opera Mini uses caching servers to compress images and text before sending the content down to your mobile device, which is what makes it so fast.

I downloaded and tested Opera Mini on my iPhone 3GS this morning and here are my thoughts. First, the speed is indeed lightning fast - Safari doesn't hold a candle to the speed of Opera Mini. However, on occasion when trying to open a link Opera Mini hesitates - probably because their caching server is over loaded. But once a page starts loading, don't blink because it's that fast.

It supports full screen mode, but unless I'm missing something it isn't truly full-screen. All it does is hide the bottom Opera Mini taskbar (Back, Forward, tabs, Settings). The top taskbar shows the typical AT&T text + number of signal bars, clock, and battery life as shown here:
opera-mini-iphone-full-screen-mode.jpg

I'm not sure why Opera Mini doesn't hide these like other full screen browsers for the iPhone do. For example, my favorite iPhone browser is iCab Mobile  and it sports a truly full-screen experience as shown here:
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Note how there are NO taskbars at the top or bottom and all you see for controls are the faded-out controls in each of the 4 corners, plus slightly off-center at the bottom. (Back, Forward, full screen toggle, tabs, and bookmarks). This is how full-screen browsing should look on the iPhone!

One big plus for Opera Mini over Safari is that is has a built-in History feature. Why Safari doesn't have it is beyond me. (Update: Safari has a History feature as well, I just never noticed it under Bookmarks) The History feature is quite handy. Relatedly, the Bookmarks feature worked as expected and is identical in functionality to just about any iPhone browser's bookmark feature-set, including Safari.

One really nifty feature is the Search on page feature. You enter your keyword and it'll highlight the first keyword. You can then click Next to view the new occurrence, as shown here:
opera-mini-iphone-search.jpg

Opera Mini also lets you Save Pages for offline viewing - very nice if traveling. I tested this and loading Saved Pages is blazingly fast.

I should point out that there are only 2 zoom levels with all Opera mini browsers. This is due to how they cache the web page. They basically cache a full-screen version and a zoomed in version. This takes awhile to get used to if you are used to the traditional pinch and zoom to set your level of zoom. However, most savvy iPhone users only really use 2 zoom levels - even in Safari. Typically you double-tab a column of text to zoom to that column with the text zoomed to fit the entire iPhone screen width. So the 2 levels of zoom isn't really a drawback.

Any video supported on Safari is supported on Opera Mini. So if you see an embedded YouTube video, .mp4, etc. Opera Mini will kick off the Quicktime player to play the video. It doesn't support embedded video playback, but neither does Safari.

While Safari is limited to 8 number of tabs, Opera Mini gives you a couple more limiting you to 10 tabs. The tab preview is pretty cool showing you a card deck with graphical representations of each of your tabs as seen here:
opera-mini-iphone-tab-preview.jpg

You can copy text on a web page similar to Safari, though with a minor extra step. You first hold your finger on the screen and then choose Select Text. Then you highlight the text you want. Unfortunately, you have to select correctly in one shot, since it doesn't let you move the selection window. Lastly, you are presented with the option to Copy. However, it gives you a couple of other options, including: Search (via Google), Search With (Google, Amazon, eBay, Wikipedia). This is a nice feature. You can also manage your Search Engines. Interestingly, you cannot delete Google, but you can delete any of the others. You can also edit them and in put in your own favorite search engine. However, the icon is locked, so if you edit the Amazon entry to search somewhere else, it'll still have the Amazon logo. It doesn't appear you can add a new search engine. In fact, I deleted the eBay search engine just as a test and now I can't get it back. I would have liked to have used the eBay search entry and mapped it to Techmeme or Yahoo! or somewhere else. Might have to reinstall to get it back.

One last cool feature is the Start Page which gives you a 3X3 grid with 9 total thumbnails of your favorite websites. This gives you nice quick access to your favorite sites. It comes pre-loaded with a few - including My Opera, Facebook, Twitter, New York Times, and Accuweather as shown here:
opera-mini-iphone-start-page.jpg

Conclusion:
Is the Opera Mini speed over Safari worth switching? Good question. Without trying to hedge my bets, I would say "maybe". If you've got a really fast Wi-Fi connection, there may not be much of a speed performance to switch. However, if on a slow 3G or Edge connection, you'll definitely want to switch. But then the issue arises "who wants to have multiple browsers open?". You use more RAM and it can be a PITA to keep switching. So for that reason you may just want to simply jump ship off off Safari and go with Opera Mini. Plus when you add in the Saved Pages feature, search in page feature, History, and pseudo full-screen mode and you have some seriously compelling reasons to switch. I still like iCab Mobile though because it has more screen real-estate due to the "true" full screen mode. But I will play with Opera Mini for a few weeks and see if it's time to jump ship.


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