Opera created their mini browser for the iPhone and Apple just released it on the App Store this week. Do we need another browser on the iPhone? Opera seems to think so. Is this a browser you should download and try out for yourself? Let me give you some more information on it and you can make your own decision.

Opera Software has been making the Opera browser for years. They make a version for Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, and all kinds of mobile devices. I even had it on my old Nokia 6620 running the Symbian OS. They are striving to make the fastest and most secure browser available. They haven’t quite caught up to Firefox or even Safari on Mac OSX and may never get there, but they do offer some unique features on the iPhone version that you may want to take advantage of. If you use Opera Browser on your computer already, you should try the iPhone version. You will have an even better experience with it.

So, why should you even try Opera Mini Browser on the iPhone? Well, the main reason is speed. If you have a slow Edge connection or no WiFi available, Opera Mini can load pages up to four times faster than Safari on your iPhone. I’ve tested this and know that it is true. Opera routes your Internet connection through their own servers. These servers compress any web page you are trying to access before it is sent to you. You gain two benefits… 1) You use less on your data plan because the compressed web pages, received in Opera Mini, are up to 80% smaller than normal. 2) The speed gain means that you will be waiting less for your web pages to load on Opera Mini. This is more than enough reason to use the new Opera Mini Browser, right? Well maybe not… I’ll get into this later. I did test the fancy NYTimes.com web page that Steve Jobs loves to go to on the iPad and it did load much faster than my iPhone on the 3G network.

What are some other reasons you may want to try Opera Mini? Like I said above; if you are already an Opera user on your computer at home, you will have an even better experience with the iPhone version. Opera Mini synchronizes your bookmarks with your home computer. You set up an account on their website and sync your bookmarks from your home computer to it. Then you turn on the same feature on Opera Mini and it pulls the bookmarks from the Opera website to your iPhone. Any changes on one side or the other stay in sync through their website.

Opera Mini also has Speed Dial. It looks like a phone keypad, but each button has a shortcut to a website tied to it. Just touch a button and it takes you to that website. This works well with tabbed browsing, which is another feature on Opera Mini. Your tabs show up as small screen shots at the bottom of your iPhone display. Scroll left and right and click on the tab you wish to open. Close all the tabs and you are taken back to the Speed Dial display. Very nice! The tabs work like Safari except you see more of them on the display, which makes them easier to navigate and select.

Opera Mini renders web pages fast. With Safari, when you are viewing a mostly unreadable full screen webpage, it is still trying to display the tiny text, even though you can’t read it. Opera Mini doesn’t try to display the tiny text, it just replaces it with placeholder lines. You still can read titles and larger text, but you see graphical lines representing each line of unreadable text. When you scroll around the page, it redraws much quicker and gets you to where you need to be.

Other features are mobile view, that reformats your web pages so that they are easy to read on the iPhone display. This is good for those who don’t want to zoom in and out on web pages all the time. There is a Find function that allow you to search for text on your webpage. A Save Page feature keeps a copy of your current webpage on your iPhone for later viewing… even if you have no Internet connection. This Opera Mini Browser seems to have everything. Why would you ever want to go back to Safari?

Opera Mini is not perfect. I like that it loads most of my web pages faster, but it does have some problems and there are some web pages that are better viewed in Safari. If you go to sites like Appleinsider or use Google Reader on your iPhone, these websites actually look, and act, like iPhone applications. They are using the webkit to do this. Google Reader shows a star next to your article that you can click to mark it as one of your favorites. It has pull-down menus and other option buttons to share your links, view your feeds, or add a note to the article. On Opera Mini, Google Reader looks just like a text only web page.

Safari is also better at navigating through web pages. You can pinch the screen to zoom in or out as much as you want. With Opera Mini, you have your main view and a set zoom to view articles close-up. There are some web pages where I can’t get the zoom just right to view a graphic image or column of text. If you have a long blog you are reading, in Safari, you can click at the top of the screen to scroll back to the top of the article. Opera Mini seems to have left this feature out and you are left flicking on the screen all the way back to the top. Opera doesn’t seem to have the HTML standard down right. Open this blog up in Opera Mini and then open it in Safari.  It looks correct in Safari and all squished up in Opera Mini.

A bug I found in Opera Mini is pretty bad for Opera users on computers. That nice bookmark syncing feature doesn’t seem to work at this time. I’ve imported the bookmarks from Safari to Opera on Mac OSX. I’ve also synced them with the Opera website and can see them when logged into the website. They just don’t ever show up in Opera Mini on my iPhone. This is something they will probably fix… hopefully soon.

I can see myself using both Safari and Opera browser on my iPhone. Opera Mini gets me to my friends list on Xbox.com a lot faster than Safari. It also opens a lot of news sites quicker and works well with most basic sites. I will continue to use Safari to view sites with lots of graphic elements and variable sized column articles, like Apple’s own website. It is just better at zooming to fit just about anything on a web page. I also use the Google Reader web page a lot and will continue to access it using Safari. Yes, I know there are RSS apps out there but I still find I can pull links off the web page easier to post in Twitter.

Opera Mini is now a permanent addition on my iPhone screen… soon to be in a folder when I upgrade to OS 4.0. When I’m browsing random websites, it will be my browser of choice because of its speed. I’m just glad that Apple approved it, and didn’t make a stink about it, since Opera Mini competes with their own Safari browser. Maybe there are more features in OS 4.0 Safari that I don’t know about. Download Opera Mini and give it a try. It is small enough to download over an Edge or 3G connection and will make most of your web browsing experience more pleasant.

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