Opera Mini on the iPhone: Nice Toy, Could it Ever Be More?

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I couldn’t wait to try out the new Opera Mini browser for the iPhone, so I didn’t. I downloaded it via my iTunes UK account (it was released there much earlier than over here) and set about running it through its paces. This is what I found.

First of all, let me be clear: Opera Mini will never replace mobile Safari on the iPhone. Not, at least, until Apple makes available to users the ability to switch which apps open by default when performing certain actions. As long as Safari is the default web browser across the platform, Opera Mini really can’t be much more than a well-executed novelty.

I did however say well executed. Using Opera Mini is definitely a pleasurable experience. From the snappy loading times that come from having the pages pre-rendered on Opera’s servers and pushed out to the phone at lightning speeds, to the pop-up tab drawer that gives you a quick glance at what you’ve got open without having to scroll through pages, viewing them one at a time as you do with Mobile Safari, Opera Mini is designed from the ground up with the aim of improving web browsing on the iPhone in mind.

There are other great features you won’t find in Safari as well. Like the speed dial home screen, which, if you’re not familiar with Opera, resembles what Chrome looks like by default when it first boots up. You can assign sites you visit frequently to appear in the speed dial view, so it’s like having instant access to your bookmarks. You can also sync your speed dial, bookmarks and installed search engines from the desktop version of Opera.

Very handy things like the ability to save pages for offline reading and a find in page function also make Opera Mini shine on the iPhone platform, but still, it’s the rare occasion these days when I’m firing up a browser on my device unprompted by another app. Generally speaking, Safari opens on my iPhone because a link in a Twitter or Facebook app has caused it to do so.

If you are still going to install and use Opera, and I recommend that you do, if only to prove to Apple that its users would very much appreciate browser choice on the platform, there are some neat things you can do by accessing the advanced settings. To do this, simply type “config:” into your Opera address bar. This will bring you to a Power-User settings page, where you can tweak options like whether or not Opera will automatically fit text to your screen, change the loading timeout, and set the minimum length for phone number detection.

Use it, enjoy it, and rate it highly in the App Store, but if you’re like me, Opera Mini won’t be much more than a show piece until Apple allows users to change their default browser, which, I’m guessing, will be never.  

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