When I heard, yesterday, that Apple had approved the Opera Mini browser for iPhone, I was a bit more than surprised — I was shocked. Apple’s track record in rejecting any app that might interfere with their business plans or control over their userbase seemed to scream that there was absolutely no way they would let a competitor browser into their little empire. It was an exciting prospect: a blazingly fast, low data-impact, full-featured browser? With features that Mobile Safari is painfully lacking like on-page search? Oh I had to see this for myself! In my testing, I discovered a lot of cool features — unfortunately, though, I came away from my first few runs of Opera Mini more than a bit disappointed.
Nice UI – The user interface of Opera Mini is not too bad. Big buttons, easy to navigate and figure out each feature, and the ability to surf in regular or full screen mode.
Load Times – The loading time for a webpage in Opera Mini is definitely an improvement. I will say though, that it is not as fast as I thought it would be. The difference in speed for the sites I tested was not really anything that would give me pause or cause me to switch.
Low Data Impact – For people with lower or more expensive data plans, any way you can save on data expenditure is a good thing. Opera Mini achieves this by acting as a proxy. It actually fetches the website for you via their servers, and then serves you a compressed version of the pages. It does this remarkably quickly.
Opera Link – Opera Link is a nice addition, as it allows you to sync bookmarks and other data with your desktop. Of course, you will need to be an Opera Desktop user to take full advantage of it…
Speed Dial – Speed Dial is an awesome feature on any browser. One touch access to your favourite website is always a plus, especially when you are on the go.
Tabbed Browsing – Having the tabs instead of new windows makes for a faster way to switch between multiple windows — one touch as opposed to Mobile Safari’s three. It is also slightly easier to open new windows.
Find in Page – This is the one feature that will keep Opera Mini on my phone. For a company that prides itself so much on UI design, I can’t understand how Apple missed the simple ability to find the bit of text that you are looking for on a page full of other text. This is especially important in a mobile browser! This is the one and probably only thing I will use Opera Mini (regularly) for.
Free – It’s hard to go wrong with the price tag of Free. You lose nothing but a bit of time by trying it out.
Zero Integration with Other Apps – This isn’t a surprise, as Mobile Safari is built right in to the operating system, and any attempt by Opera to make Opera Mini the "default browser" would have probably been a death sentence for the app. Still, it is a problem for me. If I am going to use a browser, I want it to integrate as smoothly as possible with everything else I’m doing. This won’t be as much of an issue with the iPhone 4.0 OS as it will include multi-tasking, but for now, it is a bit of a killer for me overall.
Zoom Functionality – The zoom in and out functionality of Opera Mini is ridiculously fast, but you have no control as to the depth of the zoom. Even if you pinch and spread to zoom in and out, you will never be able to customize the zoom level to your own preference. You’re pretty much all in or all out — and the all out view can’t be read at all.
Overall, Opera Mini for iPhone is a good (and free) secondary option for your mobile browsing needs. My mistake with Opera Mini was in forgetting my experience with it on Windows Mobile. Sure, it’s fast and sure, it’s light on data — but it is not a full featured browser, or even a real competitor to Mobile Safari by any stretch. This is just its first run, however. It’s possible that its features and control will continue to improve with time and updates. Opera will have to walk a very fine line with Apple through that process, though, which is likely to hinder any significant progress. It’s been proven on several occasions that Apple is not afraid to pull an app from its store for its own reasons, and without any real explanation.
What do you think of Opera Mini? Let us know in the comments!