iPhone Life magazine

New version of Opera Mini Web browser out!

Since 2005 (the initial debut of the first version), I've dedicated several articles to the alternative Web browser Opera Mini. Back in the Windows Mobile / Symbian S40...S60 / BlackBerry days, Opera Mini offered a viable and, in many respects, much better alternative to the built-in browsers of these operating systems – for example, on my Blackberry 8800, it was the only browser I ever used. On my more capable Windows Mobile and Nokia devices / phones, I also tended to prefer it to other, in general, clumsy and slow browsers.



(retina iPt screen screenshot)


(traditional low-resolution screenshot)


(iPad screenshot)

On the iOS, the situation is a bit different: Safari (and all current third-party browsers based on it) has a very nice, fast and standards-conforming engine. Compared to Safari the (mostly) server-side Opera Mini doesn't have no much chance under normal (!), non-restricted circumstances. It's probably only at memory usage (and everything related – stability, the ability to keep even tens of pages in the memory, transfer speed over very slow connections etc.) that Opera Mini really shines at.

A new (6.5.1) version has just been released. It has some fixes like a better text highlighting and copying method. Note that my multipart review of the previous, 6.1 version has "only" been posted to the official Opera Mini forums (I've never had the time to create a full, consolidated, updated, united version of all those parts for iPhone Life). The direct links:

first part

second part

third part

fourth part

fifth part

sixth part

seventh part

a generic article linking to my fixes and scriptlets to the previous version (most of them are not needed for the current version, as most scriptlet-fixable bugs have been fixed back in the 6.1 days)

etc.

Let's see how the new version compares to Safari in iOS5 (version 5.0.1) and (still) the best third-party iOS Web browser, iCab Mobile.

Pros

- still very little memory usage: even low-memory devices can keep several pages open. For example, the 2nd generation iPod touch, which, in general, has only about 50 Mbytes of RAM memory free, was still able to keep a lot of pages (including the history – that is, tapping “back” doesn't result in a lengthy pare reloading in most cases) in-memory. Safari wouldn't have been able to do the same feat - on low-memory devices (including the high-resolution iPod touches and the first iPad - while they both have 256 M RAM, Safari uses a lot more memory to decode Web pages on high-res devices as opposed to low-res ones like iPhones up to 3GS and iPod touch models up to the third gen), it's barely able to keep more than two or three pages in-memory!

- saves a LOT of bandwidth, which also means it's much faster over slow connections

- Opera Link (albeit I find Firefox Sync more usable in iOS browsers supporting it if you use Firefox on your desktop, like me [Firefox, according to my own comparisons, is definitely better on Mac OS X than Opera and, therefore, I prefer the former to the latter]; e.g., iCab Mobile and 360 Browser)

- the text selection method works far more reliably than that of iOS. For example, in the latter, it's impossible to only partially select more than one paragraph (screenshot HERE) and, in some cases (for example, with the mobile Google interface – the default one coming up if you enter something into your iPhone / iPod touch [but not iPad!] “Search” textfield) it's downright impossible to highlight only a word of any paragraph: the entire paragraph will be selected, just like in the following screenshot:



Using Opera Mini, there are no such problems. Two examples showing exactly the same Web pages:





Nevertheless, it should still be pointed out that the new version doesn't insert line feeds in the clipboard (see my past, 6.1-specific articles on this problem). That is, if the text you're copying to the clipboard has line feeds (new paragraphs), all of them will be gone once the text is copied to the clipboard. This is a major problem and should finally be fixed by the Opera folks!

- data usage counter for both the current session and total (with Safari and WebKit (WK)-based browsers, you need to consult Settings / General / Usage to be somewhat able to track your data usage):



(- already supports italic, as you may have already spotted on for example the last but one screenshot – this long-awaited feature was added about half a year ago and has also been emphasized in my previous, above-linked review series)

Cons

- doesn't support some iOS 4.2+ feature like AirPrint or iOS5's „Define” dictionary, unlike with all WK-based browsers like Safari or iCab – or, most iOS apps. This is a major problem (should I say stumbling block?) for anyone with a non-English mother tongue and wanting to use Define a lot. (Incidentally, this is why I don't use Opera Mini as much as in the past - iOS 5's Define rocks.) An iOS 5 shot showing both the "Define" context menu and its entry for the word "dedicated" (no such context menu item is presented in Opera Mini; that is, Define is not accessible there at all):


BTW, for comparison, HERE's a shot of the same entry with Tap-Dictionary (see below).

- in “Full screen” mode, it's still not possible to completely hide (or at least make more transparent) the two soft buttons in the lower left/right corners and the same stands for the upper status bar:



(the screen shot also shows the new text selector)

- no double-tap support for quick, full zoom-in (the other direction, to zoom out to the entire page, works), unlike with WebKit (WK), where automatic zoom-in works, in most cases, great

- still no way to switch back to the previous hit when using Find in page, unlike with (iOS5's) Safari or iCab.

- much more restricted JavaScript-compliance than that of any WK-based browser. For example, neither the menus nor the scrollable review selectors (for example, the one right at the top) work at http://dpreview.com/. (The arrows do work with the latter. Nevertheless, using them also results in completely reloading the page and is way slower than the dynamic approach used by WK.) The original text can easily be checked in a text bubble by tapping a sentence in Google in all WK-based browsers – but not in OM etc.

- lacking scripting support also means it's not possible to run highly dynamic scripts like Tap-Dictionary. Page zipper (of which I talk a lot in my previous, 6.1-specific articles) only works partially – you'll need to pre-cache several pages. Note that my static character size setter scriptlets do work. As Opera Mini, despite the users' (including me) asking for it, still doesn't have any (!) way of setting the character size, they're the only way to increase the text size.

Conclusion

All in all, I recommend OM if you
1.) absolutely need to reduce your data usage and/or
2.) your Internet connection is very-very slow and/or
3.) you must use Opera Link to keep your stuff synchronized and/or
4.) the default text selection capabilities of iOS drive you mad and need something more reliable (apart from the missing linebreaks problem, of course) and/or
5.) must keep opened as many tabs as possible, particularly on iOS models with higher-resolution screens and lower RAM memory (e.g., a 4+th generation iPod touch or a first-gen iPad, both sporting hi-res screens and 256M RAM only) and/or
6.) need some way of completely saving Web pages and don't want to use third-party, capable browsers with full save capabilities (like iCab) based on WK.

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Werner Ruotsalainen is an iOS and Java programming lecturer who is well-versed in programming, hacking, operating systems, and programming languages. Werner tries to generate unique articles on subjects not widely discussed. Some of his articles are highly technical and are intended for other programmers and coders.

Werner also is interested in photography and videography. He is a frequent contributor to not only mobile and computing publications, but also photo and video forums. He loves swimming, skiing, going to the gym, and using his iPads. English is one of several languages he speaks.