iPhone Life magazine

REVIEW: GREAT, free Web browser Opera Mini out – it rocks! (With demo videos)

I've been waiting with publishing the long-promised update of my iPhone Web browsing bible since attending MWC in Barcelona two months ago where I saw Opera Mini, one of the best Web browsers on almost all alternative platforms, in action. I wanted to make sure Opera Mini is also included in the heavily updated roundup.

The waiting has turned out to be worth it – earlier today, Opera Mini has been approved for AppStore and it also made a debut in it (in both the US and international ones). I started testing it right away.

Below are my first thoughts. Please note that, in order to fully understand what I mean, you might want to check out all my past articles on iPhone (or, more generally, mobile-based) Web browsing. First the cons, then the pros and, finally, after two demo videos, the verdict.


Zoomed out

Zoomed in

Cons

 

  • still no support for italic text – MAJOR DISADVANTAGE!
     
  • in full screen mode, the topmost, 20-pixel-high ribbon is still visible and taking up screen estate, unlike the real(!) full screen mode of iCab Mobile
     
  • still in full screen mode, the icons in the bottom left / right aren't hidden (unlike in, say, Opera Mobile on Windows Mobile); the transparency of them can't be set either, unlike in iCab Mobile 2.1+, where there's full transparency control meaning you can fully hide them.
     
  • no simple open tab list to make the user be able to quickly see all the titles (& probably a mini-icon of the current page view) of the opened pages, unlike in iCab Mobile. With more than a handful of pages open, this would tremendously speed up switching between pages. (Nevertheless, the quick flipping through opened pages is pretty impressive; too bad their titles aren't shown while doing this and the icons aren't dynamically updated to show the current position inside the page. Closing a page is comparatively easy – all icons have a big „Close” cross on them.)
     
  • no background opening of tabs – mass-opening Web pages (from e.g. a forum) takes a lot of time, unlike with browsers with background opening capabilities (e.g., iCab – but not Safari)
     
  • only two zoom states - pinch-based zooming results in the same as double-tapping, there're no intermediate states
     
  • no video plug-in, not even for YouTube, unlike in all WebKit-based browsers, which means you need to switch to them should you want to see any online videos. There isn't even a placeholder for (missing) videos showing the user he/she should switch – MAJOR DISADVANTAGE! (Note: as far as radio stations compatible with the built-in QuickTime and, therefore, accessible from inside Safari or iCab like the ones HERE (also see THIS all-in-one article), Opera Mini does pass execution to Safari, which passes it to QuickTime in turn – that is, „clickable” online streams like this are played back OK.)
     
  • somewhat more unpleasant kinetic scrolling when scrolling only a small distance – it both stutters a bit while scrolling and stops somewhat abruptly, unlike native WebKit-based apps even on the iPhone 3GS. This effect is (because of the far slower hardware) is far more visible on older platforms like the iPhone 3G. Nevertheless, it's not THAT bad, not even on the iPhone 3G.
     
  • page reload needed after an orientation switch to correctly align the zoomed-in state (as with most similar browsers like SkyFire, I should add)
     
  • zoomed-out state conveys far less information than in WebKit-based apps – it only shows the outline of the page but is in no way readable
     
  • no quick scrolling to the top of the page by tapping the topmost area of the page; no quick in-page positioning features and QuickScroll 2.0 doesn't work at all. Scriplets (see THIS) aren't supported either – MAJOR DISADVANTAGE!

    Pros

     
  • consumes far-far less data than anything WebKit-based – MAJOR ADVANTAGE! It's about as good, data usage-wise, than browsers supporting built-in Web compression services; for example, iCab Mobile with compression enabled. The latter, however, seriously degrades the visibility /readability of pages and renders a lot of them unable to load.
     
  • Is far-far faster to load pages than anything WebKit-based, particularly over slow(er) and/or congested connections, but clearly visible even over fast connections and/or fast hardware – MAJOR ADVANTAGE!
     
  • Almost no memory consumption. Tested with 30 (!) 600k pages (my traditional memoy benchmark pages – see the first two links HERE); this hasn't resulted in any kind of a memory problem, crash or mapped-out pages on even the RAM-restricted iPhone 3G – MAJOR ADVANTAGE! (Just a comparison: using WebKit-based browsers, the maximal number of these pages you can keep opened is between 5 and 10 on the 3G and about two times more on the 3G S.)
     
  • it has not only in-page text search, but also „Next”, which is painfully missing from even the latest (3.0) beta of iCab Mobile, let alone Safari, which completely lacks in-page text search (unless you do install my find-in-page scriptlet also sporting „Next”). (Note that this can be easily fixed by the scriptlet HERE; see bullet 1 at the bottom for the scriptlet itself) – MAJOR ADVANTAGE
     
  • as with Opera Mini on other platforms (see the row „Does it try to keep the same horizontal position while scrolling?” in the comparison & feature chart of my article FULL ROUNDUP: Browsing the Web on Windows Mobile just like on iPhone, incl. IEM6 review), it strives to maintain horizontal alignment while quick scrolling up and down zoomed-in. In this regard, it's far superior to Safari / iCab Mobile, which far easier get misaligned while quickly thumb-scrolling.
     
  • absolutely no „dead space” while scrolling around, which is quite a pain with iCab Mobile, particularly on previous-generation iDevices (and to a much lesser degree with the, otherwise, pretty much inferior Safari) – MAJOR ADVANTAGE, particularly on slower platforms! Please see for example THIS (Safari) and THIS (iCab Mobile) for more info. As you can see, even Safari exhibits „dead space” while extensively scrolling on the iPhone 3G (on the right), let alone the, in this regard, definitely inferior iCab Mobile. The latter exhibits this problem even on the 3G S but to a much lesser degree.
     
  • support for Opera Link (albeit „only” the mobile bookmarks are synchronized, not all of them). Unless you pay $100 annually for MobileMe, only offline (iTunes-based) synchronization exists for Safari. iCab Mobile is even worse in this respect. (Note: you can even sync Firefox bookmarks with MobileMe: Windows explanation; OS X. Through Safari (Mac OS) or IE (Windows), you can already sync to MobileMe and, via that, to Safari for the iPhone. Note that Xmarks doesn't natively sync to Safari on the iPhone; all it offers is online favorite Web-browsing, as is also offered by Opera Link's online Web interface.)

    Demo Videos

    I've made a demo video (click THIS) showing
    - the lack of "dead screen content" while scrolling around
    - the relative speed of the iPhone 3G and 3G S loading my standard 600k test suite: As you can see, even the (slow) 3G is blazingly fast at loading this huge page.
    - the stuttering particularly visible with the (slow) 3G. Nevertheless, it could be worse - and, after all, you don't need to wait sometimes even a second or two for a "dead area" to become visible (which is quite often the case with scrolling around in iCab Mobile on slower iPhones).

    There is another demo video I've made: THIS ONE shows how blazingly fast Opera Mini is to load the same huge page. It's, on the slowish iPhone 3G, waaaay faster than Safari running on the otherwise far(!) faster iPhone 3G S. The latter took about 22 seconds (!) to load the entire page; on the 3G, Opera Mini spent some 2-3 seconds at most. An order of magnitude faster - and, again, on a much slower hardware! On the much faster 3G S, it would have been even faster.

    Verdict

    While it does have some problems (e.g., lack of italic support), this browser is already very-very nice. A MUST download.
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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.