What you won't find in Safari
Mini has several features that rivals should have but don't. Mini can capture pages to be viewed later. This ought to be a standard feature across the board. How many people use the web to grab a short piece of information - directions or a recipe - that they need to refer to two or three times, then never again? There may be more 'Apple-ish' ways of giving the data some persistence on the iPhone - a Mac OS X Dashboard 'clipping', for example - but saved pages is good enough, and better than nothing.
Saving web pages is very useful
Opera's Mobile View is here, and remains the fastest way of absorbing a dense, multi-column web page on a small screen. Mobile View pipes everything into one column. It copes with sites that insist on putting long lists of links in the left hand column by 'folding' these out of sight.
I've always found Speed Dial features of dubious benefits - I don't necessarily want to load a lot of pages that I don't need right away, particularly not on a Pay As You Go dongle. Nor is it clear what's loading and what's being dredged out of cache. I'd opt for a better-presented list of bookmarks every time. Well, if you like Speed Dial it's here. Go off and start Speed Dialling. Note that it won't let you move shortcuts from one slot to another.
tap and hold to create a site search
Custom searches are a real time-saver on Opera desktop: with one click you can set up, say, a search for The Register (or any site with an externally-accessible search field) and give it a shortcut letter from the address bar, so "r loompa" brings up all stories containing the word loompa. And you can do that here too. Here's what it looks like in action. Find the site's search field, and tap and hold your finger over the text box.
And knitting it all altogether is Opera Link, which puts your Bookmarks, Saved Searches, Notes, Speed Dial and typed history in the cloud, sychronising them across your Opera configurations. The trick is to remember to delete the default local bookmarks first - low grade junk like Wikipedia and shopping sites.
Unlike the desktop browser, there's no visual progress indicator, I found, so I left Mini open and found that it populated the Saved Searches from the cloud, but not the Bookmarks list. Where did the Bookmarks go? Notes aren't preserved in Mini, which is a shame.
One feature I missed from Safari is the email URL - you must use select, copy and paste manually. Email is the one guaranteed escape from Roach Motel on the iPhone. Pretty much every app supports it.
How about rendering? In this first look, there isn't time to give it an exhaustive compatibility work out. Here's a simple example of a page in Safari, and one in Mini, with all the default settings. First Safari:
(Safari renders a page)
(Mini renders a page)
El Reg works well. Reading Slashdot, with its CSS-ified horizontal sprawl, isn't so nice.
Reading nested comments is no fun.
I'll update this part of the review with more observations.
I've found glitches with page rendering, some annoyances with panning and zooming, and was frustrated by the very partial sync on offer with this version of Mini. I'd give the implementation in those departments between four and six out of 10. But the speed advantage alone is the killer feature, and that alone will make Mini a welcome addition for many iPhone users. Especially at the price: it's free.
And what's a web browser supposed to do, other than get you to some web pages fast? (Er... web and Flash developers: please post your thoughtful essays in the bin.) ®
re: Fear of Flash
Ming the Merciless certainly fears Flash.
Flash is an abomination to web standards. Effectively you're downloading a browser with each website when you've got a perfectly good one already running. Search engines fail to penetrate it, screen readers don't stand a chance and suddenly every page is 10x the size. It is absolutely the worst idea since the "web developers" came up with the idea of using tables as a layout tool.
As an OOP programmer...
...I can tell you that people hate flash because it is shit.
Re: Rendering Glitches & Security
As Opera proxy's the pages through their servers updates to the way the pages are rendered is done centrally meaning that the browsing experience can go through many versions without have to get the end user to upgrade. As Opera uses the same servers for all their Opera Mini clients (J2ME, Blackberry, Android & iPhone) those changes will be made just as soon as the team port over the core rendering engine from the desktop browser.
Opera Mini 5 has been more of a cosmetic upgrade as the fullpage browsing experience that has been present on devices running Opera Mini 4 since late 2007, has remained largely unchanged.
On first load Opera Mini prompts the user for some random input inorder to salt key generation, which is used to encrypt the communication between the Opera Mini client and the Opera servers. Therefore between you and Opera the pipe is encrypted. When browsing public sites, the connection between Opera and that site can then be protected by SSL if the HTTPS version of the public site is being used.
Therefore the only potential break in end-to-end encryption is when the page is rendered by Opera on their servers, and Opera have a great security/privacy record.