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Opera for iPhone: The review

It's speedy, but is that enough?

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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)

Now Mini:

(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.

The Verdict

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.) ®

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