iPhone users had few good alternatives to the mobile Safari browser. All that’s changed now that the Opera Mini Browser (Opera Software ASA, Free) has come to the iPhone. This app finally gives users a real choice when it comes to mobile web browsing.
There are other web browser apps in the App Store, but they all piggyback on Safari’s software. An Opera spokesman told The New York Times that the Opera Mini Browser is the first to use its own software for web browsing on the iPhone.
Opera Is One Thing: Fast
If you’ve sometimes been frustrated by Safari’s slow response times, you’ll want to check out the Opera Mini Browser. This thing is fast. When you use the Opera app, you’re not pulling information directly from the web; instead, you’re looking at compressed data that is routed through Opera’s servers. As a result, the Opera Mini Browser feels significantly faster than Safari, which is great news for those who are stuck with the EDGE network.
I tested both Safari and Opera over Wi-Fi, and Opera loaded all of my test sites faster than Safari. The New York Times loaded in seven seconds for Opera, compared to 21 seconds for Safari. Opera loaded CNN.com in six seconds, while Safari took about 15. Hotmail, Google, and Weather.com were also faster on Opera.
The Opera Mini Browser defaults to a full-site version of websites, but you can switch to a mobile view in the settings menu. If you choose to view full websites, however, navigating isn’t quite as pleasant. You can tap to zoom or pinch, but it’s hard to control what you’re reading — it seems to move all over the place.
If you leave Opera’s default as is, pages look pretty similar in both browsers. I didn’t notice any differences between The New York Times and Los Angeles Times homepages, for example, in the two browsers. However, if you switch to mobile view in Opera’s settings, you’ll get a barebones version of the sites you visit. For example, the mobile version of CNN.com loads much more elegantly on Safari than Opera, where you have to scroll down past the navigation to view articles.
Opera Mini Browser Downsides
Like Safari, the Opera Mini Browser doesn’t support Flash, so you can’t view YouTube videos. Even so, there are some nifty features, including an easy-to-use history list and a tiled start page where you can save nine favorite websites. There’s also a Google taskbar for quick searches. I also like the navigation buttons, which are bigger and easier to press accurately than Safari’s smaller buttons.
Some users are concerned about data security, since all data is routed through Opera’s servers. According to the company’s FAQ, information is encrypted before it reaches their servers and data is not stored. Even so, if you’re concerned about data security, it’s probably best to do your banking or other sensitive browsing outside of Opera.
The Bottom Line
When I’m surfing the web on my iPhone, I want it to be fast. I don’t need to watch YouTube videos or have flawless zooming. I mainly use the iPhone’s browser for quick web searches when I’m out and about, and that’s why the Opera Mini Browser will be my new go-to web browser.