Opera Mini for Apple iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch: Worth the Hype?

If you're a fan of free software, alternatives to big names, or an all-around browser geek, you're probably familiar with Opera.  This program has been around a long time, and is a decent (or superior, depending on opinion) alternative for Internet browsing.  It's a popular choice on lots of portable or embedded devices as well as mobile phones.

The tech community was very, very skeptical that Apple would approve the Opera browser on iPhone, given that it might compete with Safari, but lo and behold - it was actually allowed into the hallowed walled garden.  Immediately after release, it skyrocketed to the top of all 22 App Stores.  Whoa.  Is it worth the hype, though?  

The Good

First of all, Opera Mini is a free download, meaning you have virtually nothing to lose but a bit of space on your iDevice.  So, why not give it a try? 

The main benefit of Opera Mini is a significant boost in browsing speed on any device, most notably on devices with an EDGE connection (original iPhone) or slow 3G service area.  I did a couple of tests with my iPhone in 3G mode (which clocked in at about 2.5 mbps - I have a fast connection here).  Here are a few results:

New York Times:  56 seconds on Safari, 11 seconds on Opera

Guardian.co.uk: 28 seconds on Safari, 18 seconds on Opera

You get the idea.  Opera's main speed advantage is that images are loaded through a proxy, giving you a substantial boost.

Opera Mini also has a great tabs interface, which beats Safari's annoying switching mechanism any day.  Open in New Tab is slick.

The Bad

The bad part of Opera Mini for iPhone is that the advantages end with the speed and the tabbed browsing interface.  There's really no other outstanding reason to use this browser over Safari.  (Which, by the way, does not mean you shouldn't use it.  Read on.)

The Ugly

To get that coveted speed boost, you're going to have to make a lot of sacrifices.  

  • First of all, page rendering is pretty ugly, with no small fonts.  You can't read anything unless you zoom in.
  • Speaking of zooming, no pinch to zoom.  You can only tap, with an option of zoomed in or zoomed out.  That's it.
  • No viewing QuickTime videos either.
  • There are numerous other page rendering issues that Safari does not experience.  Visit several sites and you're bound to find one whose layout gets borked in Opera Mini.
  • No iPad version, so the zoomed in iPhone/iPod Touch version looks really crappy.


Overall, I really like Opera Mini, despite its faults.  Why?  Even though it has some usability and rendering issues, it's still a pretty solid basic browser - and the speed boost is bound to come in handy in EDGE only or poor signal environments.  Plus, it's free, and the hands-down best alternative to Safari.

Given that there's no downside to grabbing it, everybody should download Opera Mini on their iDevice to use in a speed pinch or as a compliment to Safari.  I'm also hoping they decide to release an iPad version, which would be nice.


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