As announced last night, the Opera Mini web browser is now available as a free download from the iPhone App Store. This is one of the first real alternatives to the Safari web browser that ships with the iPhone.

While there are other browsers in the App Store, they all use the same WebKit rendering engine as Safari. Opera Mini takes a different approach by offloading much of the heavy lifting to a remote server — where Opera will compress JavaScript, images, and other data and then send it to your phone. This means your phone will actually have to process fewer bits to accurately show a web page, and the end result is that Opera Mini should render pages more quickly than Safari under some conditions.

I took Opera Mini for a spin on my iPod touch this morning, and I have to say, it doesn’t really feel that much faster than Safari for most tasks. But I’m using it over a WiFi connection. I imagine if you have an iPhone 2G, that data compression could make a world of difference.

I do like the Opera Mini user interface. The tab switching mechanism is quite elegant. Just tap on the tab icon in the toolbar and a list of open tabs pops up. You can flip back and forth between those page seamlessly or hit the plus button to open a new page. I’m not sure if this is actually more efficient than the way Safari Mobile handles tab switching — but it feels faster, since you’re effectively able to switch tabs without leaving the current page to open up a tab switching screen.

By default, Opera Mini will load a full page view of most web sites. You can double-tap to zoom or use a multitouch pinch gesture. But you don’t have a lot of control over the zoom level. You’re basically either zoomed in or out. In practice, this is actually good enough for most situations. But it feels like a step back when you’re used to being able to zoom with more precision.

And some web pages just don’t render as elegantly in Opera Mini as in Safari. For instance, you don’t get the version of Gmail and Google Reader that are optimized for the iPhone and Android platforms when you use Opera Mini. Instead you get a much more clunky and outdated mobile interface for these mobile apps.

But while there are still some quirks, Opera Mini does finally offer iPhone and iPod touch users a viable alternative to Safari. And depending on your internet connection, you might find it to be significantly faster than Safari.

Opera Mini is also available for Android, Windows Mobile, Symbian, and most Java-based phones.

You can check out more screenshots and a hands-on video below.

Brad Linder

Brad Linder is editor of Liliputing and Mobiputing. He's been tinkering with mobile tech for decades and writing about it since...

6 replies on “First look at Opera Mini for the iPhone – Video”

  1. It is WAY faster than Safari on a 2G iPhone. In fact, I was comparing load times on my Palm Pre + both over wifi and it kicked the heck out of that too.
    I very much hope it gets a WebOS port.

  2. I agree, over an Edge connection on a 2G iPhone I'd take Opera over Safari any day, page loads are much faster.

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