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Opera Mini for iPhone reviewed

Opera Mini tried to take on Apple at its own game by ousting Safari from its best browser for the iPhone perch.

It was touch and go for nearly three weeks whether Apple would even allow the young pretender into the arena, what with its much maligned - some may say self-serving - App acceptance policies.

Why would Apple allow another browser into the iTunes App store when it had its own offering in the shape of Safari? But in the end, Apple relented and allowed Opera Mini for iPhone to strut its stuff for one very good reason. Opera Mini isn't very good.

When Opera announced that it would be heading to an iDevice near you, much was made of the company's neat trick of reinterpreting and compressing web pages on its own servers before squirting a tweaked version to your handset.

The company crowed about how it was five times faster than Safari, even providing compelling video evidence to support the claim.

But we've had Opera Mini (iTunes link) on our iPhone for a little over 24 hours now and we've come to one simple conclusion: there's more to Internet browsing than speed.

That said, Opera Mini does have some very nice interface ideas, including a clever way of dealing with tabbed browsing, that Apple would do well to take note of.

The browser does, indeed move along at a fairly rapid pace, though we'd dispute the claim that it is five times faster than Safari. In fact, some pages, including our own, seem to load faster on Apple's home-grown browser.

That aside, Opera Mini has some quirks which most will find so annoying that it won't be long before they are rushing back into the welcoming embrace of Safari.

Page renders seem to take little account of the page's width, often leaving vast swathes of empty space to the right of the actual content. And forget about changing views from landscape to portrait or vice versa. Where Safari cleverly redraws the area of the site to fit the new screen width, Opera just scratches its head and plonks the content as it was back onto the rotated screen.

Page zooming is just awful. Anyone familiar with Safari's smooth and precise pinch and spread two-fingered approach to resizing content will be utterly baffled by Opera's clumsy implementation.

Pages jump in and out seemingly at random and it's all too easy to hit a link with a two-fingered poke and be sent off somewhere you had no intention of going.

Text heavy pages - like the one that probably brought you here or the pictured Maplins - can be clumsily rendered with fonts overlapping and unreadable.

There's no simple way of transferring you Safari bookmarks to the new browser, the App doesn't seem to have access to APIs like the spell checker and even common fonts seem to be crippled by the off-line rendering engine.

Tellingly, there's no way of setting Opera as the default browser, so more often than not you will find yourself corralled into using Safari anyway.

All in all, Opera Mini is a valiant attempt, but ultimately it fails to live up to Safari's standards.

Competition in the browser market fuels innovation and evolution. Opera Mini has some nice features and some interesting interface ideas which we'd like to see implemented in Safari but, in this case, the whole is far less than the sum of its parts.