Hands-on look at Opera Mini 6 for iPhone and iPad

Opera 6 Mini was released earlier today for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, bringing this version of the alternative browser to iOS devices for the first time. With the right tweaks, it may even become the favorite over Apple's Safari--if people are willing to give it a try.

Opera Mini 6 (universal) was released earlier today for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad, bringing this version of the alternative browser to iOS devices for the first time. We have had a chance to put the slimmed-down browser through its paces and think it offers several features that users will like. With the right tweaks, it may even become the favorite over Apple's Safari--if people are willing to give it a try.

Opera Mini 6

Touch the logo to open the Opera Menu where you will find most of Opera Mini's options.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

The clean, elegant interface hides multiple useful features, with only five buttons to choose from, along with the address bar and search box. The main Opera menu in the upper left reveals most of Opera Mini's features, giving you access to Bookmarks, your browsing history, the Start Page (or Speed Dial), previously saved sites, browser settings, word search, sharing options, and a useful help section. While Opera Mini doesn't have browser tabs in the traditional sense, touching the tabs indicator (next to the address bar) brings up your open pages, visually making it easy to switch between Web sites.

Opera seems to have put plenty of effort into making Opera Mini 6 run smoothly on iOS devices. Pinch to zoom and panning is smooth for an overall great iPad experience. The one-touch zoom feature is a little confusing, however. In our testing, touching a link would frustratingly sometimes zoom in and other times load the link. Hopefully this is something Opera will revisit for later releases.

The search field defaults to Google search, but you can touch the Google logo on the left side of the box to search sites like Amazon, eBay, and Wikipedia exclusively. A button at the bottom of the resulting drop-down lets you manage and edit your search engines, but it doesn't let you add more. So, if you wanted to add a site like Ask.com, you would need to edit and remove a current entry (like Wikipedia) to have Ask.com available at all times. This seems a little restrictive and more work than it needs to be, but the fact is that most people use Google for general searches anyway.

Opera Mini 6

Speed Dial puts your favorite sites in a 3x3 layout so you can quickly choose where you want to browse.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

For navigation, you also can take advantage of Opera's Speed Dial for quick access to your favorite sites. Simply touch the Opera menu button in the upper left, then touch Start Page to get Speed Dial's 3x3 layout of sites.

Opera preloads common sites by default, but you can touch and hold (or long-click) any of the pages to change them to your favorite sites. We really like this feature, especially on a mobile device like the iPhone or iPad because you generally won't spend as much time browsing the Web as you would on a desktop computer. In other words, nine quick-browsing options are usually enough for a standard Web surfing session on a mobile device. If you need more, you can easily use Opera Mini's Bookmark features.

Opera Mini also offers a couple of ways to view previous browsing sessions. The browser history works as you would expect with a list of sites previously visited. But you also have the option to save pages to get right to a story you want to read later. When you want to look at a particular story later, hit the Saved Pages button under the Opera menu, then hit the plus sign to add it to your list. Now you can go directly there without wasting time searching or browsing to it.

Opera Mini 6

Hit the Tabs indicator to bring up visual tabs, then select where you want to go next.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Opera Mini 6 has some sharing options for sending sites and stories to other users. Just touch the Share button under the Opera Menu to post a link to Twitter, Facebook, or the My Opera community.

Opera Mini is an excellent browsing experience, but a couple of useful features didn't make it in to this early version for iOS. You won't be able to sync your bookmarks, Speed Dial, or custom searches via Opera Link, but we think (judging by previous Opera Mini launches) these features will probably become available in a later update. Also, it's important to note that even with its proxy browsing technology, you still won't be able to look at Flash content on your iOS device.

Overall, with speedy load times, quick access to favorite sites via Speed Dial, and elegant long-click menus for extra options, Opera Mini 6 is off to a great start on iOS devices. With a few more additions and feature refinements, it might even become the first choice for iOS Web surfers--even over Apple's Safari.

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