Opera Mini 6.5 brings this version of the alternative browser to iOS devices (version 6.5 has been available for Android for three weeks at the time of this review). We have had a chance to put the slimmed-down browser through its paces and it offers several features we think 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.
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.
Controls seem to be made for iOS for the most part. Pinch-to-zoom and panning are smooth for an overall great 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.
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.com, 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.
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 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.
New in version 6.5, Opera Mini now has predictive typing support, autocorrect, and searching from the address bar, along with various other bug fixes and tweaks.
Overall, with speedy load times, quick access to favorite sites via Speed Dial, and elegant long-click menus for extra options, Opera Mini 6.5 is a must-have update for Opera fans using iOS devices. With a few more additions and feature refinements, it might even become the first choice for iOS Web surfers--if they take the time to learn the ropes.