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Advantages: Fast; saves on data consumption; fantastic keyboard helps handle fiddly URL text on a small screen
Disadvantages: We've found it a tiny bit crash-prone; compromises in image quality etc required in order to achieve big speed/data improvements
Opera is widely understood to be the connoisseurs' choice of web browser software. It occupies only about one percent of the web browser market on desktop, but its users claim (not without some justification) that it's the best product around.
On iPhone, Opera has two browser apps to choose from.
The first we'll look at, Opera Mini, takes the approach that speed is key. By some clever trickery involving proxy browsers returning static pages (don't worry about it) Opera Mini is quicker than the most popular browsers.
In (very unscientific) tests it appeared to return pages in about half the time it took Safari and Chrome (oddly enough, Dolphin was the slowest, although it has the habit of returning a page fairly quickly but then sitting with the progress bar virtually finished for another 10 seconds, so the experience isn't significantly worse).
It's also an economical browser, reducing your data usage significantly. You can track the savings you're making on a dedicated analytics page.
Opera Mini makes compromises to achieve these savings, but you are able at least to choose how extreme you want these compromises to be. There are three settings - Mini, Turbo and Off, of which the fastest, confusingly, is Mini - and you can choose to load or not load images, and at what quality you want them to appear.
The tab manager view is 3D, as is apparently industry-standard now, and like Chrome allows you to simply swipe a tab to close it. The tabs are arranged horizontally, though, and therefore swiped upwards. This horizontal layout also means (in this user's humble opinion) that it's a little easier to see at a glance what's on each page. And again like Chrome, the interface incorporates a handy 'drag down to refresh' that we'd like to see in Safari.
Opera Mini's keyboard, meanwhile, is masterly - the best of any browser in this roundup. It includes two handy shortcut buttons: one to input a QR code, and another to switch between default searches in Google, Wikipedia, eBay and Amazon. But its triumph is the central slider/rocker switch that deftly moves the cursor in the URL bar and, if you hold it down for a moment, selects text too. The only thing missing is a '.com' or 'co.uk' autocomplete button.