Sunday, June 5, 2011

Opera Mini 6 web browser vs iOS 4 Safari

12/17/11: This entry is about Opera Mini 6/6.0.1 vs iOS 4 Safari, and is now largely static. See my subsequent blog entry on Opera Mini 6.5.1 vs IOS 5 Safari for a newer evaluation of the two browsers.

This entry gets updates, either unadvertised or advertised-with-dates, over time. I mostly read text while browsing the web on my iPod, which is probably one reason why Opera Mini works so well for me. I have little to say about images and videos in Opera Mini.
10/29/11: Most of the following discussion of Safari's capabilities refer to iOS 4; iOS 5 Safari has different, improved functionality.


I nursed my wounds on my iPod for some time from having upgraded from the excellent version 6 to the more-crash-prone-and-generally-worse-but-usually-still-better-than-iOS-4-Safari version 6.0.1, and was not in a hurry to upgrade further (on the iPod) -- once bitten, twice shy.  I did eventually upgrade to 6.5.1, which I consider is better than 6, though not by a huge margin.

7/15/11: Version 6.0.1 was released in 7/2011. I believe they changed the formerly obligatory single column display into the Single Column View option in Settings. That was likely done to allow the universal binary to display non-mobile websites normally on iPads, which have much larger screens. In any case, I happily use Single Column View on the iPod. However, Single Column View is not the default, which means if Opera ever crashes (7/27/11: ugh, a far more frequent occurrence with 6.0.1, but how much of that is related to 6.0.1 versus Opera server issues is unclear) or is fully closed, as I described here (e.g., to release any RAM it's holding onto), it is necessary to select Single Column View again. I normally keep Opera in RAM all the time.
(7/21/11: If you like 6.0's single column display on the iPod, you would likely be better off not upgrading to 6.0.1.  I have to re-select 6.0.1 Single Column View at least as often as each time Opera Mini crashes, which, sadly, is frequently.)
Upgrading to 6.0.1 displaced one of my existing 9 Speed Dial entries with an Opera page, but I eventually reset that.

The free Opera Mini web browser is an alternative to Apple's Safari browser, with various pluses and minuses. Opera Mini version 6 was released in 5/2011. Wikipedia has a decent article on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opera_mini, which also links to the interesting http://dev.opera.com/articles/view/opera-mini-web-content-authoring-guidelines/. A list of technical specifications can be found at: www.opera.com/mobile/specs/. Here is a CNET review.

I use both Safari and Opera Mini regularly, but actively try to make greater use of Opera Mini, which I feel has more advantages for the iPod. An iPod is typically connected to the Internet less often than an iPhone, so some of the following items (e.g., Saved Pages) are more significant for iPod users like myself.

PROS:
  • Opera Mini does not automatically reload a page when you tap the back arrow to return to it, at least if you return within some period of time (ever?). Thus, if you are reading a page which has multiple links to other pages, e.g., Google News, then tap to read an article, returning to the original page will not invoke (frequently pointless and time-wasting) reloading, unlike in Safari. Also, if you load pages into different tabs while you have Internet access, but later lose that access, you can still read those pages, even without having stored them as Saved Pages. RAM issues mentioned below will still be applicable.
  • Unlike in Safari, you don't have to switch away from the current tab to open new pages, because you can open links in background tabs (tap-hold, then tap on "Open in New Tab"). This is helpful while, e.g., reading through all headlines in Google News, allowing you to open all stories you'd like to read in background tabs. RAM issues mentioned below will still be applicable.
  • Unlike Safari, Opera Mini allows saving of static copies of web pages on the iPod, letting you read or reread them later even without wireless Internet access. That can be useful to save pages for recipes, technical reference, humorous articles, or for any other reason, e.g., because you don't have time to read them right away. Although I was once annoyed that I had to make 7 separate Saved Pages for an article (and I've seen articles requiring even more pages), that effort did serve me well since I was imminently losing Internet access, and I was able to read the (interesting) article soon afterward, while waiting in a store.
  • At least 15 (someone else can test for the maximum number...) tabs are possible, exceeding Safari's limit of 8. RAM constrains the total number of tabs effectively usable; "The page has been cleared to save memory." message is what you are left with content-wise on a tab when you run low on RAM.
    9/8/11: Bummer, my Opera Mini had a serious problem and lost my saved pages. Rather shocking to discover I no longer had any entries in Saved Pages. However, that did make me realize that I was saving a large number of pages (in these 2 months of using 6.0.1), but only in a relatively small number of instances loading any of them again, so I wasn't too upset. From this Opera Mini forum thread, it looks like saved pages may be lost again upon an eventual upgrade of the iOS Opera Mini
  • If you make an account on Opera's servers, you can use Opera Link to determine at what frequency to save both your nine Speed Dial targets and the state of your bookmarks there, for future restore (e.g., in case of a serious crash) or for sharing on another device(s), including on a pc.  Automatic syncing is possible, but I prefer to sync bookmarks manually, which avoids attempts at same when you know (or perhaps, even when you don't know) that you lack wireless Internet access.  Opera Link can also be used at any time on any Opera Mini instance device, so it is not linked inextricably to an Apple ID like iOS 5 Safari's Reading List. Although I didn't test this, it appears that if you use desktop Opera, there is supposed to be an Opera Mini folder for bookmarks, which is the extent of the bookmarks that get synced with Opera Link.
CONS:
  • Opera Mini does not provide end-to-end encryption. If you don't trust their company, don't use it for anything requiring credentials or anything to which you're concerned about them having potential access.
  • There is a short startup delay as it makes the connection to the Opera proxy servers ("calls home").
  • Presumably because of the Opera proxy server, has extreme difficulties using maps.google.com effectively; I strongly advise using Safari for that. Even Safari cannot yield copyable text, though.
  • On rare occasions, my initial attempt to bring up a page doesn't succeed, which I imagine is an Opera proxy server issue.
  • Opera's proxy servers may lead to this side effect:
    Going to, e.g.:
    http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/05/26/dumb.doctors.office.ep/
    prompts you with:
    It looks like you are from outside the U.S. Would you like to make International your default edition? Yes | No Close
    which I chose to simply ignore.
  • Only Safari can Add to Home Screen, using apple-touch-icon.png  when available (not favicon.ico, as it turns out; according to http://www.webmasterworld.com/html/3560399.htm). I had to remove some such Home Screen icons to prevent inertia from making me mindlessly use Safari. Opera Mini's Speed Dial is a partial substitute.
  • The upgrade from 5 to 6 messed up images in previously saved pages from The Onion (and maybe from other websites, I didn't check). Not a big deal, I re-saved some pages to restore the images. However, images are rarely, if ever, crucial for me.  (7/22/11: No obvious similar problems from the 6.0 to 6.0.1 upgrade.)
OTHER OBSERVATIONS:
  • Using Single Column View ensures that, because of its size, text will be pleasantly readable in portrait mode, at least for me. http://www.thechessmind.net/ is a chess blog which I have often been reading of late. In Safari, I sometimes feel the need to switch to landscape mode to make the text more legible, but the text has always been fine to read in portrait mode in Opera Mini.
  • When using Single Column View, some items which might typically (as viewed, e.g., while not using Single Column View, or in Safari) be unobstrusive on the side of a web page may appear, sometimes as a large clump, at the top or bottom. I have gotten used to that, and simply swipe to get past the clump, if it's at the top, to get to the real content, e.g., on http://www.thechessmind.net/.
  • Find in Page: The Done button means done with searching; search happens as you type. Can search repeatedly in a page. Safari can find in page also, although it's probably somewhat less intuitive; see, e.g.: http://www.tipb.com/2010/09/16/ios-42-features-find-text-safari-web-page/
  • Only 1 Speed Dial Start Page is possible per tab. So if you start there, then keep going "forward" to additional pages, you'd have to tap the back arrow, potentially many times, to get back to the Speed Dial Start Page again in that tab. I tend to keep common destinations in both the Speed Dial Start Page and in Bookmarks, so in some cases (precisely 9 - the number of possible Speed Dial target pages), I do have the Bookmarks route as an option, but it's more to the point to just open a new tab, which starts on the Speed Dial Start Page.
  • In very early June 2011, it seemed that it was sometimes necessary to scroll to the bottom of a page to be able to activate the Opera controls (some Opera proxy server problem?), but this problem seemed to have been fixed by 6/5/11.
  • In very early June 2011, the links returned for a Google search for "tornado hurricane difference" could not be opened with taps (some Opera proxy server problem?). I did the same search in Safari to get to those links, then copied the most interesting link to Opera Mini in order to save its content. This "tappability" problem seemed to have been fixed by 6/5/11.
  • One day in mid-June 2011, I was unable to reach websites ("Unable to connect. Please review your network settings."). I have many of the same sites bookmarked in both Opera Mini and Safari, so I just switched to using Safari for a time, switching back to a once-again-working Opera Mini later in the day. As long as Opera Mini problems aren't an "overly common" occurrence, I am unlikely to switch to any other browser as my main browser -- the Pros of using Opera Mini are that useful to me.
  • To copy lengthy text from a web page (I only tested using Single Column View, my normal mode of operation), it is more effective to select text starting from the bottom and press-dragging up to the top. Selecting text from top to bottom seems fraught with pitfalls which can prematurely stop your selecting, when you'd have to start all over again by going to the top of the web page (press the time at the top center of the iPod screen to do that), then again pressing and holding on non-link text until the Select Text option appears, tapping that, then press-dragging again to select. A reasonably rigorous test page for this, about hiking Mount Washington. Although you could save the entire web page, copying its text elsewhere can be useful in some situations.
  • 9/4/11: Power-User settings are available by going to config: in the location bar, as described further on http://www.guruslodge.com/bmobile-phones-tutorial-and-solution-centerb/operamini-secret-codes/, which I just discovered. Changes apparently survive Opera Mini crashes, unlike the Single Column View setting. For my own usage, I turned off the Phonenumber detection, which I suspect is probably only of use if (a) you have an iPhone (which I don't), and want to call such a number immediately, or (b) you normally use iOS assistance to add new contacts (which I don't, for reasons mentioned here).

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