Saturday, December 17, 2011

Opera Mini vs iOS 5 Safari

This entry is originally being written to compare Opera Mini 6.5.1 (1/16/12: I upgraded to 6.5.2 and have noticed no problems with it.) with iOS 5.0.1 Safari, primarily on an iPod, although some non-iPod comments may be included.  This entry will likely get 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.

My earlier blog entry about Opera Mini 6/6.0.1 vs iOS 4 Safari.

The free Opera Mini web browser is an alternative to Apple's Safari browser, with various pluses and minuses. 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/.  Version 6.5.1 was released on 11/14/11, with some fixes for 6.5, which was released a little while earlier.  Version 6.5.2 was released 1/11/12.

Opera Mini has long been my primary browser for my iPod (and later, iPad, too).  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 (about whose duration I cannot be more specific).  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 often 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 sometimes still read those pages, even without having stored them as Saved Pages. If you switch back to or restart Opera Mini, it does not attempt to reload pages fresh from the Internet; if it still "remembers" them (which apparently is not always), it gives you back what it last had for their content. Interestingly, Google News now seems to reload on rare occasions, which I do not remember happening previously; that could be because of changes in Opera Mini and/or at Google News.  Available RAM issues mentioned below may 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. Available RAM issues mentioned below may 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.  Safari's Reading List saves URLs (across all iOS devices sharing the same Apple ID), but still requires an Internet connection to view those pages.
  • At least 15 (someone else can test for the maximum number...) tabs are possible in Opera Mini, 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 available RAM.
  • 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 often read. In Safari, I normally need to "spread" or switch to landscape mode to make the text more legible, but the text has always been fine to read right away in portrait mode in 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 (up to 9) Speed Dial targets and 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 to connect to Opera's servers 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 supposedly an Opera Mini folder for bookmarks, which is the extent of the bookmarks that get synced with Opera Link.
  • The location box now has a star which is a shortcut to bookmark a URL; this portion of the star's functionality is actually only achieving parity with Safari.  You can also still bookmark a URL the older, slower, but more functional way as well.  The star's bonus is that if you are viewing a previously-bookmarked page, the star is yellow, indicating its already-bookmarked status.  This can help you avoid unintentional duplicate bookmarks, though maybe you'd want to bookmark a URL in more than one bookmark folder. A drawback of using the star shortcut to bookmark a URL is that you do not have the option of using something other than the web page's HTML title as the bookmark's title.  One news site that I frequently use often doesn't include useful page titles, so I would want to edit in something useful if I were to bookmark such a page.  Since bookmark names are limited to less than the width of the iPod screen, I also might want to edit out words with no real identifying value from some page titles when creating a Bookmarks -- I need to be able to identify each by the short text.
  • After being forcibly ejected from RAM (by the user), Opera Mini starts up with the page data it previously had.  This does mean, however, that you cannot close multiple tabs at once, which I consider a favorable trade in functionality.
  • Opera Mini's x cancel button is bigger than Safari's, and is spaced farther away from other things you wouldn't want to hit. Better for those times when you've inadvertently tapped on a link which is still loading, but in whose content you actually have no interest.
CONS:
  • Opera Mini does not provide end-to-end encryption. If you want to avoid putting your sensitive data in their company's hands, don't use Opera Mini for anything requiring credentials or anything to which you're concerned about them having potential access. (I blogged this using Safari on my iPad, and made subsequent small edits using Safari on my iPod.)
  • There is a short startup delay as it makes the connection to the Opera proxy servers ("calls home"), and apparently also retrieves your local settings.
  • 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.
  • Records of chess games using figurine notation in ChessBase website articles like http://www.chessbase.com/newsdetail.asp?newsid=7882 are not, for all practical purposes, readable in Opera Mini, which does not render figurine notation properly.  For this particular game, Alejandro Ramirez the annotator apparently used (non-figurine) algebraic notation for his handwritten notes, but copied and pasted in figurine notation from complementary analysis generated by a computer chess program.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS:
  • 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).  Opera Mini's Speed Dial is a substitute, which I actually find more helpful because all 9 are in the same place.  If you were to bookmark multiple pages in Safari, that would create additional icons on your Home Screen which are less likely to all be in the same location.
  • 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/. This conveniently means that I typically don't even have to see any advertising which ends up in a bottom clump.
  • 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/
  • If a tab's pages started from the Start Page, you can return directly to the Start Page (the first page viewed in that tab) by tapping the O ("Opera") button, then tapping Start Page. If a tab's pages never included the Start Page (because the tab was created with "Open in New Tab"), there is no access to it within that tab.
  • 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 likely survive Opera Mini crashes. 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).
  • On an iPad under iOS 5.0.1, I updated Opera Mini 6.0.1 to 6.5.1 on two separate occasions (I reverted to 6.0.1 after the first time), but could no longer save pages.  In between those two attempts, I was surprised to see 6.5.1 successfully save pages on an iPod running iOS 5.0.1.  I decided to sacrifice my iPad's Opera Mini saved pages, delete the 6.0.1 entirely, and download a fresh Opera Mini 6.5.1 (3rd installation), which allowed me to save pages.
  • Opera Mini's Single Column View trumps Safari's Reader, in my opinion.  Particularly on the iPod, why wait to have something drawn (or partially drawn) before you can activate Reader, when all the while you can see that the text will be too small to read (without the Reader enhancement)?  Just go directly to the readable version, all the time, with Opera Mini's Single Column View.  I once saw a page with ads in the middle of the article and the Reader rendition ended at the ad.  I can't reproduce that now with the same page, but regardless, I prefer to maximize my chances of getting all the text the first time, legibly, as fast as possible.  Safari's Reader remains helpful any time you are in Safari and are confronted with too-small-to-read text, e.g., when clicking on a link in e-mail, which will open in Safari (unless you have jail broken your iPod to configure a different default browser, which I think is possible).
  • When using tap-hold ("Long-click" in the Opera Mini help) to select text, Opera Mini selects the word closest to your position and displays a beginning and end marker, each of which you can drag to change the text selected.  When done, you tap Select and choose from Copy/Search/Search With...(and Go to Address... if the selection is a single word).  As far as I have been able to tell, Safari does the same kind of initial selection in mobile sites, but the choice (no need to tap an additional Select) is Copy (and Define if the selection is a single word).  For non-mobile sites, Safari selects the paragraph closest to your position and displays 4 markers (top, bottom, left, right) which you can drag to change the text selected.  I'm not sure if I've ever needed to do anything but Copy after selecting text; if I do, I'll try to add that detail.  Opera Mini may also behave differently when not using Single Column View, but that is left as an exercise for the reader; I always use Single Column View.
  • The Single Column View option no longer exists under Settings on the iPad, if it was actually there in earlier versions, which I can no longer remember.

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