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To the shock and awe of the iPhone faithful, somehow the Opera Mini browser that has graced numerous other cellphone platforms was approved for the iPhone App Store. We downloaded and installed the free browser on an iPhone 3GS, and quickly discovered it was well worth the wait. Suddenly, Apple's own Safari browser on the iPhone is hearing the fat lady warming up in the wings.
It's fast. In our informal testing, the New York Times website took 16 seconds to fully load using Safari, but that was cut in half, to :08 using Opera. You can zoom to an individual article on the page even faster, too, because a quick blocky version of the page is loaded within a couple of seconds.
Tabbed browsing. One tap and your other tabs slide out from the bottom of the screen. No, the tabs aren't always visible as they are in the iDroid Mini browser and most desktop browsers, but Opera's two-touch method of calling up another already-loaded site is a little more convenient than Safari's three-touch technique.
Multitouch doesn't work right. You're either zoomed all the way into a particular part of the page, or you have a full-page view, with no in-between. A double touch also zooms in. Boo. Let's hope we can see full multitouch capability soon.
Start Page looks like Google Chrome's. You're welcomed with a customizable grid of nine websites, giving you quick access to your fave haunts. It's not quite as smart as Google Chrome, though, which displays your most-visited sites. Either way, all browsers, desktop and mini, should have this feature.
Search within a page. Touch the wrench icon, and one of your choices is Find in Page. Type your search term, and it works quickly, highlighting each word match. It saved us a lot of time when we were reading a long document and wanted to look up a particular person's name. This alone is worth the trouble of downloading.
Saved pages. Sure, Safari lets you add a URL to the home screen, but this one lets you save a list of specific pages you'd like to refer to later. The pages end up on a handy list, great for research when you're on the road.
We're still scratching our heads, wondering why Apple's draconian App Store gatekeepers let a Safari-beating browser into their walled garden. This bodes well for other superior apps to come along and slam-dunk more of Apple's offerings. The future looks bright.