Opera has released a version of its mobile browser for the iPad, rivaling Apple's built-in browser, Safari. Opera Mini 6, which brings an updated design to the third-party iOS browser as well as support for the iPhone 4 retina display, is available now for free from the App Store.
Opera Mini 6's iPad launch is no small feat: while Opera is not a major browser on PCs, in the mobile arena it has the most market share, according to stats from StatCounter. Opera is available on other platforms, too (Android, Blackberry) but the company says iOS is the most popular among its 105 million monthly users.
The new Opera Mini 6 uses the same technology that claims to load Web pages faster than other browsers: pages are compressed on Opera's servers and then sent to your device. This usually helps with reducing data usage, especially for those on capped data contracts.
Among the new features in Opera Mini 6 for iPad is an updated design fit for the larger screen, improved pinch-to-zoom and direct sharing capabilities for Twitter and Facebook. A cool feature is the ability to open a new page in a background tab, while you finish reading the current page.
In a quick test of Opera Mini 6 on an original iPad, the browser performed well with most sites I tried, though it has an annoying tendency to load mobile-formatted pages for sites like The New York Times and PCWorld, which are not a great match to the iPad's screen.
In my nonscientific head-to-head match of Opera against Safari on the iPad, there was little difference between loading times. While connected to the same Wi-Fi network, both original iPads, one running Safari and one running Opera, loaded websites simultaneously, with Opera usually displaying images before Safari. Opera says its browser usually beats Safari when using a crowded Wi-Fi network, but I was unable to test in those conditions.