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For a long time I viewed browsing the web on a mobile phone with scepticism. I couldn't see how you could get even close on a 240 x 320 or smaller screen to a laptop or desktop experience. All of my experiences over the years, first with the ill-fated WAP, then with the walled gardens of the early Mobile Web on 3, and more recently with website developers producing alternative, mobile versions of their websites.
Then the Apple iPhone came along and changed everything. The developers at Apple not only produced a desirable piece of hardware with a great touch-driven interface, but also - at the same time - the first ever usable, fully functioning web browser. Hallelujah! It could be done and it put to shame the woeful browsers - I'm thinking Pocket Internet Explorer here specifically - we'd been putting up with on our smartphones all this time.
What about the rest of us? Amazingly, Microsoft has yet to kick out the next version of its browser for Windows, and Nokia's browser, though competent, can't match the touch-driven loveliness of Mobile Safari. Surely someone would pick up the baton and produce a usable alternative for Windows Mobile and Symbian OS. Well it's taken a year but we have a challenger in Opera 9.5 Mobile, which finally arrived a couple of weeks ago.
It's not the first time we've seen the browser, of course. It first appeared on the HTC Touch Diamond and if you read that review you'll find that it's the best thing about the handset. Back then it was exclusive to the Diamond - now, anyone visiting www.opera.com/mobile can download it and install it on their mobile phone.
Even though the browser is technically still in beta (and only supports Windows Mobile devices at the moment), it's well worth installing, because Opera Mobile 9.5 is a quantum leap ahead of anything other than Mobile Safari.
One of the things that make it so good is that it matches Safari's excellent overview and zoom capabilities. When you first fire up a website, such as the BBC homepage, you get a full overview of the page, fitted to the width of your screen. Double tap the screen and the view swoops right in, rendering text, graphics and photos as crisply as you'd expect to see them on a standard desktop browser. On the two phones I tested the browser on, an HTC TyTN II and a Glofiish M800, this process was both quick and responsive.
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