Hands on: Opera Coast iPhone browser offers a different way to view the Web

Safari is the go-to browser for the vast majority of iPhone users--it's the default, after all. But there are a few third-party browsers vying for your attention, and the latest is Opera Coast from the folks at Opera Software. Opera Coast is actually at version 3.0--the iPad version has been out since last fall.

When you first launch Opera Coast 3.0 for iPhone, you start with a tutorial. Immediately, Opera Coast lets you know that it relies on gestures. The app has two buttons: a home button that appears when you're on a website and you want to return to Opera Coast's home screen, and a recent sites button, indicated by three bars in the lower right corner--it works kind of like the "open tabs" button in Safari.

Searches are performed by pulling down a "Search the web" header on the home screen, which takes to you a screen where you can enter a search term or URL. At the top is a list of Opera's "Stuff we like" that, to me, is pretty much useless. However, the app doesn't have an easy way to clear this list. If you want to get rid of it, you have to bring each icon to the home screen by tapping and holding each site's icon, and then release it when the home screen appears. Then you have to tap and hold the icon again until a "Drop here to delete" area appears at the top of the screen, and then you drag the icon to the area.

Oddly, the home and search screens don't display in landscape mode. Landscape does work if you're on a website or if you're browsing through your recent sites.

In lieu of a list of bookmarks, Opera Coast presents icons of your bookmarked sites on the home screen--the concept is similar to a folder of apps on your iPhone. It's visually attractive and appealing, but it's not the best way to differentiate between different sections (Yahoo Mail and Yahoo Sports, for example) or webpages of a single site.

To access sharing functions in Opera Coast, you tap on the recent sites button and then tap on the right-pointing arrow on the upper right side of the page thumbnails. Opera Coast has options for printing, email, text, Twitter, and Facebook.

Opera Coast is a definitely change from Safari, with a UI that's feels more modern, though it'll take some getting used to before it feels practical. We'll have a full review of Opera Coast coming soon.


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