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The fact that Safari is baked into iOS creates a thorny problem for competing web browsers looking to innovate on the platform. Although Opera has a capable “mini” version of its own product, the company takes a bolder step toward reinventing iPad browsing with Coast — even if it leaves a bit too much of the past behind.
Unlike competing browser apps, Coast by Opera abandons the majority of the desktop-style UI conventions that have thus far been a staple on the iPad. All that remains is an omnibar field for search or direct URL entry, plus square icons that offer one-tap access to favorite websites. It’s a novel approach, and one Apple should have taken when the iPad first launched in 2010. After all, why should there be navigation buttons at all on a tablet when it can be done with a simple gesture?
Unfortunately, Coast leaves out niceties like bookmarks and the ability to view pages in a clean, text-only manner the way Safari can. One thing Opera did get right was the use of gestures: Tap or swipe down from the top and you'll jump straight to Google-powered search or direct web address entry. An icon in the lower right corner displays open pages, which can be browsed as a series of cards with just a swipe. Open pages can also be scanned and ranked by encryption, reputation, and trust levels, which is a handy bonus.
The app creates a different icon from each website you visit, adding it to a stack at the bottom on the home screen. These icons can be dragged up and placed in a grid of nine or twelve spots at the center, or moved to the edge of the last screen to create an entirely new page. While browsing, a tap and hold on any link presents a trio of options for Open, Copy, and Share, which bend ever so slightly around selected text. The third button offers a way to share links via Facebook, Twitter, iMessage, or email, but a print option is also available while navigating open pages.
Coast by Opera is a great example of minimalism: There are no in-app settings and only scant options within the Settings app for clearing browsing data, remembering passwords, or switching between 3x3 or 3x4 home screens. However, this simplicity comes at the expense of features we just can’t live without, such as saving articles to read later services like Instapaper.
The bottom line. Coast by Opera fits right in on the iPad, especially for novice users looking to de-clutter their web browsing experience, but unfortunately leaves too many convenience features behind in the process.
iPad running iOS 6.0 or later
Elegant, clutter-free web browsing. Entirely gesture-based navigation. Easy to find what you’re looking for. Web pages update in background.
No Safari Reader-style text-only option. Limited sharing options. No saving to “read later” services. Can’t import bookmarks from other browsers.