Smartphones may be great for browsing the web when there’s a speedy 3G connection, but they don’t fare so well when all that’s available is the horribly slow GPRS network — which is usually the case out in the sticks.

Opera Mini is a handy app that helps solve this problem. It’s a web browser that’s available for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Nokia smartphones, but it isn’t intended to replace the browser that’s installed by default.

Instead, Opera Mini is an emergency browser that makes the best of a slow internet connection by using some clever tricks to make it appear faster.

When a web page is opened using Opera Mini, its content doesn’t travel straight from the site to the phone (as with a normal browser), but it’s intercepted by Opera’s own computers instead.

Opera then compresses the text and images that make up the web page before returning them to the smartphone.

This compression not only makes a web page download more quickly over a slow connection, but the reduced size is also be an effective way of coping with prohibitive roaming data costs when abroad — smaller web pages are cheaper to download than larger ones.

Web pages compressed by Opera Mini are pretty much indistinguishable from the original, but the catch is that it only works with static web pages and not with any that contain video or Flash animations.

Opera Mini has been available for a while, but it has just been updated to version 6.5 with a host of new features, including tabs for keeping several web pages open at once and a data meter that shows how much has been downloaded.

Opera Mini is a free download from — just open that page using your smartphone’s default web browser to install it.

[Opera Mini]