Picking a web browser isn’t like picking an operating system or a mobile phone ecosystem — jumping into Mac OS or Windows, iOS or Android, your choices are mutually exclusive. Pick one, and you can’t pick the other unless you get a new device or go through the trouble of booting Windows on a Mac. Browsers are comparatively easy, by the time you finish reading this paragraph, you could download each major browser on the market today — and you should.
Really. You can read all the stats, benchmarks, and speed tests, but the right browser for you is the one that feels right. The one that provides everything you want, where you want it. So if you’re curious about one you should just go give it a try. If you’re still undecided, or if you’re in the early stages of browser-curiosity, read on. Here, we’ve broken down the best browsers on the market today and boiled them down to their bare bones.
The best browser: Google Chrome
Chrome is ubiquitous, and for good reason. With a robust feature set, full Google Account integration, a thriving extension ecosystem, and a reliable suite of mobile apps, it’s easy to see why Chrome is the new gold standard for web browsers.
Chrome also boasts some of the best mobile integration available. With a mobile app available on every major platform, it’s easy to keep your data in sync, so seamlessly browsing between multiple devices is a breeze. Sign into your Google account on one device and all your Chrome bookmarks, saved data, and preferences come right along. It’s a standard feature you can find on other platforms, but Chrome’s integration is second to none.
Bottom line, Chrome is fast, free, and light. With a thriving extension ecosystem, it’s as fully featured or as pared down as you want it to be. Everything is right where it should be, privacy and security controls are laid out in plain English, and the browser just gets out of your way.
If you’re not sure which browser you should be using, you should be using Chrome.
The best of the rest: Mozilla Firefox
If you’d have read this article ten years ago, maybe even five years ago, Firefox would’ve taken the top slot as the best browser out there. But today it’s a slightly different story. Firefox is still a quick and reliable browser, but it hasn’t aged gracefully.
It’s a very capable browser, with a deep catalog of extensions and user interface customizations, but it’s not quite as fast as a clean install of Chrome and the mobile integration hasn’t quite kept up with the times. Grab the mobile Firefox app and you’ll be able to share bookmarks between devices, but you have to sign up for a Firefox account, and managing settings across platforms isn’t as seamless as it is in Chrome.
Firefox is a comfortable, familiar old standby. Having a separate URL and search bars is almost quaint, but if you’re frequently jumping between search providers, having a separate bar could be a helpful feature. Additionally, because it’s been around longer than Chrome, some older web apps — the likes of which you might encounter at your university or workplace — work better on Firefox than they do on Chrome. For that reason, it never hurts to keep it around.
But as a primary browser, Firefox doesn’t offer much that Chrome doesn’t. When it comes to these two, it’s really a matter of personal preference. Chrome has a leg up because of its superior mobile integration, but Firefox is tried and true, and still receives regular updates.
An attractive alternative to Chrome: Opera
Also a venerable browser and popular alternative, Opera shares much of Chrome’s DNA. Both browsers are built on Google’s Chromium engine, and as a result, they have a very similar user experience. Both feature a hybrid URL/search bar, and both are relatively light and fast.
The differences appear when you start to look at Opera’s built-in features. Where Chrome relies on an extension ecosystem to provide functionality users might want, Opera has a few more features baked right into the browser itself.
For instance, Opera features a built-in “Stash” for saving pages to read later. No need to sign up for a Pocket or Evernote account to save a page for later reading. Similarly, Opera also features a speed dial menu which puts all your most frequently visited pages in one place. Chrome also does this, but only on a blank new tab.
You can see that we’re well into hair-splitting territory, which is why it’s important to remember that browsers are, more than any other service or app you use on a daily basis, entirely dependent on your personal preferences — what feels most right for you. Opera has a unique look and feel, and combines some of the best features of Firefox and Chrome.
The default choice still struggles: Edge
Edge resembles Internet Explorer 11, though with even smaller borders, fewer icons, and a streamlined toolbar designed to mirror Microsoft’s new Windows 10 UI aesthetic. A solitary, address-search bar also runs the width of the page, along with a trio of headline features that include markups, reading view, and Cortana integration.
It’s ultimately the next generation of Internet Explorer, in that it’s the default Windows web browser, but it’s undergone a complete revamp. With Edge, Microsoft continues to roll out new platform-specific features, like support for its AI-assistant Cortana. Rather than just leaving it to languish and tossing out an occasional security patch, Edge receives a lot of TLC from the Redmond, Washington company.
On the downside, Edge has relatively slim extension support, and doesn’t allow for much customization. While quick, its pared-down interface can feel a little too bare-bones at times. And while Edge has recently received some ability to manage bookmarks and settings between PCs, you”ll have to look into third-party solutions to sync with an Android or iOS device.
If you’re looking for something a bit more experimental than Chrome or Firefox, just fire up Edge and see what it can do, you might be surprised.
An up-and-comer that needs to grow: Vivaldi
Vivaldi is unique. No two Vivaldi users will have the same setup. When you run it for the first time, you’re guided through a setup process that lays out your browser in a way that makes sense for you. You get to choose where your tabs and address bar go, you get to choose if you want browser tabs displayed at the top of the page, or in a separate side-panel. This is a browser built from the ground up to deliver a unique user experience, and for the most part it succeeds.
This browser excels at customization, you can choose from a variety of tasteful themes that don’t feel dated or out-of-place on a modern PC, in addition to the aforementioned UI choices. If you’re tired of the usual suspects, and want to try a browser that takes a different approach to web browsing, check out Vivaldi.
That said, there is a big caveat: it’s limited to desktop use for the time being. With support on Windows 10, Mac OS, and Linux, Vivaldi is currently only available on desktop platforms or tablets running full versions of Windows. No mobile browsing, means no shared settings, and that’s a problem for a lot of users.
It’s also meant for power users, so a lot of people might feel confused or let down by the browser. Vivaldi is unapologetic about this, but it’s hard to recommend Vivaldi when it can overwhelm first-time users with its wide selection of options.
All right, so you’ve seen our recommendations — but if you still want to know more, check out our test results below. You’ll notice we’ve included Internet Explorer and Safari, which were neglected from our previous round-up. These two have had some improvements over the years, but they’re still just the “default” browsers on their respective systems and don’t offer much beyond the bare minimum. That said, they provide a familiar baseline and most users have at least one of them installed.
Most browsers are compatible with web standards and handle speed with relative ease. A casual user probably won’t notice a difference in the rendering speed between today’s modern browsers, but all six browsers are much faster and leaner than those of a few years ago — and become even more so with each new build. Below are our benchmark results for the six browsers, with bold text indicating the winner for each category.
|Higher is better||Lower is better||Higher is better||“555” is perfect|
|Internet Explorer 11||113.68||2216.7ms||13301||312|
|Mozilla Firefox 46||147.26||1376.1ms||25628||466|
Google Chrome has long dominated the HTML5 compliance benchmark, and continues to do so with the latest Chrome 55 update, which rolled out just recently. Vivaldi comes close, and so does the like-minded Opera, but Chrome still manages to keep the crown.
The Jetstream benchmark — which focuses on modern web applications — has a surprising winner: Edge. Microsoft has been working hard on optimizing its new browser, and it shows. Safari, Chrome, and Vivaldi aren’t too far behind, though.
With that said, most browsers come in pretty close to each other. The browsers that are lagging most appear to be Safari 10, which did poorly across the board, and Internet Explorer 11, which no longer receives updates. Firefox is also starting to slip behind, but not nearly to the degree of the bottom two.
Security and privacy
The most valuable tool for secure browsing is user discretion, especially when you consider that every web browser has encountered security breaches in the past. And Internet Explorer and Chrome’s reputation for protecting users’ security and privacy credentials is spotty at best.
Chrome, Safari, Vivaldi, Opera, and Firefox all rely on Google’s Safe Browsing API to detect potentially dangerous sites. Thanks to constant updates, Mozilla, Chrome, and Opera all make constant security improvements. But Chrome takes security a bit further by also scanning for potentially harmful downloads. There’s also encryption add-ons currently in the works at Google.
All browsers offer a private session option, too. Private sessions prevent the storage of history, temporary internet files, and cookies. For example, Internet Explorer 11 features a security measure called Do Not Track. Only Internet Explorer goes so far as to to block trackers completely from communicating with your browser. What’s more, according to a 2013 NSS study, only Internet Explorer blocks trackers used on more than 90 percent of potentially hazardous sites.
Nonetheless, Microsoft has stated that Edge won’t offer IE’s Do Not Track feature, though you will be able to enable some tracking protection. This change of heart is because Do Not Track isn’t really honored by many websites, making it largely pointless in 2016.
Updated 2-20-2017 to include latest browser information, by Jayce Wagner.