Some people don’t give much thought to which browser is Best Browsers For Surfing the Web – they just pick one and stay with it (or use the default on their device).
After all, what does it matter as long as it gets you online? But we know that Our readers are a more discerning and adventurous bunch, not afraid to try new software and eager to get the optimum online experience.
So, to kick off the new year, we’re taking a closer look at this most essential of programs. Chrome may seem like the obvious champion, but is it necessarily the perfect browser for your needs?
Just look at how Firefox has risen again from the ashes–more than 170 million people have already installed its revamped Quantum version–while innovative new browsers such as Vivaldi and Brave are delighting savvy web users with their smart built-in tools.
In this feature, we look at 10 leading contenders and examine what they offer in features, customization options, ease of use and performance. We’ve focused on Windows browsers (with apologies to Safari fans) and are happy to hear if you disagree with our choices.
The Best Browsers For Surfing the Web
It was a close race for the top spot in this round-up, but in the end, we gave it to bright new hope Vivaldi.
Whereas most browsers now ape the pared-down design of Chrome, Vivaldi most resembles older versions of Opera, which isn’t surprising since it was created by Opera’s co-founder to be “Opera as it should’ve been” (before it became more Chrome-like).
But that doesn’t mean the browser is derivative or old-fashioned – quite the opposite – in fact, Vivaldi is the most original and progressive browser around.
Its default interface may not look particularly groundbreaking, but dig deeper and you’ll discover all manner of clever features, customization options and time-saving tricks, which are frequently updated and refined, and reported in the friendly Vivaldi blog
When you first run Vivaldi, you’re invited to choose from six attractive themes, set the position of your tab bar and pick a background wallpaper.
Web pages can be handily displayed in pull-out panels, navigated using mouse gestures, annotated for future reference, captured with the screenshot. tool, grouped into tab ‘stacks’ to save space or tiled to view them side by side.
Most browsers support keyboard shortcuts but Vivaldi goes a step further by letting you create your own,
and you can easily add more search engines to its default options. It also gives you impressive control over your privacy settings and lets you clear all your private data in one go.
In our speed test, it came a close second to Chrome for page-loading times and feels smooth and stable as you browse.
Vivaldi doesn’t yet have its own extensions site – you have to use the Chrome Web Store, which is confusing because the buttons are still labeled ‘Add to Chrome’.
But all the add-ons we tried worked perfectly in Vivaldi and make it much less restrictive than Brave or Epic, though it lacks their built-in security tools.
We’d like to see syncing options and a version of Vivaldi for mobile devices – both are apparently ‘in the works’ – and fewer entries preinstalled in the browser’s Bookmarks. Commendably, Vivaldi actively seeks feedback about bugs so it can fix them as quickly
Fast, friendly and fresh, Vivaldi is our pick of browsers for 2018. It takes a little getting used to but considering it’s only in its first stable version, it’s already very impressive. We can’t wait to see how it develops in future.
Simplicity is the great strength of our 2nd position winner: rather than overload its browser with features, Google lets you choose what to install from the vast Chrome Web Store of extensions and themes (chrome.google.com/webstore).
The sheer variety is astounding, although Chrome’s reliance on third-party tools has made the browser itself less innovative in recent years, especially since switching to a ‘rapid release cycle’ that means new versions bring only minor changes.
This ‘if ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach can make Chrome seem unadventurous when compared to our 1st position Award winner but, in its favour, Chrome has many useful built-in tools that work unobtrusively, including a form filler, spellchecker and password
manager, and Google feature such as Translate and voice control.
Aside from extensions, Chrome thrives on three S’s: search, sync and security. Being able to search Google from your address bar and easily sync all your bookmarks, history, passwords, tabs and other data across all your devices is incredibly useful, and we like that the browser now warns you about dubious sites, add-ons that make changes
to your settings and potentially harmful software.
A fourth S–speed – is also a given, with Chrome narrowly beating Vivaldi to the top
a spot in our performance test.
Chrome’s biggest flaw is that it voraciously devours memory. Because it uses a separate
background process for every tab, plugin and extension, this soon adds up and can lead to pages hanging and crashing.
Add-ons are often the biggest hogs, but it still makes Chrome less stable than other browsers.
Chrome’s support for the latest web technologies places it at the cutting edge, even if other browsers offer more features.
Opera has been around for 22 years but it’s never claimed more than a 6% share of the browser market and remains relatively unsung beyond all but the savviest web users.
This is a travesty because Opera has introduced more innovations than any other browser and
its latest, 50th version offers such useful features as a built-in ad blocker.
A screenshot tool, a sidebar for chatting to friends in WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, a power-saving mode for laptop users and a pop-out video player.
Best of all is the free VPN, which spoofs your IP address and encrypts your data to keep you safe and anonymous online. No other browser has this excellent feature, which is easily turned on and off via a tick box in Opera’s settings – even the privacy-focused Brave and Epic rely on proxy servers rather than VPNs.
Opera came third in our speed test and uses much less memory than the two market
leaders, Chrome and Firefox.
You may occasionally encounter sites that aren’t designed for Opera and don’t display properly, but this problem can usually be fixed with an add-on.
Indeed, since Firefox switched to WebExtensions, Opera is second only to Chrome in its choice of add-ons. Technically, since you can install Chrome extensions, it’s actually in first place.
Opera can seem confusing at first because some of its best features are tucked away, and its interface feels slightly dated. However, the promise of Opera Neon–heralded as the “future of web browsers” – shows that it’s not resting on its laurels.
If you’re put off by Chrome’s privacy and memory issues and aren’t impressed by the new
features in Firefox Quantum, Opera won’t let you down and may even take you by surprise.
To say that Quantum, the ‘reborn’ version of Firefox, is an improvement on previous releases is an understatement: it’s a much smarter browser with several useful new tools. It’s also much faster, despite coming fourth in our speed test.
Quantum uses multiple processor cores and a new CSS engine to reduce memory (and battery) usage–around 30% less than the old version–and load pages faster. Tweaks have also been made to ensure the tab you’re currently viewing is given priority over background tabs, and to deliver smoother video playback.
Firefox now has a built-in screenshot tool,a handy sidebar displaying your Bookmarks, History and Synced Tabs, and a unified address and search bar.
Although not as instantly customisable as Vivaldi, it lets you personalise your New Tab page and, of course, install thousands of extra tools from its Add-ons site (addons.mozilla.org).
These ‘WebExtensions’ are more secure than the old add-ons and should work across other browsers, but you may find that some of your favourites haven’t made the transition and no longer load.
Mozilla has also integrated its read-it-later tool Pocket with the browser, but if you don’t want it, you can disable it via ‘about:config’.
We wish some of Brave and Opera’s security tools were built into Quantum but you can at least be reassured that Firefox has privacy settings such as Tracking Protection enabled by default.
If you ditched Firefox for Chrome a few years ago, you should at least give Quantum a try, if only to see what’s different.
Created by the former CEO of Mozilla, Brave’s focus is to keep you safe online. Its powerful ‘shields’ block all cookies, ads and scripts that compromise your privacy and security, and it automatically redirects you to the secure versions of websites.
Whereas Chrome and Firefox’s private modes merely stop your browsing history being stored on your computer, Brave’s private-tab mode prevents all tracking cookies from following you around the web.
Statistics for content blocked by the browser are displayed on your New Tab page, along with photos, the current time and shortcuts to your favourite sites, and Brave also ranked respectably in our performance test.
It’s very easy to use, with a streamlined design and the useful option to preview a
Instead of add-ons, Brave has nine preselected tools, including a torrent client, discount-finder Honey and (rather unnecessarily) four different password
It’s a pity Brave doesn’t offer more extras, but we understand its desire to lock down settings and prevent slowdown.
We should also point out that Brave isn’t actually adverse to advertising, but has an opt-in system called Basic Attention Tokens that lets you earn crypto coins for viewing its partners’ ads.
If you don’t mind trading flexibility and customisability for privacy, security and speed, then Brave is a great choice and very easy to use.
Maxthon Cloud Browser’s homepage boasts of 670 million users, yet most people have never heard of it – which is a shame because Maxthon is packed with innovative features you won’t find elsewhere, supports more than 800 extensions – 10 times as many as Edge – and is available for both desktop and mobile.
Notable tools include cloud sync across devices; a built-in ad blocker (Adblock Plus), video downloader and screen-capture tool;a night mode to protect your eyes; customisable skins; and optional extras such as a password manager, note-taking tool, and virtual mailbox.
Indeed, Maxthon’s main flaw is that it tries to cram in too much, so its interface lacks
the simplicity of Vivaldi, Chrome, and Firefox, particularly when you delve into its menus
This surfeit of features makes the browser slower to start and load pages than many of its rivals, and we found several extensions looked slightly dodgy or hadn’t been translated from Chinese (Maxthon’s country of origin). Also, the ad blocker didn’t work on Maxthon’s
Microsoft’s successor to the much-maligned Internet Explorer may not have toppled Chrome and Firefox, but it’s a perfectly good browser with some interesting built-in tools that its rivals only offer as add-ons.
These include the ability to add notes to web pages, a reading view that strips out superfluous content, a read-it-later list for saving interesting articles and the option to convert pages into Start-menu live tiles.
Then, of course, there’s integration with Windows 10 voice-assistant Cortana, which either makes your browsing easier or gets turned off almost immediately.
In its first year, Edge was hampered by a lack of extensions, though this also meant fewer security and performance problems. There are now around 80 useful free tools including ad blockers, password managers, privacy protectors and shopping assistants.
Edge has yet to get an essential extension of its own, but at least the growing choice makes switching from another browser more appealing.
Edge’s interface is pleasantly minimal, with page previews that appear when you hover over a tab, but there are a few odd omissions.
For example, you can’t press F11 to go full-screen, search your history for a specific site or save a page as HTML. We also found it very slow in our speed test, which was surprising on a Windows 10 laptop!
Edge is undoubtedly better than IE, with handy built-in tools and a growing number of extensions, but it feels unexciting compared to rival browsers.
9. Pale Moon
Pale Moon, originally based on Firefox, has diverged from Mozilla’s browser significantly over the years, maintaining features that Firefox dropped and adding tools of its own.
These include a customisable Start page that displays widgets for your favorite websites, services and RSS feeds; a sync option that encrypts your data before it’s uploaded; and
DuckDuckGo as the default search engine rather than nosy Google or Bing. It also benefits from a busy forum (forum.palemoon .org) for discussion and tips.
Pale Moon’s main shortcoming concerns add-ons. Mozilla’s switch to WebExtensions means that thousands of classic Firefox add-ons no longer work in Pale Moon – NoScript being perhaps the most notable example.
Pale Moon offers its own extensions, as well as search plugins and attractive themes, but the Quantum update has severely reduced the choice.
However, the lead developer behind Pale Moon hopes to address this problem with a new build of the browser later this year, so you may want to wait before switching.
Pale Moon is how Firefox may have turned out if it had taken a different path. Unfortunately, it performed poorly in our speed test.
10. Epic Browser
With most browsers, you need to install an arsenal of privacy add-ons to avoid being tracked online, but Epic has this functionality built in. Like Chrome, it’s based on Chromium (and works on Windows and MacOS), but offers a safer, no-frills browsing experience.
Epic ensures that everything you do remains private by blocking all trackers,
third-party cookies and ads; redirecting your searches through a proxy server so no one can see what you’re looking for; always using an encrypted connection (where possible) when you visit websites; and automatically clearing your browsing data at the end of each session.
You can also hide your IP address with a single click, so no one can tell where you’re browsing from.
Aside from its rather dull design, the drawback to Epic’s ultra-vigilant approach is that you’re limited to seven ‘secure’ add-ons, including LastPass, Pocket, and Xmarks, and can’t install your favorite extensions.
Also, because Epic automatically erases your browsing history, you’ll need to make sure you bookmark any web pages you may want to revisit in the future.
We had problems running our speed test with Epic, which kept crashing halfway through, so we weren’t able to log a performance result.
Epic has some useful privacy features but it’s not as smart as Brave and you may find some pages don’t load properly. The design is a bit uninspiring, too.
11. Tor Browser
Tor Browser’s biggest benefit is the reliable protection it offers against hackers, identity thieves and nosy parkers, including government agencies.
Tor comes with two powerful security tools preinstalled–NoScript and HTTPS Everywhere–and routes your web traffic through a series of ‘nodes’ (other computers) to conceal your real IP address and location.
It’s based on an older, pre-Quantum version of Firefox (52, to be precise), so it will feel instantly familiar if you’ve ever used Mozilla’s browser. Its default search engine is the privacy-focused DuckDuckGo, which prevents your searches from being tracked, stored and targeted with ads.
On the downside, Tor is noticeably slower than other browsers if you have all its security settings whacked up to the max, because of the roundabout way in which it connects you
to the web.
However, these settings are easy to disable on sites that don’t pose a threat,
either temporarily or by ‘whitelisting’ the relevant URLs.
Some people worry that using Tor will expose them to the horrors and dangers of the so-called Dark Web, but this isn’t the case at all. Sites that can only be accessed through Tor have convoluted ‘.onion’ addresses that you won’t accidentally stumble across, although you should be as vigilant as usual about opening suspicious links.
If you want to browse the web anonymously, then Tor is definitely the tool to use, but be prepared for slower page-loading times.
BROWSER SPEED ON TEST
We tested all 10 browsers using the online benchmarking tool Speedometer
, which uses demo web applications to simulate user actions and calculates the mean speed in ‘runs (operations) per minute’ after performing 10 tests.
We disabled all add-ons, closed all tabs except Speedometer’s and ensured no other programs were running.
Here’s how the browsers fared ona64-bit Windows 10 laptop.
It was a tight race between Chrome and Vivaldi, which are both fast and highly customisable, but we eventually chose innovation over ubiquity to give the newer browser our 1st rank Award.
Although Vivaldi still lacks a mobile version and syncing options, it feels more modern than Google’s browser and is stronger on privacy. Opera and Firefox Quantum also impressed us, as did the security-focused Brave.
More surprising was the poor performance of Microsoft Edge on a Windows 10 system, suggesting it still has some way to go to take on the big guns.