Picking a web browser isn’t like picking an operating system or smartphone ecosystem. Unlike choosing MacOS, Windows, or Chrome OS, where your choices are mutually exclusive, switching between browsers isn’t quite so jarring. Picking the best browsers is comparatively easy — in fact, by the time you finish reading this paragraph, you could download each major browser on the market today.
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.
If you’re still undecided, or if you’re in the early stages of browser-curiosity, read on. 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 gold standard for web browsers. Chrome even locks some ads that don’t conform to accepted industry standards.
It 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.
What’s the 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
Firefox comes in a close second — a very close second. Mozilla has been taking real strides in making its browser a truly modern way to surf from site to site, with efforts like ‘Firefox Quantum and the augmented and virtual reality-focused, Firefox Reality. The latest version of Mozilla’s familiar old standby rebuilds the browser’s UI from the ground up, offering a cleaner, more modern take on what a web browser should be, even introducing a password-free browsing experience.
The changes aren’t just skin deep, though. There’s some impressive engineering going on behind the scenes. Firefox Quantum is designed to leverage multi-core processors in ways that its competitors just aren’t. It’s not going to make a huge difference in your day-to-day browsing, but the Mozilla Corporation hopes it’s going to give it an edge moving forward. By engineering for the future now, Firefox Quantum is in a better position to take advantage of quicker and quicker processors as they come out year-after-year.
Beneath those changes, it’s still the same Firefox we all know and love. It’s a capable browser, with a deep catalog of extensions and user interface customizations. The new Firefox Mobile app also received the Quantum treatment, so it’s quicker and more streamlined than ever before. Grab the mobile Firefox app and you’ll be able to share bookmarks between devices, but you have to sign up for a separate Firefox account, and managing settings across platforms isn’t as seamless as it is in Chrome.
Even with the recent overhaul, Firefox is a comfortable, familiar standby. There’s a bit of a fringe benefit, too. 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.
As a primary browser, Firefox doesn’t offer much that Chrome doesn’t, but its latest update is making it a very compelling alternative if you’re in the mood for something a little different.
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. It also recently introduced a predictive website pre-load ability.
Opera also features a built-in “Stash” for saving pages to read later. There’s no need to sign up for a Pocket or Evernote account to save a page for later reading. Similarly, Opera 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 your choice of browser is, 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 it combines some of the best features of Firefox and Chrome.
The default choice that still struggles: Microsoft 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. 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 Microsoft, especially when it comes to efficiency. Microsoft often claims it’s the best browser for maintaining laptop battery life.
On the downside, Edge has relatively slim extension support, and it doesn’t allow for much customization. While quick, its pared-down interface can feel a little too bare-bones at times. Microsoft has even added iOS and Android versions, and so keeping your bookmarks and passwords in sync while you’re on the go is finally a possibility with Edge.
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. And with each major Windows 10 update, such as the recent Windows April update, Edge gains new features that are worth a look.
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, and 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, and 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. It also has some stand out privacy-enhancing features, like a recent team up with DuckDuckGo, to make the non-tracking search tool the default option when in privacy mode.
If you’re tired of the usual suspects, and want to try a browser that takes a different approach to web browsing, then check out Vivaldi. We certainly enjoyed Vivaldi when we gave it a go.
That said, there is a big caveat: It’s limited to desktop use for the time being. With support on Windows 10, MacOS, 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.