What’s the best web browser for Windows? Find out with our in-depth testing.
The web browser is one of, if not the, most-used applications on your computer. Where once Internet Explorer was synonymous with the web, now many people just fire up Chrome without a second thought.
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But why should Google enjoy a monopoly on such an important program? There are plenty of alternatives, all of which bring their own innovations to help you make the most of your time online. We test the top six browsers to help you decide which is best for the way you surf the web.
We’ve tested them for performance using both real-world and benchmarking tests, battery consumption using Netflix. We’ve also evaluated their privacy features and extra goodies so you can easily choose for yourself which is the best for you. Let’s get started.
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1 of 6
- Low power consumption
- Cortana integration
- Web notes
- Good performance
- Sync is half-baked
The days when Microsoft’s browsers ruled the roost are long gone. Despite Windows 10 now being installed on nearly a quarter of computers worldwide, only 5% of users prefer Edge – the default Windows 10 browser.
We have to admit that, faced with a fresh Windows 10 installation, the first thing we normally do is load up Edge and use it to install Chrome. This is a little hasty, since Edge actually has plenty to offer.
Edge’s interface is clean to the point of being bland. The only hint of colour comes from the favicons on the left of each tab: everything else is just two shades of grey. The rest of the design is browser business as usual, with tabs on the top, then toolbar and optional bookmarks bar. The Home button is off by default, but can be enabled in Settings.
One thing that may immediately annoy is the lack of a title bar for the Edge window. This means that if you want to drag an Edge window around your desktop, you need to use the blank bit on the right of the tabs bar, which isn’t always convenient.
You have four options for what loads when you start the browser: your previous session, a web page you specify, the Start page, or the New Tab page. The Start page is in danger of being a huge time-sink.
Along with a search box at the top and a weather, sports and stock market sidebar, the page contains a newsfeed of stories from various publications, from the Mirror to Cosmopolitan to Autocar. It’s definitely a cut above your usual clickbait, and it’s easy to get sucked into: we went from a story about Debra Messing to reading about Alfonso Arau to watching Three Amigos clips on YouTube. There’s also some horrible sponsored content links that feel a little out of place.
By default, the search box uses Bing. It isn’t immediately obvious how to change this. First, you go into Settings and Advanced, and scroll most of the way to the bottom to find the Change Search Engine box. If you’ve only just started using Edge, you won’t see any search engines to change to, or any way to add your own. You first need to visit the homepage of the search engine you want to add, which will make it mysteriously appear in Edge’s Settings marked as “discovered”.
Adding a search engine in other web browsers can be a confusing process, so we actually welcomed how simple it was to do in Edge – once we’d worked out how. It’s a shame there’s no way to temporarily change search engine using a drop-down menu, however.
New Tab page
The only difference between the Startup and New Tab pages is that New Tab has a Top Sites section. This has thumbnails for some sponsored content, such as the Windows Store and Amazon, but will chiefly fill up with your most-visited sites. If a website (Facebook or Netflix, for example) has its own Windows 10 app, an Install app link will appear under that site, which you may find useful.
There’s no way to change what the New Tab page does, and no extensions available to change its behaviour, either – if you like your new tabs to go straight to a homepage, you’re out of luck. You can at least customise the page, selecting from six areas of interest to customise your newsfeed, or turn off the feed and the weather, sports or stock market sidebars entirely.
Edge’s tabs worked as we expected. They’re dead square for space efficiency, and we particularly liked the dropdown thumbnails that appear as you hover over each tab. There’s no option to bookmark all open tabs and save them to a Bookmarks folder, which is something we’re used to seeing. The New Tab page opens instantly and is ready for your searches straight away, and there’s no hesitation when flicking between open tabs.
Bookmarks and history
Apart from the lack of a “bookmark all open tabs” option (see above), we like the way Edge deals with your bookmarks. Clicking the star button provides a dropdown menu with the option to add the bookmark to one of your Favourites folders or your Reading List. The Reading List is like a Bookmarks folder, but provides a thumbnail and a short description of the page, so you can see which entry is which at a glance.
You access your bookmarks using a tabbed sidebar that also contains your history and downloads. Bookmarks are arranged in collapsible trees, which is neat, but there’s no option to open an entire folder at once in separate tabs. Likewise, the History sidebar’s collapsible tree view is easy to use, but there’s no way to add a page from your history to your bookmarks directly – another missed opportunity. We do like the option to delete all pages from a particular subdomain, though.
Cortana and Web Notes
As you’d expect, Microsoft is keen to use Edge to point you towards its other services, as is Google – if you visit its web pages using Edge, they nag you to install Chrome, which doesn’t happen with Opera, Firefox or Vivaldi. If you select a word on a web page and right-click, there’s no option to search for that word with your current search engine – you can only “Ask Cortana” (or Bing if you’ve disabled Cortana).
Cortana does come up with some interesting info, but you may prefer to use Google or DuckDuckGo for your searches – you should be given the choice. Another feature we feel is too Microsoft-orientated is Web Notes. These could be fantastic: scribble all over a web page, highlight things, make notes, then send to others to look at. However, the recipient won’t receive your annotations on a live web page. Instead, when you click the “share” button you receive only a screenshot of the annotated web page, which you can send using Windows’ official Mail or Twitter clients, or store with Cortana Reminders or OneNote.
There’s no way to send the Web Note with a program of your choosing (such as your own email client), save it to Dropbox, or use another Notes application such as Evernote – even if you install the official Microsoft Evernote app. It’s a limited feature that you may find useful only occasionally.
Next to the Favourites button is one for Reading View. After a page has loaded, you can click this to strip out all adverts and page furniture, leaving you with an easy-to-read body of text and pictures. It’s a great way to make web news stories more pleasant to read, while still making sure the page gets some revenue from adverts. However, it only works on a limited number of pages (such as those in your newsfeed). On sites such as BBC News and The Guardian, the icon is simple greyed out and listed as “unavailable”.
Most major browsers have a built-in synchronisation service; you sign up for a Google/Firefox/Opera account and your history, open tabs, favourites, passwords and so on will remain synchronised between browsers on different machines. Edge has a sync service, but will only sync your Favourites and Reading List; and, crucially, only if you’re signed into Windows 10 with a Microsoft account.
You may prefer to have a local account for Windows, so no sync for you. We’d rather you could sign into a Microsoft account just for Edge.
Edge feels fast, but its benchmark performance is a mixed bag. It’s also a memory hog, requiring nearly 1.4GB of RAM with our six test tabs open – 500MB to 900MB more than the competition. It’s easy on your laptop’s battery, though: one hour of Netflix used 23% of battery, compared to between 26% and 32% for the competition.
Extensions are only a recent addition to Edge, and there are very few: only 20 in the Microsoft Store at the time of writing, including several ad blockers, LastPass and the Pocket save-it-for-later tool. One extension, called Turn off the Lights (below), darkens the entire screen while you’re playing a video, with the exception of the video itself. It’s a cracking alternative to full-screen mode.
There are many things to like about Edge. It feels fast, we love its super-smooth scrolling, and it’s generally easy to use. Microsoft needs to add some extra features to keep up with the competition, though, such as the ability to save all open tabs as a Bookmarks folder and then open that folder’s bookmarks all at once. The Sync function is also limited, and being restricted to Bing when right-clicking to search is annoying. If Microsoft would just loosen its grip a little, Edge could be great. For now, those after a no-nonsense browser should stick with Chrome.
2 of 6
- Detailed privacy settings
- A little slow
- Relatively high battery usage
Ten years ago, Firefox was the browser to beat, dwarfing Google’s upstart Chrome. Now the picture is rather different: Chrome is dominant, and Firefox is slipping towards a mere 10% market share.
Firefox is far from dead, though, and still has some tricks up its sleeve. It’s serious about privacy, with technology to stop companies tracking the pages you visit even if they ignore a “Do not track” request. It has a library of extensions to rival that of Chrome, and while it’s no Vivaldi, it’s still possible to customise the interface to a certain degree.
Nowadays, Firefox looks very much like Chrome: tabs at the top, a combined address and search bar, and an optional bookmarks bar. The interface is busier than Chrome’s, but as we discuss below, Chrome’s clean look can come at the cost of functionality.
By default, there’s a home button and a dedicated search box – although we’re not quite sure why this separate search box is necessary. In Vivaldi, it’s a privacy feature; you can turn off search suggestions for the search box, so text you enter isn’t sent direct to the search provider’s servers before you even press enter. In Firefox, you can’t configure the address bar and search box separately – both either have search suggestions enabled or disabled.
Fortunately, Firefox makes it easy to customise the interface and remove such clutter. By right-clicking on the toolbar and clicking Customize, you can drag and drop various interface elements around and add or remove shortcut icons to suit your way of working.
The customisation is limited to which shortcut buttons you require, and whether you want them on the left or right of the address bar, but we still appreciate being able to add one-click buttons for History and Private Browsing, as well as the ability to remove the redundant search box mentioned above. Having History or Bookmarks on the toolbar also provides you with a much wider, easier-to-use menu than when you access them through Firefox’s main menu button.
The customisation section is a good way to add the Firefox “Forget” button. This is another signature privacy feature: with a click Firefox will close all windows and tabs and delete your cookies and history from the past five minutes, two hours or 24 hours. Other browsers let you delete you history selectively, but not with a single click.
Startup and tabs
By default Firefox opens with the Mozilla Firefox Start page, which has a Google search box and a selection of shortcut buttons to various program features. It isn’t particularly useful, but it’s easy to change. The New Tab page is simple but effective: it features a search box for whatever provider you have chosen in Settings, and thumbnails for your most-visited sites.
We hunted high and low in Settings for a way to change what happens when you open a new tab, but to no avail. We eventually noticed the cog icon at the top-right of the New Tab page itself. This provides you with a choice of a blank page or a page with suggested sites, but an extension such as New Tab Homepage will sort that out.
Right-clicking on a tab displays the usual close/mute/pin tab options, and you can save all open tabs to a specific Bookmarks folder. Firefox doesn’t have a menu to let you see at-a-glance which tabs you have open, but pressing Ctrl-tab flicks between the two most recently used tabs, and keeping the control key held down after you press the tab key brings up an Alt-tab-style thumbnail view of all open tabs.
Bookmarks and history
On the whole, we like the way Firefox’s bookmarks and history work. Clicking the History button offers a dropdown menu with recently closed tabs, your most recent history and the useful option to restore the entire previous browser session. Clicking Show All History brings up a pop-up resizable window with all your visited web pages, and you can open them in new windows or tabs, or add history entries to your Bookmarks folders.
You can also bring up a sidebar with your history arranged in a list, and it will stay open as you click through the entries trying to find the right page. It all works fine, but we wish Firefox used a less compressed font to make things easier to read.
The Bookmarks button provides quick access to your bookmarks toolbar, and clicking Show All Bookmarks brings up a window that’s similar in look to the All History window – it isn’t pretty, but it works. There’s also a Bookmarks sidebar, with all your saved pages arranged in a tree format.
These slow benchmark scores are reflected in general use. There’s a very slight delay when flicking between tabs, and things become rather jerky when you drag tabs to rearrange them. Scrolling through pages can sometimes feel like there’s something clogging up your mousewheel, too. It isn’t terrible, by any means, but if you’re used to the smoothness of Chrome and Opera then you may feel your browsing experience is compromised.
We did notice that Firefox gradually became slower over time as we filled its history and loaded it up with bookmarks. This was fixed with the “Refresh Firefox” option in the about:support section, but we haven’t experienced such a slowdown with other browsers.
Firefox consumed the most battery in an hour of Netflix streaming, eating up 32%. That’s more than all the other browsers on test here.
Firefox was the first browser to support extensions, and as you’d expect, there are plenty available. DownThemAll, to save multiple files from an HTTP server, is particularly useful, as is Textarea Cache, which automatically saves any text you enter in a textbox, in case your browser crashes.
Firefox isn’t behind with Sync, either. Once you’re signed in with a Firefox account, you can sync your tabs, bookmarks, passwords, history, extensions and settings between devices. You can also synchronise bookmarks and history with mobile devices. However, when tested this with an Android phone, we found that sync kept pausing, and we had to go into Settings | Accounts & Sync to kick-start it manually.
Firefox is a competent browser, with some great features such as the bookmarks and history sidebars, customisable toolbar and the Forget button. However, it’s one of the slowest browsers we’ve tested, and some aspects of the interface, while useful, could do with an overhaul to make them more attractive and easier to use. Apparently, there’s an improved rendering engine on the way, which should help matters. In the meantime, though, you should stick to Chrome for outright speed and Vivaldi for interface innovation.
3 of 6
- Privacy focussed
- Loaded with security features
- Lots of add-ons
- Relatively slow
- Slows down connection speeds
When it comes to online anonymity, Tor is the real deal. The combination of a specially modified version of Firefox and a network of anonymous relays makes it extremely hard for anyone to identify you and the websites you visit.
Instead of connecting you straight to a server on the internet, Tor wraps the data you send with multiple encryption layers, then bounces this data through a network of relays. Each relay decrypts an encryption layer to reveal the next relay in the chain, or Tor Circuit. The final relay decrypts your data and sends it to its destination – but since this relay doesn’t know where the original data came from, it’s extremely hard for the destination server to learn anything about you, such as your IP address.
Tor isn’t perfect, and has been compromised in the past, but it’s the best method we have to keep the websites we visit safe from prying eyes.
Tor is remarkably easy to use. It’s a portable application, and the installer just unpacks the browser’s files to a folder of your choosing. From there, just run the Start Tor Browser shortcut. When you first run Tor, you can choose whether you have a direct connection to the internet – such as at home – or whether you’re behind some kind of firewall or proxy and will need to fiddle with some settings to connect.
On our home broadband connection, the direct connection worked perfectly: Tor connected, and up popped the familiar shape of Firefox. The Tor Start page offers up a DuckDuckGo search box – DuckDuckGo being the search engine that prides itself on not tracking you.
There are also some tips on staying anonymous. Using the Tor browser isn’t enough to stay safe from prying eyes; you should also avoid using applications that bypass the Tor network, such as torrent software, or plugins such as Flash that can be “manipulated into revealing your IP address”. In addition, never open files downloaded through Tor – such as DOC and PDF – in external applications, since these can connect to external services outside the Tor network and reveal your IP address.
After maximising the browser window, we were intrigued to see a warning message that this could identify us on the internet: the reason being that a maximised browser window can give away your monitor’s resolution and so help build a fingerprint of your machine to help outside parties track you. Tor recommends you keep the application at its default windowed size to avoid this. Scary stuff.
Tor’s Bookmarks work in the same manner as standard Firefox, but History is interesting, in that Tor doesn’t save it. As you’d expect for a privacy-focused browser, Tor is set to always be in Private Browsing mode, so it won’t save your history or accept any cookies. You can disable this in Settings easily enough, though.
There are a couple of Tor-specific additions to Firefox. The most obvious is the small onion icon on the left of the address bar. This gives you the relays your web connection has jumped through to reach the current site, their IP addresses and the countries in which they reside. An option to create a new Tor Circuit for your current site will connect you to a new selection of relays: we found this useful when we were being routed through Taiwan, for example, and the connection was very slow. There’s also the nuclear option to choose a New Identity, which restarts the browser and provides a new Circuit at the same time.
It’s worth exploring Tor’s Security Settings option. This takes the form of a slider with Low, Medium and High security levels, with progressively more content blocked as you go up the scale. For example, Medium and High levels would even block some of the images on www.trustedreviews.com. The onion menu shows you what content has been blocked, and you can re-enable it as you wish: granting permission for a couple of video codecs let us play YouTube videos, for example.
HTTPS Everywhere is an attempt to force all connections to websites to use the encrypted HTTPS protocol, to help prevent data passing between your computer and the site from being intercepted. Some sites default to unencrypted HTTP when you type their URL into your browser’s address bar, or have pages full of links back to the unencrypted HTTP version of the site. HTTPS Everywhere finds those links and redirects to the secure version of the page automatically.
Both are useful tools, but they’re also available for standard browsers: Chrome, Firefox and Opera for HTTPS Everywhere, and Firefox for NoScript.
As you’d expect from the way it works, Tor isn’t a fast browser. All that bouncing around the world takes its toll on download speeds. Using standard Firefox, speedtest.net reported our internet connection as 47Mbits/sec download and 7.2Mbits/sec upload, with a 9ms ping. With the Tor browser, we saw just 8.7Mbits/sec download and 1.9Mbits/sec upload speeds, with a 100ms ping.
This would be fine for normal web surfing, but the connection speeds are erratic – some sites would just grind to a halt before loading CSS, leaving a bare skeleton of a page. In addition, some sites found the traffic profile created by Tor suspicious, asking you to fill in a CAPTCHA to check you’re not a robot, or flat-out block you. For example, Google wouldn’t let us search due to “unusual traffic” (although if you’re using Tor for Google, you should rethink your privacy priorities). Netflix is also deeply suspicious, but this could be because it didn’t know what content to offer us from one session to the next as we hopped around the globe.
This is the price you pay for unrivalled privacy, however – and you’re unlikely to use Tor to do your Tesco shop. It’s more likely to come into its own when you want to look up something that the authorities don’t want you to see, or if you want to visit a site that, for whatever reason may be banned in your country. Tor is invaluable in countries without the kind of internet freedoms we enjoy in the UK, where it’s often the only way to get hold of news sources outside the grip of the government.
In the way that it manages to do something complicated in a manner that’s both straightforward and transparent to the user, Tor is a triumph. There’s no better way to safeguard your privacy online, there are no VPNs or subscriptions to worry about, and no complicated configuration. A single 50MB download and you’re safe from all but the most determined.
Performance issues mean you’ll still want to use a normal browser for most of your surfing, but keep that Tor shortcut handy; you never know who’s watching.
4 of 6
- Built-in free VPN
- Modest extension library
- Good performance
- Sync service
Opera has always been a niche player in the browser market, but loyal users have appreciated its commitment to innovation. It was the first major web browser with tabs, for example – fancy going back to a pre-tabs browser now? Thought not.
Its focus has changed recently, however. The latest versions no longer use Opera’s own rendering engine, instead relying on the Chromium project’s Blink engine, and it’s no longer possible to customise the browser’s interface.
Opera may have lost some of its distinctiveness, but it’s still a modern-looking browser with an impressive interface and one killer feature: built-in VPN. This is incredibly easy to set up: just tick a box and you’ll connect to websites via a proxy server, which will help mask your location and IP address.
You can choose whether you want to connect via a VPN in Canada, the US, Germany, Holland or Singapore, or choose an optimum server (Holland, in our case). The VPN let us look at the US versions of sites such as Netflix, as well as sites that are banned in the UK, and impressively didn’t slow down our connection speed at all. Opera doesn’t even set a bandwidth cap. It’s quite an extra.
Opera also comes with a built-in ad blocker. You may not agree with ad blockers, but some people value their ability to speed up web page loading and protect from tracking. You enable the ad blocker by ticking a box in Settings, and can add sites that the ad blocker will ignore (in case they don’t load properly, or you’d rather not deprive them of revenue).
Opera has a clean and modern interface. All is where you’d expect to find it. Tabs are at the top, with a combined search and address bar, as well as an optional bookmarks bar. The address bar will return Google’s suggestions for web addresses and search terms as you enter text, but you can also turn on a dedicated search box. The dedicated box doesn’t offer suggestions – useful if you don’t want what you’re typing to be sent straight to Google’s servers as you type it. We’d have liked to be able to select a search engine directly from this box, rather than having to go into Settings to change all our search defaults.
A couple of interface elements stand out. The first is that there’s no Home button, and no way to enable one. Browsers are moving away from Home buttons, but as heavy users of multiple Google services, we still find it useful to have a single, immutable button for the Google homepage.
Opera’s almost-square tabs are space-efficient, and inactivate tabs fade to a subtle grey, so it’s easy to see which is active. You have a few standard right-click options (clone tab, close all other tabs, and so on) but there are fewer ways to manipulate your tabs than in Vivaldi. The tabs menu on the right is neat, showing you all open as well as recently closed tabs, and hovering over an entry displays a large thumbnail of the web page. We wish Opera would also display a thumbnail when you hover over a tab on the tab bar, as is the case in Edge and Vivaldi.
Where you’d expect to find a Home button, Opera has Speed Dial. This is a selection of most-used sites, with each presented as a designed card, rather than a thumbnail. This is prettier, if less useful. The Speed Dial is initially populated by a number of commercial sites such as Facebook, Amazon and eBay, but it takes little time to remove these. There are also a selection of Speed Dial suggestions, which are mainly based on your browsing history. You can even create folders to keep your Speed Dial organised.
As in Vivaldi, your Speed Dial pages are treated as a Bookmarks folder, which makes it easier to move pages between folders and edit and delete them. You can also right-click on a tab and save all open tabs as a Speed Dial folder.
If you’re going to use Opera, you’ll need to learn to love Speed Dial, since it’s the only choice you get when you open a new tab – unless you install an extension such as New Tab Start Page Pro. This isn’t a problem, since the sidebar makes Speed Dial a useful one-stop shop for everything you need to do within the browser. The sidebar provides access to your bookmarks manager, history, extensions, downloads and settings, so you’ll rarely need to use the application’s main menu.
We have few complaints about how the various sections are laid out: you can right-click and add items from your history to your bookmarks, but only one page at a time, and the Settings menu is clearer than that of Edge and Chrome, if still a little sprawling. The Bookmarks view is easy to navigate, with drag-and-drop animations helping you move bookmarks exactly where you want them. However, we’d like to see a list of all bookmarks in the tree view on the left, rather than just folders.
One interesting aspect is the Personal news section. This aggregates stories from around the web, according to Opera’s “Top 50”, or news stories you pick from a catalogue. This is limited to a number of publications chosen by Opera, and includes many of the big names you’d expect: the Guardian, Economist and Telegraph, for example. It’s a fine way to keep tabs on what’s going on and allows you more control than the Edge browser’s newsfeed.
Opera has its own family of extensions, but the library is far smaller than that available for Chrome or Firefox. However, since Opera used Chromium project technology, it’s easy to add Chrome extensions, as long as you first install the handily-named ‘Download Chrome Extension’ extension. This even changes the install button on the official Chrome extension store from Add to Chrome to Add to Opera. Not all extensions will work, so you’ll need to deploy trial and error: animatedTabs wasn’t happy, for example, but Grammarly worked fine.
Opera feels quick. New tabs open instantly, and there’s no sign of the hesitation when flicking between tabs that we saw with Vivaldi. The browser acquitted itself well in our browser benchmarks, too. A score of 267.89 in the MotionMark graphics handling benchmark is second only to Chrome, and 68.65 in the Speedometer web application test is above average.
The browser could render www.trustedreviews.com in just 2.8 seconds, making it just as fast as Chrome and far quicker than Firefox, Edge and Vivaldi. Scrolling around web pages is beautifully smooth, too. The only downside is that Opera uses a lot of RAM: 826MB with our selection of six tabs open, making this the biggest memory hog we’ve seen apart from Edge.
Opera also has a special Battery Saver mode. With this enabled, an hour of Netflix watching used 26% of our test laptop’s battery, compared to 28% with the mode disabled – this is such a small difference that we’re tempted to put it down to statistical variation.
Opera has its own Sync service. You need to create an Opera account and password, and all or any of your bookmarks, settings, history, open tabs and passwords will be synced across all your devices, including smartphones. When you have multiple Opera-running devices synced, the Tabs menu gains an Other Devices sub-menu, with each device’s open tabs listed in its own section.
Opera may no longer be particularly customisable, and Vivaldi (founded by ex-Opera employees) has certainly stolen its crown for innovation, but it’s still a cleanly designed and fast browser. Opera does find itself caught between two stools: it has neither the outright speed of Chrome nor the power features of Vivaldi. However, if the VPN, ad blocker and newsfeed features appeal, it’s a fine alternative.
5 of 6
- Incredibly customisable
- Tab stacking and tiling
- Based on Chromium
- Best for power users
- A little slow
Vivaldi was created by former employees of Opera software and, similar to the Opera browser, is designed with customisation in mind. You can tweak this browser to work in a way that suits you, and it’s brimming with innovative features.
The Startup wizard rams the message home. It lets you choose your theme (Human is very Linux; Redmond very Microsoft), decide whether you want your tabs to go at the top, bottom, left or right, and choose a background picture for your Start page. It’s a useful introduction to just how many parts of Vivaldi’s interface you can tweak. You’re then pointed towards some introductory YouTube videos – the developers want to make sure you don’t miss out on unique features such as Tab Stacks.
The Settings menu is colossal, but is logically organised with a search function. We like that the Settings window can remain open and any changes you make happen in real time to the main browser – it makes it easy to fiddle around with Vivaldi’s appearance.
Vivaldi features are a couple of controls missing in most browsers: mouse gestures and Quick Commands. You can hold down the right mouse button and draw various patterns to perform functions such as opening and closing tabs, and going back and forth through your history. You can even draw your own patterns, although if you make one that’s already assigned to another feature, Vivaldi will tell you the pattern is in use, but not by what.
We don’t use mouse gestures, but there are doubtless many who would. We much preferred Quick Commands. You press F2 to bring up a search box that will look through your bookmarks and history, as well as program commands and settings, as you type. It’s a quick way to navigate all the information stored in your browser from a single place.
Vivaldi’s tab handling is one of its most impressive aspects. For a start, you don’t have to have tabs along the top. If you’d rather mimic the Windows start bar, then place it at the bottom. Want to take advantage of a widescreen monitor? Put it to the side. Having your tab bar at the left or right also gives you a useful thumbnail of each page.
A movable tab bar is only the beginning. Move one tab onto another and Vivaldi will group them together to form a Tab Stack. Hovering the mouse over the Stack shows you thumbnails of all the pages it contains, so you can choose the one you want. You can also Ctrl-click to select multiple tabs, then right-click and add them to a Tab Stack.
A particularly useful feature is Stack Tabs by Host, so if you have multiple pages from www.trustedreviews.com open, you can make a Tab Stack with a single click. Oddly, this wouldn’t work with Google sites, and we wish clicking on the Tab Stack would bring up the thumbnails – it would feel more natural than just hovering over the top.
Right-clicking on a tab, multiple tabs or a Tab Stack provides brings up a number of useful options. You can move a tab or a Stack to a new window if your tab bar is getting overwhelming. You can bookmark a single tab, all open tabs or a Tab Stack, and multiple tabs will be given their own folder stamped with the time the bookmarks were created.
Best of all, you can tile tabs within a single browser window. It’s great for multi-tasking – when you have a couple of websites open and are typing into a Google Doc, for example – and, once again, is a great way to take advantage of a widescreen or ultra-widescreen monitor. We wish there was a way to resize the tiles, however.
There’s one last feature we found particularly useful: the tab trash can. Click this icon and you’ll see all the tabs you’ve had open previously, so you can restore them with a click – and the browser will even remember your tabs after a restart.
New Tab page
You have plenty of options when it comes to new tabs: the Start page, your homepage, a blank page or a page you specify. Most browsers only offer the option of a blank page or a special New Tab page. Since we access so many different services, from email to documents to maps, from the Google homepage, we liked having that open automatically with every new tab.
The Start page itself stands out. It’s split into Bookmarks, History and Speed Dial – similar to Bookmarks, but with thumbnails. You can create as many Speed Dial sections as you need; you can have a section for social media, news, shopping, messaging and anything else you can think of.
Speed Dial doesn’t automatically fill up with your most-visited sites in the way that Chrome’s New Tab page does, but it does provide suggestions for Speed Dial entries based on your browsing history. You can also turn a Bookmarks folder into a Speed Dial with a click.
As with all modern browsers, you can search from the address bar, and as long as you enable the option, you will receive suggestions to complete web addresses and search strings as you type. Those concerned about privacy may wish to disable this option, as it means data is sent to a search provider such as Google before you even press return. You can get around this by enabling a dedicated search box with suggestions disabled, so you can use this box instead when you’re concerned about privacy.
One problem we had was that Vivaldi would return search suggestions when we had Bing set as the default search engine, but not Google. This is apparently a known bug.
Bookmarks and panels
The browser comes with a number of shopping bookmarks, which is presumably one of the ways in which the Vivaldi developers make money. It takes little time to remove them if you’re not interested. Adding a bookmark is easy with the button next to the address bar, or a right-click on a tab. You can also drag items from your history straight to a Bookmarks folder.
You can either manage your bookmarks with the Start page, where a tree view makes it simple to create folders and move bookmarks around, or use the tree view in the Bookmarks Panel. The Panels live on the left or right of your monitor, depending on your preference, and there are sections for Bookmarks, Downloads, Notes and Web Panels.
Bookmarks and Downloads work as you’d expect, but Notes and Web Panels are particularly interesting. As well as adding text, Notes lets you screenshot the current page or a portion of it to attach to the Note, and will automatically add the page’s URL to the note’s metadata. It’s a powerful and well-integrated feature, and the only thing missing is any kind of sync capability – but that’s apparently coming soon.
Web Panels are a way to keep various web pages open in your browser as sidebars. It’s particularly useful for frequently updated sites that you flick to occasionally, such as a news site or Twitter. Any site can be a web panel, but some get confused about the device you’re using and ask you to install an app.
Vivaldi currently doesn’t have any native extensions, but since it’s based on the Chromium browser project, most Chromium extensions should work. It’s such a feature-packed browser that you shouldn’t really need too many add-ons. One extension we did need was the User Agent Switcher for Chrome (below). Without it, Netflix refused to play anything. Once I fooled the service into thinking I was using Chrome, everything was fine.
In the Netflix test, it consumed 28% battery in an hour, putting it firmly in the mid-table.
There’s no doubt Vivaldi is an excellent browser. There’s no need to hunt around for extensions: if you can think of a feature you need, it’s probably already there. The only thing currently missing is sync, but that’s on the way. Those with more modest requirements should stick with the super-fast Chrome, but if you’re a power user who deals with huge bookmark libraries and likes to keep plenty of tabs open, you’ll love it.
6 of 6
- Deeply integrated with Google services
- Decent performance
- Easy-to-manage site privacy controls
- Loads of add-ons
- Excellent sync
- Slightly confusing interface
Since its launch in 2008, Chrome has grown to the point where nearly 60% of desktop users surf using Google’s browser.
It’s easy to see why it’s so popular. At launch Chrome was a revelation, thanks to its clean interface and incredible performance. It’s had its ups and downs since, but Google has recently stripped out some of the bloat to make Chrome quick and intuitive once again.
The reason Chrome is the go-to browser for so many people is obvious: it’s just so easy to use. It loads quickly – start typing into the address/search box and results will appear instantly from your history, alongside Google’s own suggestions, to complete your web searches. These suggestions take the form of web addresses (type in www.gu and you’ll get suggestions for The Guardian, Gumtree and Guildford Council, for example) as well as search strings. In effect, you can be on a specific web page or have a page of Google results within moments of opening the browser.
Of course, this is advantageous to Google as well as its users, since the company relies on collecting information. And it’s this very reason that causes many folk to worry about using. What you type into the address box is sent direct to Google before you’ve even pressed return, in order for the company to provide you with search suggestions. Unlike Opera and Vivaldi, there’s no option to have a dedicated search box with suggestions disabled; you have to disable suggestions entirely in the browser’s settings.
There isn’t much else to Chrome – just tabs, address bar, navigation and bookmark buttons and a menu. There are plenty of hidden features, which bolsters the browser’s clean look but doesn’t always aid usability, as we’ll explain later.
New Tab page
You don’t get a Home button by default, but it’s easy to enable in Settings. We like to have a home button set to google.co.uk due to our reliance on multiple Google web apps – it’s simple to access these from the Google homepage.
This being a Google browser, there are other ways to access Google’s services too. The first is with the Apps bookmark, which is set up on the Bookmarks Bar by default. This sends you to chrome://apps, and has large icons for the Web Store (for more apps and browser extensions), Google Drive, Gmail and YouTube, among others. The difference between apps and extensions is that extensions change or extend the way the web browser itself works; apps, on the other hand, are services or web programs you access through that browser.
You can also access Google’s apps/services using the New Tab page. As with Opera, there’s no way to change what appears when you open a new tab, unless you use an extension such as New tab URL. A bar at the top of the New Tab page includes a menu for Google’s services, and if you’re signed in it will let you access your profile information.
The New Tab page also consists of a Google search box and eight thumbnails for your most-used sites. This looks a little like Opera or Vivaldi’s Speed Dial, but without either’s level of customisation. The only thing you can do is delete sites from the page, rather than organise them in any particular fashion.
Chrome opens tabs instantly and flicks between them without hesitation. Everything about the browser performs with great alacrity. There’s nothing fancy about Chrome’s tab handling, but it’s slick and intuitive, whether you’re rearranging tabs or pulling them out to create new windows. Right-clicking a tab brings up standard options – such as pinning a tab (so it will survive a browser restart), duplicating or closing that tab or all other tabs – as well as the option to bookmark all open tabs and save them to a folder.
Our only real niggle with Chrome’s tab handling is that pressing Ctrl-tab clicks through the tabs in order, rather than between the last-used tabs. This can be fixed using an extension such as CLUT (Cycle Last Used Tabs), but is an example of where the competition is pulling ahead. There’s also no tabs menu, where you can see a list of open tabs at a glance, or thumbnails when you hover over a tab. There is a least a list of recently closed tabs, hidden away in the History section of the main menu.
History and bookmarks
This brings us to another gripe with Chrome: useful features are hidden away, with no effort made to integrate them with the main interface. You access both your history and bookmarks from awkward fly-out sub-menus in the application’s main menu. We’d recommend learning the keyboard shortcuts instead (Ctrl-H and Ctrl-Shift-O).
We did find we missed the fancy ways other browsers have of making your history and bookmarks accessible. Chrome just opens them in a new tab, which is fine, but it isn’t a patch on Firefox’s pop-up history sidebar or Vivaldi and Opera’s Speed Dial. For bookmarks, we find Chrome works best if you enable the Bookmarks Bar and are fastidious about arranging bookmarks in folders. The Bookmarks Manager does make it simple to organise your bookmarks, thanks to a folder hierarchy view and drag-and-drop. Unfortunately, you can’t create a bookmark direct from your history.
Chrome has a huge library of extensions, so if there’s something about the browser’s behaviour you want to tweak, there’s probably an extension out there to make it happen. Again, there’s no easy way to access installed extensions; you need to go Menu|More tools|Extensions, then click the Get More Extensions link at the bottom. It makes them feel like a bit of an afterthought.
Chrome’s Sync uses your Google account, and is as comprehensive as you want it to be. You can choose to sync your installed apps, extensions, settings, themes, history, bookmarks and open tabs across devices, and even your passwords and autofill information (for web page address fields and so on). It’s useful to have this data synced, but think carefully about the possible consequences of having so much information shared between all your PCs and mobile devices – even if you do trust Google itself.
It consumed 26% of our test machine’s battery in an hour of Netflix streaming, which isn’t the worst but comes in behind Microsoft Edge.
Chrome remains an excellent browser. In the past, some versions have been sluggish or buggy, but the current edition (56, as tested) is fast and stable. Once you’re used to how quickly Chrome responds, other browsers can feel slow, even if there’s very little difference in reality.
However, what Chrome has in speed it lacks in extra features, and its interface, while clean, hides many of its useful features away. We’d happily take a little more clutter for easier access to our bookmark manager and history, for example, or to have a more customisable New Tab page. If you’ve always used Chrome, it’s worth installing an alternative such as Vivaldi, Opera or Firefox, just to see what you might be missing.