Safari for iOS 7 review

Macworld UK reviews the Safari web browser in iOS 7. We see how fast is Safari for iOS 7, and examine the new features in Safari for iOS 7. Here's our Safari for iOS 7 review.

See also: Alternatives to Safari: The best web browser apps for iPad and iPhone

As I began to write this piece I found myself intoning aloud: 'I wish I'd paid more attention to iOS 6'. That's because initially I was struggling to see anything new or different in Safari for iOS 7 than was in iOS6. In fact when surfing the web with iOS 7's flavour of Safari it's tricky to even notice Safari. And this is a good thing: Safari is a tool for web browsing, and when browsing the web you want to look at and interact with websites, not browsers.

We tested Safari using an iPhone 5 running the final version of iOS 7.0. You can get iOS 7 for free for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. (See also: How to update your iPhone or iPad to Apple iOS 7.)

Safari for iOS 7: performance

In use we found Safari for iOS 7 to be perfectly snappy. Indeed, we couldn't honestly notice any difference from Safari for iOS6. Running the SunSpider 0.9.1 JavaScript benchmark (the one we ran on our iPhone 5 with iOS6), the iOS6 version of Safari produced an excellent average score of 941ms. In contrast Safari in iOS scored an even more impressive 816ms.

Of course in real-terms the difference here is negligable, but it is good code that can add features and not get slower: never mind being measurably faster.

What's new in Safari for iOS 7?

Safari for iOS 7So what is new in Safari for iOS 7? Well the whole OS has been given a radical visual overhaul. The new Safari - like the new OS - is based on being as simple as possible. There are few if any extraneous design elements, and what there is is graphically rendered in software, less obtrusive fonts and colours.

Safari for iOS 7: unified search field, hidden

In Safari this manifests itself in several ways. In the most obvious Apple has - whisper it - taken a leaf out of Mozilla's Firefox book and created a unified search field, and then learnt from Microsoft's IE and hidden it. Thus the field into which you type in your URL or search term is just one field, and that is visible only when you need it to be. When you are browsing a web page you can see only the URL of the domain on which you are surfing - so this page would be mobile.macworld.co.uk, or macworld.co.uk.

It's a good improvement. You don't need a separate search and URL field. You probably input URLs rarely if at all. And the extra space may be small but it does make a difference.

Safari for iOS 7: improvements in navigation

And then there are improvements in the ability to navigate - swiping backwards and forwards takes you to the previous or next page of your browsing session. Arrow icons on the appearing and disappearing bar at the bottom of the windows do something similar. It's a feature we've seen on smarter mobile and responsive websites, but it's clever of Apple to put it into the web browser. Microsoft, for instance, is often saying that apps are only successful because web browsers haven't been.

Microsoft has no apps to speak of, of course, so it would say that. But making Safari work more like an app does head off that argument. With iOS 7 you can browse Macworld app or the Macworld website, and have a broadly similar experience. (See also: Best apps for iOS 7.)

Safari for iOS 7: Tab View

Another interesting new feature is the new Tab View. It's an example of what Apple does well: genuinely good design. It looks good, yes. But in doing so the functionality is improved. Instead of looking at tabs, when you hit the tab icon at the bottom of the browser windo the Tab View shows a bird's-eye view of a fan of pages. Thus you are able to comfortably see lots of tabs, and a preview of what is on them, in a nice-looking page. I imagine that most of us keep multiple tabs open these days, after all.

From the Tab View you can enable private browsing, too. This is not a new idea, and my wife and I have no idea why anyone would want such a feature. And it was in iOS 5. But it's still there, and the iPhone remains the best smartphone for single-handed operation. [Coughs.]

Safari for iOS 7: share, bookmark

Safari for iOS 7Alongside the Tab View icon on the bottom bar is the back and foward arrows mentioned above, and two other icons: Bookmark and Share. Let's take Share first.

Hit Share and you are given the opportunity to share to Message, Mail and your social accounts. from this Windows you can also Bookmark the page, add to a reading list, copy and so on. It's all very intuitive and useful: our only complaint is that as before you have to populate the message or social post, rather than it being pre-populated based on the page's content. It's not much of a moan, no other browser I know of does that. But it is important. I'll just keep hitting the onpage Tweet button in the mean time.

Bookmarks is interesting. As well as allowing you to add bookmarks to a plethora of usefully named folders (which you can edit), Bookmarks allows you to view and add to your reading list. And there is a new feature: 'Shared Links'. This shows you all the URLs in your Twitter timeline, who posted them and what they had to say about them. It's a way of browsing shared stories without having to flip between Twitter app and Safari. I'm not entirely sure I will use it, although it is immediately a good way of spending a few minutes browsing new things, when you have a few minutes to kill. (See also: Find the best iPhone contract.)

OUR VERDICT

We like Safari for iOS 7. It's not an earth-shattering breakthrough in mobile web browser design, but it offers some interesting new features, and is fast and stable. Kudos.

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