Apple's Safari browser comes as standard on all Macs and does a damn fine job of giving you access to the internet while adding a few helpful features along the way. But if you fancy a change, there are plenty of others to choose from. These include Microsoft's Edge Chromium, Chrome, Firefox, Brave and many more. In this article we round up up the best alternatives to Safari and see what they have to offer.
If you want the complete Apple experience, then Safari is hard to beat. The browser has seen constant improvement over the years and the current iteration (Safari 13) is fast and loaded with features.
Safari 13 arrived on Macs in September 2019. It’s associated with Catalina but you can also install it on Mojave and High Sierra. New features include Dark Mode, an updated start page with Siri Suggestions (frequently visited sites, links sent in Messages, and pages open on your other devices) and an easy way to enable Picture In Picture mode. Another handy feature is the ability for Safari to offer to switch to an already open tab if you are about to open the same website. There are also privacy and security improvements including alerting you to weak passwords.
As is standard with most browsers you’ll find bookmarks, tabbed browsing, a password manager, and private browsing options. This has been improved in recent updates with icons (or favicons) for each tab, making it easier to tell at a glance which is which when you have several open at once. The reading mode is still one of Safari’s hidden gems, as it turns any webpage into a clean, clear article devoid of ads, links, and other distractions.
Privacy is an important part of Apple’s offering, with Intelligent Tracking Protection there to stop advertisers from watching what you do. This is accompanied by anti-fingerprinting settings that prevent sites from looking at your hardware and software configuration to work out who you are online, plus security features that block sites that could contain malware.
With Apple optimising Safari for macOS, the company claims significant speed advantages over the likes of Chrome and Firefox, with battery life consumed at a lower rate when streaming video. There’s also full integration for Apple Pay, making it easy to buy items online either through the Touch ID sensor in Macs with Touchbars or via your iPhone. See our How to use Apple Pay on a Mac for more details.
In its current form Safari is better than ever, and that’s before you start exploring the available extensions that can increase its capabilities even further. The truth is, the best browser for your Mac is probably already installed.
Google’s Chrome remains the world’s most popular desktop browser by quite a margin, although that does encompass Windows users too. This success isn’t hard to fathom, as Chrome is an excellent tool which has an entire eco-system of plug-ins and extensions, ranging from privacy monitors to ones that fix your grammar.
Multiple tabs are handled very well, although it can lead to RAM being hogged by Chrome if you like to leave a huge amount open at the same time, but this is often true of most browsers. In use, it’s fast. Pages are rendered quickly and there’s a global setting for the zoom, which can be handy if you find text a bit small on modern sites.
As you’d expect, being a part of the same family, Chrome dovetails effortlessly with Google’s online apps – Drive, Docs, Calendar, Photos, etc – allowing users to launch them from an app tray in the menu bar. You can also utilise the extensions available to create reminders directly from the browser thanks to the likes of Google Keep.
The extensions are the thing that differentiates Chrome from other browsers, with a bewildering 150,000+ to choose from. You can use password managers like Dashlane, discount coupon checker Honey, Grammarly to improve your writing, and so much more. To see our pick of the crop read Best Chrome extensions.
Password storage is secure, and you can keep your payment details in Chrome so that it’s easy to make payments online, albeit not through Apple Pay.
Google uses high-levels of security to ensure you don’t access sites that contain malware and also isolates each tab to prevent any kind of cross infection should you stumble into something nasty.
However, where other companies are building in measures to stop online tracking Google is dragging its heals somewhat, stating that it will be phasing out third-party cookies and trackers in Chrome... in about two years time.
The new Edge Chromium (which we'll discuss next) looks like Chrome so if you are feeling like Chrome needs to get a move on with anti-tracking defences then Edge will probably be a good alternative for you.
Of course, this is Google we’re talking about, so you’ll be giving your data directly to the company as you use Chrome, including your online habits, so just be sure you’re ok with that before you begin.
Microsoft’s Edge browser is basically the evolution of the Internet Explorer browser. It’s been available on PCs since 2015 and now it’s arriving on the Mac.
The big news about this release is that Microsoft has rebuilt Edge using the engine that powers Google's Chrome. Hence the new name: Edge Chromium. Due to this anyone who uses Chrome will find Edge Chromium familiar.
This similarity to Chrome will no doubt be Edge’s biggest selling point because it combines the features of Chrome (including the ability to use Chrome extensions) with improved privacy tools including blocking trackers by default. Safari and other web browsers also block these trackers but Chrome doesn’t yet. Chrome says it intended to build in these privacy tools in the next couple of years. In the meantime we can see plenty of frustrated users switching to Edge.
Other features include built-in Bing search and an Internet Explorer mode that might be useful for older web pages.
Another stalwart that’s received some much-needed spit and polish recently is Firefox. There was a time when this was one of the major players in the browser field, but time hasn’t been kind to Mozilla’s creation and Google Chrome has been one in particular that tempted people away. That’s a shame, as the new Quantum Firefox version is slick, smart, and provides a worthy alternative to its higher profile competitors.
Mozilla takes privacy seriously (so much so that there’s an iPhone browser – Firefox Focus – built almost entirely around that principle) and Firefox Quantum has a range of features to keep you safe online.
Tracking Protection stops websites from following you around the web and collecting data that can be used to serve ads. There’s also ad and script blocking that the company says speeds up webpages by as much as 44%. Whatever the tweaks under the hood, our experience with the app proved it to be rapid and reliable.
Firefox has always been a browser that lets you personalise things, and that remains true with Quantum. There are various themes and extensions available that can decorate the menu section of the browser or add additional features. The menu bar itself has a number of functions that you can easily access by dragging icons onto it, providing quick links to things such as emailing links, saving the page to Firefox’s Pocket app to read later, or sending pages directly to your phone.
The extensions might not be as plentiful as they are on Chrome, but there’s plenty of useful add-ons that can tailor your Firefox experience to just the way you like it. A browser for those that like to tinker.
Opera is built on the same foundations as Chrome, giving it a familiar feel in terms of features and performance. That doesn’t mean it’s a clone with a different badge though, as the app comes with some interesting design choices and handy tools that make it a solidly modern browser.
The first is a column on the left side of the screen that contains shortcuts to various options. Top of the list are Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Telegram, all of which can be logged into and used while browsing the web. Very useful if you don’t want to keep picking up your phone.
Another icon is for My Flow, an Opera specific feature that allows users to send webpages directly to their iPhone. There’s also a news section that collates the latest stories from your favourite outlets, a speed dial for commonly used sites, and settings that enable further refinements.
Opera also has some privacy tools that make life easier when browsing, including a built-in ad blocker and a free VPN. The latter is great for keeping yourself safe when using public WiFi, even if the choice of server locations is limited.
Extensions are available in aplenty, thanks to the Chrome heritage, as are themes to personalise the aesthetic. If you’re looking for a browser that not only protects your privacy online, but also reduces the need for other apps on your system, Opera has much to offer.
Brave is a relative newcomer when compared to all of those listed above, making its debut as recently as 2016. Since then it’s gone from strength to strength, powered by its focus on removing all ads from the pages you visit. From a creator’s point of view this can be problematic, as most sites (including this one) rely on advertising in order to pay the writers and technicians who produce the content you’re reading. But for consumers, the freedom from intrusive ads can make the web a place where you can breath once more.
Brave takes things one step further by giving users the option to view ‘privacy-respecting ads’ that will pay them for the honour. This is all done via the Brave Rewards scheme, which is an innovative idea and has the added bonus of allowing users to essentially pay tips to sites they enjoy.
All that aside, Brave is a slimline app that speeds its way around the web. You’ll find plenty of settings to hone its performance to your whims, plus there’s the normal collection of password managers, bookmark menus, and accompanying mobile apps that can sync your profile. Whether you support the idea of a total ad-blocking browser or not, there’s little argument that Brave gets the job done in style.
There's a good chance you haven't have heard of Vivaldi, or at least the browser rather than the 17th century Venetian composer. It's a name you should familiarise yourself with though, as the company was started by Jón von Tetzchner, who co-founded Opera back in 1994.
Vivaldi has some two main focusses: privacy and customisation. So, if you want to take control of your browsing experience in a granular fashion then it may well be the grail at the end of your quest.
At its heart, Vivaldi is similar to Google Chrome as it uses the Chromium engine. This gives it the advantage of having a built-in Adobe Flash plugin and the fact that you can even use Chrome's plugins. Where it differs is in its attitude to your data. Once you set up a password on your Mac you can sync your devices (only macOS at present) knowing that everything in protected by end-to-end encryption that not even Vivaldi can see. Abusive ads that track you are blocked by default and there are various other settings to minimise any intrusions to your privacy.
Like Opera, Vivaldi has a side bar containing various options such as downloads, bookmarks, history, plus a few innovative options. One is Notes, which allows you to quickly jot down information without having to leave the browser. This is great if you're researching something or just want to remember a quote.
Web panels is another clever feature, in that it enables users to setup mini versions of webpages that can be accessed by clicking on its panel name. This is best suited to messaging services but also for Twitter and mobile optimised sites, as they will fit into the single column view.
You'll also find further options in the bar across the bottom of the page, including the ability to capture a screenshot, adjust the zoom level via a slider, turning off images and videos on a page, as well as a comprehensive list of page actions you can instantly enable or disable by clicking a tickbox.
That's not all though! Vivaldi lets you set whether the tab bar appears in the traditional vertical position at the top of the page or move it to the the flanks or along the bottom. You can also open multiple tabs at once in a split screen view, so you can work on them at the same time.
There's so much to explore in Vivaldi and it keeps growing at a steady pace. It might be one of the newest browsers around, but we think it could well be the way they all go in the future.