The Best Web Browsers for Speed, Battery Life, and Customization

Let’s be honest: Modern web browsers are all pretty solid. Even Microsoft Edge is much better than older versions of Internet Explorer. But we believe Google Chrome is still the best web browser for most people.

The Best Overall for Most People: Google Chrome

Overall, we prefer Google Chrome. To start, it just feels snappier than other browsers like Firefox and Edge, although Edge has improved somewhat since Windows 10’s release. Google owns Chrome and uses it as a platform to improve and advance the web in general, so Chrome often gets new features before other browsers. It also has some unique features–you can only cast to a Chromecast from the Chrome browser, for example.

Chrome generally comes out on top in benchmarks, showing it’s the speediest browser as well (see the last section of this article). Microsoft Edge is catching up with Chrome and may top it in a benchmark or two, but Edge isn’t nearly as feature-filled.

If Chrome doesn’t have a feature you want, well, you’re in luck: it has built up a massive catalog of extensions over the last few years, so any feature you want to add, you probably can. Chrome is also available for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android–in addition to Chromebooks, of course. This means you can synchronize your bookmarks, saved tabs, and even passwords across all your devices to access them from anywhere.

Chrome certainly isn’t perfect, of course. It isn’t the most battery-efficient browser for laptops or the most customizable tool for power users. In addition, it uses an awful lot of RAM, which may make it feel slow on older computers. But, that RAM usage is generally used for useful features and speed improvements on modern computers (remember, used RAM is good), so this isn’t as much of a con as most people would have you believe. It’s mostly only a problem on older or low-powered machines.

Plus, Google is getting pretty good at stripping unnecessary cruft from Chrome. They’ve trashed of little-used features like the Chrome app launcher, notification center, and Chrome apps. Google seems like it’s taking Chrome in the right direction, simplifying it and focusing on battery life improvements while continuing to add powerful features for developers. No matter who you are, Chrome will probably serve you well.

The Best for Battery Life: Microsoft Edge (Windows) and Apple Safari (Mac)

While Chrome has its strengths, long battery life is not one of them. If find yourself struggling to keep your laptop alive between charges, you might be able to do better.

Microsoft and Apple, as the companies that make Windows and macOS, respectively, really want to boast high battery life estimates for their computers. All these numbers are measured using Edge on Windows and Safari on macOS. Edge and Safari are just more optimized for battery life.

On a Windows PC, the Microsoft Edge web browser offers noticeably longer battery life than Chrome. On a Mac, Apple’s Safari browser offers hours more. Chrome has made some strides recently–and it’s good to see Google making an effort–but Edge and Safari are still ahead.

This doesn’t mean all laptop users should automatically pick Edge or Safari. Rather, it means they’re worth a try if you don’t need advanced features, and really need every hour of battery you can get in that moment. Edge and Safari still don’t measure up to Chrome in terms of feature.s

For example, both Edge and Safari offer far fewer extensions. They also can’t sync to the same amount of platforms–Edge can only sync between Windows 10 and Windows Mobile 10, while Safari can only sync between macOS and iOS. Chrome also runs on older versions of Windows and macOS, where you can’t run Microsoft Edge or the latest version of Safari.

Edge can also be a little flaky because it’s based on Windows 10’s new Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Microsoft still has work to do on UWP. Edge isn’t as bad as it was when Windows 10 was released, but the interface still sometimes seems oddly slow.

The Best for Customization: Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla positions Firefox as the only browser not controlled by a major corporation; one that’s responsive to the needs of its users rather than the needs of a big company that wants to lock you into its platform. That’s a compelling narrative, but some of Firefox’s moves–like the choice of Yahoo! as its default search engine, and the forced integration of the Pocket read-it-later service–undermine it. We like Pocket, and we understand that Mozilla needs to make money to stay alive, but these forced changes end up being annoying. People shouldn’t be forced to use about:config if they want to disable them.

Unfortunately, Firefox is still behind Chrome, Edge, and Safari in critical ways. It doesn’t offer the same multi-process architecture and security sandboxing features other browsers offer. The long-delayed Electrolysis project, which will add multi-process features, is still unfinished. This makes the browser less responsive, especially on CPUs with multiple cores, and means Firefox is less protected against security vulnerabilities. Firefox is also consistently the slowest browser in benchmarks.

That said, Firefox is still the most customizable of the lot. Its add-on framework is the most powerful. For example, you can’t easily get tree-style tabs in a vertical sidebar on Chrome, Edge, or Safari–but you can do this on Firefox by quickly installing an add-on. If there’s something you can’t do with a Chrome extension, you can probably do it with a Firefox add-on. Though a lot of options are available in about:config, so in some cases, you may not even need an add-on. Of course, most people don’t need these powerful customization options. But if you do, Firefox is the place to get them.

Mozilla is currently working on a new add-on framework for Firefox that will be more Chrome-like, so it remains to be seen if Firefox will stay this customizable. Mozilla does promise that it will extend the add-on framework to allow popular add-ons to continue to function, even if they couldn’t on Chrome. There’s reason for some optimism here, but we wouldn’t use Firefox ourselves until Electrolysis is done.

Benchmarked: Which Browsers Are the Fastest?

We know people like seeing raw benchmarks, so we chose to benchmark the latest browsers on both Windows 10’s Anniversary Update and macOS Sierra.

Just keep in mind: Benchmarks don’t tell the entire story.  Modern browsers are all within spitting distance of each other, and a browser might underperform on benchmarks but perform better in day-to-day use. Features like Google Instant or Chrome’s pre-rendering will make a browser faster in day-to-day use, but won’t show up in benchmarks, for example. So we don’t recommend choosing your browser based on benchmarks alone.

Raw Benchmark Scores: Windows 10 Anniversary Update

On Windows 10, Chrome appears to be the fastest browser with Edge in second place. Edge does pull ahead of Chrome on the Octane 2.0 benchmark, however. Firefox is consistently in last place.

Jetstream 1.1 (Bigger Scores Are Better)

  1. Chrome 53: 207.81
  2. Microsoft Edge 38: 201.14
  3. Firefox 49: 167.10

Kraken 1.1 (Smaller Times Are Better)

  1. Chrome 53: 861.9ms
  2. Microsoft Edge 38: 1082.6ms
  3. Firefox 49: 1174.9ms

Octane 2.0 (Bigger Scores Are Better)

  1. Microsoft Edge 38: 35326
  2. Chrome 53: 34107
  3. Firefox 49: 30987

Raw Benchmark Scores: macOS Sierra

On macOS Sierra, Chrome appears to be the fastest browser with Safari in second place. Firefox is consistently in last place.

Jetstream 1.1 (Bigger Scores Are Better)

  1. Chrome 53: 135.47
  2. Safari 10: 99.407
  3. Firefox 49: 95.411

Kraken 1.1 (Smaller Times Are Better)

  1. Chrome 53: 1297.6ms
  2. Safari 10: 1299.6ms
  3. Firefox 49: 1534.6ms

Octane 2.0 (Bigger Scores Are Better)

  1. Chrome 53: 22978
  2. Safari 10: 22084
  3. Firefox 49: 21643

No one browser will be on top forever. The browser wars will continue, and competition is constantly making every browser better. Competition is forcing Google to improve Chrome’s battery life, Mozilla to make Firefox multi-process, and Microsoft and Apple to keep improving Edge and Safari to keep improving their browsers with new features.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 10/24/16
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