The best web browsers for 2021

by
0 comment

Unlike choosing MacOS, Windows, or Chrome OS, where choices are mutually exclusive, switching between web browsers isn’t quite so jarring. You can download and install any browser you choose, but which is best? And which is the best browser for privacy?

To help you decide on the best internet browser, we grabbed the latest browsers and put them through their paces. Even if some of them could use a complete overhaul, these options are your best chance for a great online experience.

The best web browsers at a glance

The best web browser: Google Chrome

Google Chrome 88

Chrome is ubiquitous — and for good reason. With a robust feature set, full Google Account integration, a thriving extension ecosystem (available through the Chrome Web Store), and a reliable suite of mobile apps, it’s easy to see why Chrome is the most popular web browser.

Chrome boasts some of the best mobile integration available. Served up on every major platform, keeping data in sync is easy, making browsing between multiple devices a breeze. Sign in to your Google account on one device, and all Chrome bookmarks, saved data, and preferences come right along. Even active extensions stay in sync across devices.

Chrome’s password manager can automatically generate and recommends strong passwords when a user creates a new account on a webpage. The search bar, or Omnibox, provides “rich results” comprised of useful answers. Favorites are more accessible as well, and they’re manageable on the New Tab page.

Other updates include a Dark Mode for Windows and MacOS, better New Tab customization and tab group creation, tab hover cards, and an in-browser warning if your password was discovered in a data breach. Android users will appreciate the Phone Hub for linking and monitor your phone. There’s also the ability to quiet notifications so websites don’t bombard you with requests to enable in-browser notifications.

What’s the bottom line? The Google Chrome browser is fast, free, and even better-looking than before. 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 belongs, privacy and security controls are laid out in plain English, and the browser just gets out of your way. While it can be a little RAM hungry at times, it’s still the best browser download for the average user.

The best Chrome alternative: Mozilla Firefox

Mozilla Firefox 85 Mozilla Firefox 85

Firefox comes in a close second — a very close second. The Mozilla Firefox browser takes real strides to make its browser a truly modern way to surf from site to site, thanks to efforts like its upgrade to Firefox Quantum, its virtual reality-based alternative Firefox Reality, and password-free browsing.

It wasn’t too long ago that Mozilla rebuilt the browser’s interface, offering a cleaner, more modern take on what a web browser should be. The changes weren’t just skin-deep, however. There’s some impressive engineering going on behind the scenes.

For example, Firefox Quantum is designed to leverage multicore processors in ways that its competitors just aren’t doing. It’s not going to make a huge difference in your day-to-day browsing, but Mozilla hopes this design will give Firefox Quantum an edge moving forward. By engineering for the future now, Firefox Quantum is in a better position to take advantage of quicker processors as they emerge.

More recent updates include better privacy protections with SmartBlock anti-tracker support, improved password syncing across devices, better readability, integrated breach alerts, and a Protections Dashboard that provides a summary of how Firefox protects your privacy behind the scenes. WebRender improves the graphics performance on Windows PCs with Intel and AMD CPUs.

Beneath those changes, Firefox remains the comfortable, familiar standby. It’s a capable browser with a deep catalog of extensions and user interface customization. While managing settings across platforms isn’t as seamless as Google Chrome, the mobile browser app lets you share bookmarks between devices when using a free Firefox account.

There’s a bit of a fringe benefit, too. Since 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.

Overall, Firefox is more privacy-centric than Chrome and comparably fast, but its feature set isn’t quite as expansive elsewhere. If you like the sound of this, download the Firefox browser today.

The most innovative web browser: Opera

Opera 74

Another venerable browser and popular alternative, the Opera browser shares much of Chrome’s DNA. Both browsers are built on Google’s open-source 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 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 introduced a predictive website preload ability, and an Instant Search feature isolates search results in their separate window while the current page fades into the background, letting users more easily focus on the research task at hand.

You can install extensions from the Opera Add-ons store, which are just like Chrome extensions. Similar to Google’s browser, you’ll find useful tools like Giphy, Amazon Assistant, Avast Online Security, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and more. If Chrome’s wide variety of extensions is important to you, then Opera becomes an intriguing alternative. It might just be one of the best browsers for quickly navigating webpages.

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 that puts all your most frequently visited pages in one place. Google Chrome also does this, but only on a blank new tab. Finally, Opera has a built-in unlimited VPN service, making it a more secure browser option.

The biggest changes came with Opera 60 and Reborn 3, a complete revamp that brought a new borderless design, Web 3 support, and a Crypto Wallet, allowing users to prepare for blockchain-based sites. With version 69, Opera became the first browser with a built-in Twitter tool. Just click the icon on the toolbar, log in to your account, and tweet away right from within the slide-out menu.

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 each day, entirely dependent on your personal preferences — what feels most right for you. The Opera web browser has a unique look and feel, and it combines some of the best features of Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome.

The web browser with the most potential: Microsoft Edge

In response, Microsoft rewrote Edge using the open-source Chromium web browser engine. The new Edge launched on February 5, 2020, as a separate, stand-alone browser that replaced the integrated version. It became part of Windows 10 with the May 2020 update, although you can still download it for Windows 10 builds prior to version 2004.

At first glance, the new Edge browser looks and feels like Google Chrome. It prompts you to import Chrome’s bookmarks toolbar and other settings. This is great if you hated the old Edge browser and want to give Microsoft’s new browser another shot. It also supports Chrome extensions, though the browser leads you to the Microsoft Store for add-ons. You must manually load the Chrome Web Store to install anything not listed in Microsoft’s repository.

However, it’s not Chrome with a Windows 10 theme. Microsoft reportedly disabled many features, including Google’s Safe Browsing API, ad blocking, speech input, Google-centric services, and more. In return, the company worked to optimize Edge and reduce its footprint while continuing to add new, Microsoft-oriented features. Features launching throughout 2021 include the ability to make user-defined tab groups, improved Citations, and more administrator control over the startup procedure.

Microsoft Edge also provides simpler privacy settings and security updates. In Chrome, you merely have separate panels for safe browsing, “do not track” requests, and more. Microsoft Edge provides a more graphically friendly interface, displaying three security levels: Basic, Balanced, and Strict. With Balanced set as the default, many sites request you to disable your pop-up blocker even though one isn’t manually installed. All in all, we’re very optimistic.

Alternative browsers

While the preceding browsers will meet most users’ needs, other alternatives exist for anyone looking for something different. This section is for those who have a more niche preference in web browsers, or want to try something new.

Apple Safari

If you use Apple devices exclusively, Safari is already your default browser. It might not be the fastest browser available — Google Chrome is significantly quicker — but it’s fast enough that your browser won’t feel sluggish. It’s integrated into iOS, iPadOS, and MacOS, and you’ll likely get better battery life thanks to Apple’s in-house optimizations and the underlying hardware.

Safari also focuses a great deal on privacy and security. If you want to minimize how you’re tracked and whether Big Brother is looking over your shoulder, then Safari is a good choice. If you also use an iPhone and/or an iPad, then using Safari on your Mac will make for the most seamless transition between platforms. Open websites on an iPad or iPhone, and they are carried over to MacOS.

Safari is not offered outside the Apple ecosystem.

Vivaldi Browser

The Vivaldi browser is truly 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 choose where your tabs and address bar go and whether 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. Vivaldi 2.0 enhanced the customization features and made them easier to access.

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 standout privacy-enhancing features, like its team-up with DuckDuckGo to make the nontracking search tool the default option when in privacy mode.

Finally, recent updates added more powerful tab management, enhancements like Web Panels that make for smarter browsing, and (as mentioned) even more powerful customization options. Other new updates include a built-in ad blocker, a built-in tracker blocker, a clock in the Status Bar, a new Notes Manager, and a Break Mode for pausing the internet while keeping the browser open.

Brave Browser

One of the most unusual browsers around is Brave — or, perhaps, its Brave’s business model that’s the strangest. Brave blocks all ads on all webpages by default, which makes it arguably the fastest browser around. Ads are a huge portion of how many websites make money — block these ads, and suddenly the most important web financial tool is eliminated.

That’s where the Brave Rewards program comes in. Users receive Basic Attention Tokens (BATs) when they view alternative ads that Brave places in the browsing stream. Users can pass along a portion of their tokens to publishers. As of January 2021, there were over 70,000 websites that supported BAT-based transactions through the Brave browser, including Wikipedia, The Guardian, WikiHow, MacRumors, and more.

What’s in it for users? Simply put, if you’re not waiting for ads to download along with website content, then your web experience will feel much faster. Brave performs no user tracking, making it ideal for private browsing as well.

Tor Browser

The Tor Browser is a version of Firefox that serves one very specific purpose: A simple entry point for The Onion Router, or Tor.

Tor is software combined with an open network aimed at making you invisible by routing your traffic through several anonymous servers. While it’s not foolproof, it’s very difficult for someone to identify you when you’re properly configured and using something like the Tor Browser to surf the web — especially if combined with a VPN.

There are many legitimate uses of the Tor Browser and the Tor network. It’s a good choice for people who live in countries with repressive governments, as well as journalists and activists. The dark web is also one of the destinations for people using Tor, which includes many nefarious and illegal sites.

In any event, if you want to remain completely anonymous while surfing the web, the Tor Browser and network are for you. If you want a more mainstream alternative, Opera includes a VPN component, but it’s far less private.

Internet Explorer

Microsoft’s aging Internet Explorer browser received some improvements over the years, but it’s no longer the default browser on Windows 10, and support for IE 11 is set to end in August 2021. It doesn’t offer much beyond the bare minimum, either. It only exists today because some companies still need it for legacy applications.

Because it’s mostly a forgotten relic, Internet Explorer looks and feels outdated. Open the browser to visit a few sites and you feel like you’re walking through a dusty old ghost town. There is no means to customize the experience and no extensive library of extensions as seen with Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge (Chromium). You can’t mute tabs and you can’t change the default search engine.

Unsurprisingly, legacy support is this browser’s only benefit. Since it’s not front and center like Edge, it’s not in active development. That means no new security features outside traditional software fixes and dated privacy protection. There are, however, options to use a private window, turn on tracking protection, and make Do Not Track requests.

Avast Secure Browser

Avast Secure Browser first arrived as the Opera-based Avast Safezone Browser in 2016 as part of the Avast Antivirus paid bundle. It was revised and rebranded in 2018 as a free stand-alone product based on Chromium. Originally the “SafeZone” aspect kicked in when users visited websites to make purchases or manage money.

Avast Secure Browser provides several built-in tools to protect your data and privacy. These include an anti-phishing module, fingerprinting and online tracking prevention, an ad blocker, and a Webcam Guard tool to control which websites can access your camera. The Hack Check tool will determine if your info was leaked in a data breach.

Avast Secure Browser is a stand-alone download for Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS. The desktop version doesn’t include an integrated VPN but instead directs users to download the company’s separate SecureLine VPN software. The listed Bank Mode — part of the Avast Free Antivirus client — flips on when users load a banking website.

Web browser features — what to look for

Benchmark tests

Notice we don’t include Internet Explorer and Safari in our main comparison. Microsoft’s browser is just old and, as explained above, is used for legacy purposes. Apple’s Safari web browser is not available on Windows, Android, or Chrome OS, so we removed it from our primary list.

Most browsers are compatible with web standards and handle performance with relative ease. A casual user probably won’t notice a difference in the rendering speed between today’s modern browsers, as all six are much faster and leaner than those of a few years ago.

We ran the following benchmarks on a desktop with an Intel Core i9-10900K processor, 64GB of RAM, a 2TB M.2 PCIe NVMe solid-state drive, and Windows 10. All browsers were clean installs of the most current production versions as of July 2021, and all were run at their default settings.

First, JetStream 2 is a JavaScript and WebAssembly benchmark. It tests how quickly a web browser can start and execute code, and how smoothly it runs. Higher numbers are better.

Chrome 92 Opera 77 Edge 92 Firefox 90
Score: 180.763 176.121 173.059 111.019

Notice how all three Chromium-based browsers outperform Firefox. In fact, there’s very little difference between them, while Firefox’s performance is quite poor by comparison.

The next test we ran was Speedometer 2.0. It measures how responsive a browser is to web applications by repeatedly adding a large number of items to a to-do list. Higher numbers are better.

Chrome 92 Opera 77 Firefox 90 Edge 92
Score: 173 161.6 161.5 120

Here, Google Chrome led the pack, with Opera and Firefox running nearly neck to neck. Edge came in last here with a very low score.

Finally, we tested how much RAM each browser uses, both with no tabs open and then with 10 tabs open accessing the same popular sites. We made sure that each browser had no extensions running, and we let each browser settle in before looking at its memory use. For the test with 10 tabs open, we averaged memory use when all of the tabs were first opened and then five minutes later to account for any variability.

It’s not a scientific test, but it should be sound enough to give you an idea of which browsers are the most and least efficient in terms of taking up your RAM. We found Opera to use the least amount of RAM when first opened, while Firefox used the least with all 10 tabs loaded (by a very narrow margin over Opera). Chrome came in third, while Edge was an outlier with significant memory use when first started and the most with all tabs open.

Security and privacy

The most valuable tool for secure and private browsing is user discretion, especially when you consider that every web browser has encountered security breaches in the past. In particular, Internet Explorer and Chrome’s reputations for protecting users’ security and privacy credentials is spotty at best.

Chrome, Safari, Vivaldi, Opera, and Firefox all rely on Google’s Safe Browsing API to detect potentially dangerous sites. Thanks to constant updates, Mozilla, Chrome, and Opera all make constant security improvements. Microsoft disabled this API in Edge.

All browsers offer a private session option, too. Private sessions prevent the storage of browsing history, temporary internet files, and cookies. Browser support for Do Not Track remains spotty.

Mozilla made some strides in differentiating itself from the others with a real focus on privacy in recent years. It even debuted a Facebook Container in 2018 to make it harder for the social network to harvest user information.

Frequently asked questions

Do you need to use a VPN when browsing the web? 

You do not have to use a VPN when browsing the internet. However, a VPN can be a good tool to use as it protects your privacy and data by creating a secure and encrypted data tunnel between your browser and a VPN server. In turn, that server creates a secure and encrypted connection between it and the target website.

As a result, the website can’t identify you personally, nor can it see your true geological location or internet address. Not even your ISP knows where you’re surfing or the device you use with a VPN enabled. Some VPN services are free while others require a subscription. We have a list of the current best VPN services.

Which browser is most used in the world? 

Google Chrome leads the web browser market with a 63.63% share, according to Statcounter. Apple Safari follows with 19.37%, Mozilla Firefox at 3.65%, Microsoft Edge (Chromium) at 3.24%, and Opera at 2.16%. Internet Explorer is still in use with 0.81%, while Microsoft Edge “Legacy” is fading out at 0.32%.

What are the best ad blockers to use for your browser? 

We have a guide on the best ad blockers for Google Chrome, but here’s a short list:

  • AdBlock and AdBlock Plus
  • AdGuard (Chrome only)
  • CyberSec by NordVPN
  • Ghostery
  • Poper Blocker (Chrome only)
  • Stands Fair AdBlocker (Chrome only)
  • uBlock Origin (Chrome and Firefox only)

What is browser fingerprinting and how can you prevent it? 

Websites want to know everything about you: Your tastes, your habits, and where you like to surf. When you load a website, it quietly runs scripts in the background that collect information about you and your device. The operating system, the web browser, all installed extensions, your time zone — all of this information is strung together to create a “fingerprint” which in turn can be used to trace you across the internet via cross-site tracking.

Avast provides a detailed explanation and outlines various forms of fingerprinting. For example, the “canvas” method forces the browser to draw an image or text in the background, without the user knowing, to determine the operating system, web browser, graphics card, installed drivers, and the current font style. Device fingerprinting determines all internal and external device components.

As your fingerprint is tracked across the internet, this “profile” can be sold to data brokers, who then resell the data to advertisers. It’s a more silent means of gathering information about you versus using cookies that require your consent. The problem is, browser fingerprinting is still perfectly legal.

The best way to prevent browser fingerprinting is by randomizing and generalizing data. Third-party software like Avast AntiTrack does this by inserting “fake” data when website scripts try to collect your information. However, this tool allows scripts to continue running in the background, so the website doesn’t “break.”

Many browsers offer some type of anti-fingerprinting protection. These include Avast Secure Browser (see above), Brave Browser (randomization), Mozilla Firefox (blocks fingerprinting scripts), and Tor Browser (generalization).

Related Posts

Leave a Comment