Which Browser Should You Use?

browsers, testing
Illustration by Papercut.fr
Everyone needs a Web browser, but with so many different ones available, deciding which one is best for you can be hard. Are you looking for something blazing fast? Or is strong security your top priority? Or do you need lots and lots of add-ons?

We examined the latest versions of six widely used desktop and laptop browsers--Chrome 17, Firefox 10, Internet Explorer 9, Opera 11.61, RockMelt 0.9, and Safari 5.1.2--paying special attention to such variables as speed, safety, extra features, and extensions. (To download any of these six browsers, visit our handy downloads page. For our appraisals of five popular mobile browsers for the Android operating system--Chrome for Android Beta, Dolphin Browser HD, Firefox for Android, Opera Mini, and Opera Mobile--see "The Best Browsers for Your Android Phone." And for advice on how to get the most from your laptop/desktop version of Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Safari, see "21 Ways to Buff Up Your Browser.") Among the PC browser contenders, Google's Chrome version 17 narrowly captured the crown as the top performer overall in our tests, thanks to speedy Java­Script rendering and page load times, excellent security tools, and a respectable array of add-ons and features. Mozilla's Firefox 10 finished a close second, processing HTML 5 graphics faster than any other browser and sporting a huge library of add-ons to make browsing easier and more fun.

RockMelt 0.9, the browser built on Google's Chromium framework that comes integrated with Facebook, was the surprise third-place finisher. We had expected the browser's Facebook integration and social-reading sidebar to slow its performance; but in our hands-on testing, RockMelt worked faster than most of its rivals, and it permits you to share links and chat with friends on Facebook without having to go directly to the social network.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 earned a rather low score for its features: It doesn't offer themes for your browser, and you can't sync favorites unless you use Windows Live Mesh. Nevertheless, it offers more security options than most competing browsers, and it processed HTML 5 code quickly.

Opera 11.61 distinguished itself from its rivals with blazing page-load speeds and a great mobile browser, but it came up short in HTML 5 processing.

Safari 5.1.2 didn't perform especially well on any of our benchmarks; its only noteworthy redeeming quality, particularly for Windows users, is the solid security it provides.
While reading our assessments, bear in mind that every browser behaves differently depending on the hardware setup, the Internet connection, and the modifications you make to your browser (with add-ons, the amount of space allotted for cache, and the like).

Google Chrome 17

Overall Best

Pros:
• Lets you close slow or frozen pages without restarting the browser
• Sandboxed design helps prevent malware infections
Cons:
• No integrated RSS reader
• Plain design

Add-ons for Chrome 17 include popular mobile games.
Chrome wins our top spot thanks to its ease of use, numerous extensions and add-ons, and superb performance. It may not be perfect for everyone, but Chrome is a well-rounded browser that should meet most people's needs.

Chrome's minimalist design isn't eye-catching, but its lean toolbar leaves more room for viewing Web pages. And what Chrome lacks in flashiness, it certainly makes up for in performance. Google's browser really shone in our JavaScript test, far outdistancing its competitors. Many popular websites--including Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube--use JavaScript because it makes those sites more immediately responsive, and JavaScript-heavy pages behave better in Chrome. The browser also performed admirably in our speed test, fully loading an image-heavy page in just under 4 seconds. This lighting-fast speed comes from a feature new to Chrome 17 (released in early February) that lets the browser start loading the URL you type in the address bar be­­fore you press.

To complement its im­­pressive performance, Goo­gle's browser has some worthy features that others lack. For starters, Chrome runs tabs as separate processes--so if one of them crashes, the entire browser doesn't go down with it. If your online wanderings take you to a foreign-language website, Chrome will recognize the language and offer to translate it for you in a matter of seconds. The translations, powered by Google Translate, aren't exceptionally accurate, but they can at least give you a basic idea of what the page is about. Chrome is also one of the most secure browsers on this list, because it is sandboxed: The plug-ins that Chrome uses access information only within the browser itself and can't read information from other areas on your computer. Sandboxing prevents malware that uses plug-in exploits from spreading via Chrome through your PC.

Owners of smartphones or tablets running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) will appreciate the ability to sync their Chrome bookmarks and Web history to those mobile devices.

You can customize Chrome with Web apps, themes, and extensions to suit your preferences. Chrome's built-in Web store simplifies searching for and installing browser add-ons. The add-ons range from simple (an Evernote plug-in, for example), to complex (such as full versions of Angry Birds and Bastion). And unlike with Firefox, you don't need to restart your browser every time you install a new extension or app.

On the downside, Chrome lacks an integrated RSS reader, which means that you'll have to come up with your own approach to handling multiple RSS feeds if you subscribe to more than one.

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