Update

Windows 10 review: It's familiar, it's powerful, but the Edge browser falls short

Microsoft has listened, and Windows 10 debuts with compelling new features—Cortana, Task View, a familiar Start menu—well worth the upgrade.

At a Glance
  • Microsoft Windows 10

    PCWorld Rating
Page 6 of 11

The Edge browser isn’t fully baked

Editor’s Note: This section now reflects performance testing performed on Windows 10.0.

Windows 10 also introduces Microsoft Edge, a browser that Microsoft has touted as the answer to the demands of the modern Web.

When I initially wrote our review, I had very mixed feelings about Edge, both aesthetically and functionally.  still do. Part of the issue, for me, is that Edge doesn’t feel fully finished. And it’s not, clearly, as support for Firefox-style extensions won’t arrive until later this fall. That means Edge has some breathing room, though, as Microsoft can either tweak its functionality or let third-party developers step in. 

windows 10 edge new tab Mark Hachman

I just don’t love the design aesthetic of Edge.

To begin with, Edge’s UI looks spartan even compared to Chrome. When you start Edge or load a new tab, you have a choice of loading a bare search bar, or a bar accompanied by a few icons of frequently-accessed pages, or a bar surrounded by content from MSN. There’s something industrial and lifeless about it all. Even switching over to the “dark theme,” accessible via the Settings menu, doesn’t do it for me.  Heck, there’s no default homepage (or button) unless you dive down deep into the advanced Settings menu and add one. 

Those Settings are worth poking through, by the way. Edge loads Flash by default, which you can toggle off. Do Not Track privacy requests are off by default. Pop-ups are blocked. And there are some other very nice features – pre-loading Web pages, password management, and caret browsing – which are worth a look.

We tested Edge both with Build 10240 of the Insider track as well as the “release” version of the code, Windows 10.0. What we found was interesting.

In both code bases, I surfed to several random Web pages, using The San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate.com site and others as test beds. I turned off all plug-ins in Chrome, and measured the time before I could scroll down and “read” the page. With the preview code, I found Google’s Chrome browser considerably more responsive, loading pages in under 8 seconds, while Edge took about 23 seconds or so. I then repeated the test the week before the launch, with random pages from SFGate, PCMag.com and Salon.com. Only the Salon page loaded significantly faster on Chrome: 5.0 seconds versus 8.3 seconds for Edge. Otherwise, they were roughly comparable.

On July 30, I tested it with Windows 10 Pro Build 10240 installation that I hadn’t updated yet. Edge loaded pages, on average, in about 10 seconds Chrome, in about 4.8 seconds. I then switched to a Windows 10 Home machine running Windows 10.0. 

Here, Edge loaded pages in an acceptable 4.3 seconds or so. I found the browsing experience perfectly fine—except when I tried Chrome, it loaded pages on an average of 2.2 seconds or so. That’s nearly half the time. That ratio held up using pages from CNN.com and other sites.

I also reran a “stress test” I had performed, using 30 tabs from all sorts of media-rich Web sites. Under my previous tests using an Insider Build 10240 build,  Edge tabs hung, stuttered, and became unresponsive, pegging a Core i5-based HP Spectre x360 at 98% CPU utilization and 97% of the available memory. Using the same tabs, Chrome hit 59% to 70% CPU, and 78% memory utilization. When I re-ran the test several days later, Edge loaded 22 tabs, then crashed. 

Under Windows 10.0, I experienced a similar slowdown using Windows 10 Home, consuming 99 percent CPU and 90 percent of the available memory. The system was virtually unresponsive. Chrome consumed 66 percent of the CPU, and 90 percent of the memory. Edge also nearly locked up after 25 tabs, but then recovered.

From a performance perspective, I would agree that Edge has improved, especially in page-loading times. But Chrome still appears to be a better browser. Edge may indeed be “blazing fast” on the benchmarks, but I browse Web pages, not benchmarks.

From a feature perspective, however, Edge is more competitive.

Cortana’s also built into Edge, although she’s only there if you want her. You can highlight a word or phrase, right-click, and ask Cortana. A sidebar will slide in from the right, essentially a small Web page with a fuller explanation. Microsoft’s tried this trick before with Office, and it’s a useful tool.

Reading List is, too. By clicking the star icon after the page loads, you can save it to a Pocket-like Reading List for later. About the only thing I’d like to see here is either RSS integration, or a right-click option to save a page you haven’t clicked yet to the list.

windows 10 edge cortana Mark Hachman

Adding Cortana, however, is a welcome feature. 

I’m less impressed with Edge’s ability to mark up a webpage. Microsoft pitched this feature as something akin to a personalized Web, but it isn’t. Clicking the icon that looks like an overly abstract pencil in a box allows you to add notes, squiggles, even text to a webpage. The problem is that the result is stored as an image file for OneNote or other apps. So who cares? You can take a screenshot of any Web page with any browser in the world, save it to Paint, and then mark it up. I haven’t seen Edge crash when using Web notes after Windows 10.0 released, however.

Edge’s Reading Mode, which strips the unnecessary cruft out of a webpage, is a plus for Edge. For a visually distracting page with ads and popups all over the place, it’s nice. You can’t load a page in Reading Mode without viewing the page as it was originally laid out, however, a nod to advertisers and the sites that depend on them (cough).

(Note that Windows 10 actually includes two browsers: Internet Explorer 11 is still present, just hidden away. If you’d like to use it, go to All Apps>Windows Accessories>Internet Explorer and load it up.)

Edge will undoubtedly improve over time. But Chrome fans would always joke that Internet Explorer was “the browser that downloads Chrome.” Right now, Edge looks to be more of the same.

Next: Apps, Part 1: Continuum and OneDrive

At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Windows 10 drives the PC platform forward with its mix of powerful, productive features. Only a few bugs and design issues mar its shine.

    Pros

    • Free upgrade for Windows 7, Windows 8.1 PC owners
    • Cortana digital assistant is potentially powerful
    • Start menu takes best of Windows 7, Windows 8

    Cons

    • Still some obvious bugs at time of review
    • Thematically, some apps are just plain dull
    • Microsoft Edge browser underperforms competition
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