The web browser is by far the most important piece of software on your PC. Unless you’re at a workstation crunching numbers or editing Hollywood blockbusters, you probably spend the majority of your computer time staring at a webpage.
That’s why it’s important to have the best tool for the job. So much has changed since our last browser showdown in early 2019. Not only is Internet Explorer out, but classic Edge is about to be replaced by Chromium-based Edge. The latter is not officially a part of Windows yet, but you can already download it manually to replace the original (and basically terrible) Edge. For the PCWorld browser showdown 2020 edition, we’ve dumped classic Edge and replaced it with the stable version of Chromium Edge.
There are tons of browser options out there but real choice is limited. With Edge now using Chromium, three of our four browsers in this showdown are based on Google’s open-source project. Even the two most talked about “alternative” browsers, Brave and Vivaldi, are based on Chromium.
We won’t get into the argument here, but suffice to say, from our point of view this is bad. The web thrives when multiple engines adhere to independent web standards, not when developers target a single browser engine. We’re not quite returning to something like the age of Internet Explorer 6. Apple’s Safari browser (based on Webkit) is really the only choice on iOS, for example. Still, it’s concerning.
Let’s take a look at the four major options—Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Opera—to see how they stack up in 2020. Last time around, Opera topped our charts as the best browser to get. This year, Edge (yes, Edge) is our top pick, but don’t get too excited. You’re not losing much, if anything, if you stick with Chrome instead. Read on to find out why.
(If none of these internet browsers strike your fancy, head over to PCWorld’s roundup of 10 intriguing alternative browsers.)
Browsers in brief
A perennial favorite, Google Chrome tops the metrics charts of both StatCounter and NetMarketShare by a huge margin. Google’s browser has built a dedicated fan base thanks to its massive extensions library, and the fact that it just gets out of your way to put the focus on web content, not the browser’s trimmings.
Chrome isn’t quite as simplistic as it once was, but it’s still very easy to use. There isn’t much to Chrome except a huge URL bar—known as the OmniBar—plus a space for extensions, a bookmarking icon, tabs, and that’s it.
Yet Google still finds a way to hide all kinds of features inside the browser, including deep integration with Google’s services. It can sync bookmarks, passwords, open tabs, and more across devices. Chrome also has multi-account support for family PCs, a built-in PDF viewer, built-in Google Translate functionality, a task manager, and the always handy Paste and go context menu item.
If there’s one complaint people have about Chrome it’s that the browser eats up available memory. Our browser testing in 2015 showed that Chrome was definitely a memory beast, but these days the beast is much more domesticated.
Anyone who loves extensibility but wants greater privacy should look at the open-source Mozilla Firefox. It’s also the only non-Chromium option in this round-up. Firefox paved the way for other browsers to become extensible, and its extensions architecture offers plenty of choice for users. Firefox also has a sync feature to see open and recent tabs, browsing history, and bookmarks across multiple devices.
Firefox 74 is an excellent browser, and continues the Quantum era that started with version 57. Quantum brought a new and updated design with refreshed icons, and a new library section that houses your history, pocket reading list, downloads, and synced tabs. Firefox also has a task manager, screenshot tool, and the ability to use Windows 10’s native sharing tool.
Where Firefox has really stood out in recent years is with the browser’s incognito mode. All browsers have a private mode that lets you browse without any of your activity being logged in your saved history. But most of the time these private modes still allow websites to track your activity for that specific session. Firefox does away with this by including ad and tracker blockers when using incognito mode. It also supports an optional Facebook Container extension that prevents the social network from tracking you across the web.
Before Chrome, Opera was a popular choice among power users.
Opera is really one of the more under-rated browsers around. It comes with a built-in VPN—though we don’t recommend using it. It also has built-in ad and tracker blocking, a snapshot tool, a unit converter for time zones and currency, and the mobile versions of Opera come with a built-in cryptocurrency wallet.
Opera also has its own take on the social sidebar with one-click access to services such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Telegram. Like Chrome and Firefox, Opera also has cross-device syncing features.
Microsoft Edge is dead, long live Microsoft Edge. Edge is now a Chromium-based browser. The new version isn’t bundled with Windows 10 at this writing, but installing it from Microsoft’s site will automatically replace legacy Edge with the new Chromium browser on the desktop.
Performance with Chromium Edge is on par with Chrome and Opera, and it also has similar functionality. That means extensions from the Chrome Web Store are available, but not by default. As with classic Edge, extensions come from the Microsoft Store, but it can be set to install Chrome extensions by typing edge://extensions into the URL bar and pressing Enter. Next, click the Allow extensions from other stores button, select Allow in the pop-up window that appears, and then visit the Chrome Web Store and use it just like on Chrome.
We expect Microsoft to continue to push the Microsoft Store with extensions for Edge. These efforts are most likely in vain, however, as the Chrome Web Store is available to Edge users if they want it, and developers have little incentive to add their work to Microsoft’s store.
As with other Chromium browsers, Edge can sync open tabs, bookmarks, saved passwords, and browsing history across multiple devices. Currently, Chromium Edge lacks many of the Windows 10 features the old version had, such as integration with OneNote and Cortana. Microsoft does plan on bringing out a new feature soon called Collections that can “collect, organize, share, and export web content to Word or Excel.”
Right now, Edge is fairly plain, but that’s normal for a new browser. As Chromium Edge matures we expect to see Microsoft extend the browser’s capabilities.
Read on for our benchmark results and our pick for best browser.