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Best web browsers 2018: Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Opera go head-to-head

We take a look at the performance and features of the big four internet browsers to see which one will serve you best.

pcw browsers primary

The web browser is by far the most important piece of software on your PC—at least for most users. Unless you’re at a workstation crunching numbers or editing the next Star Wars you probably spend the majority of your computer time staring at a web app or a website.

That’s why it’s important to make sure you’ve always got the best tool for the job, and in 2018 that does not include Internet Explorer. If you still want the built-in option for Windows, that would be Edge—but it’s hard to stick strictly with Edge when you’ve got other choices including Google’s Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera.

Let’s take a look at the four major (and modern) browsers to see how they stack up in mid-2018. A few things have changed since we looked at the top browsers just a few short months ago. Microsoft released the April 2018 Update in April, and in our tests it seemed to have a significant impact on browser results.

(If none of these internet browsers strike your fancy, head over to PCWorld’s roundup of 10 intriguing alternative browsers.)

Browsers in brief

Chrome

chromelogo Google

The current people’s champion, 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. This allows you to sync your bookmarks, passwords, open tabs, and more across devices. Chrome also has multi-account support if you need it on a family machine, 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 a few years later it fared pretty well in our tests.

Firefox

mozilla firefox logo Mozilla

For users who love extensibility but want greater privacy than a Google-made browser can provide, the open source Mozilla Firefox is a great choice. Firefox paved the way for other browsers to become extensible, and Firefox’s new extensions architecture will hopefully help its catalog match Chrome’s Web Store one day. Firefox also has a sync feature to see your open and recent tabs, browsing history, and bookmarks across all your devices.

Firefox 57 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. There was also a handy screenshot 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.

Opera

operabrowser Opera

Before Chrome, Opera was a popular choice among power users—a position former Opera CEO Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner is trying to take back with Vivaldi. Opera today is really one of the more under-rated browsers around. It’s based on the same core technologies as Chrome (the Blink rendering engine and the JavaScript V8 engine), which means it can run many Chrome extensions—there’s even an extension for installing extensions from the Chrome Web Store.

Opera’s also got a few unusual features like Turbo, which saves on load times and bandwidth by compressing webpages on Opera’s servers. It’s also got a nice security feature called domain highlighting that hides most of the URL so that users can see easily and clearly if they’re on Google.com or google.com.scam.com—with scam.com being the actual website.

More recently, Opera introduced 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 its own cross-device syncing feature.

Microsoft Edge

microsotedge Microsoft

Microsoft Edge is still a work in progress. You’ll see below that its performance is really great, but that’s not all there is to the browser in 2018. The Edge extensions library is small but growing, its sync functionality is still restricted to favorites and reading list, and it doesn’t get updates nearly fast enough, though that may change now that Microsoft can update Edge separately from Windows.

Despite its shortcomings, Edge has several helpful features that will appeal to some. Edge is deeply integrated with Windows 10’s inking capabilities, as well as with OneNote, making it easy to clip a webpage, annotate it, and save it to a notebook. Cortana is also a big part of Edge. You can use Microsoft’s digital assistant to quickly search for information, compare prices, or get a quick calculation.

Like Chrome, Edge has a casting feature. There’s also a nifty set-aside tabs feature to stash a collection of websites, the ability to read and annotate ebooks (great for tablets) and PDFs, easily pin websites to the taskbar, edit URLs in your favorites, browse in full screen, see and manage website permissions, a “read aloud” accessibility feature for web content, an MSN.com-ish new-tab page. Perhaps the best recent feature, however, is the “Continue on PC” option that lets you push webpages to your PC from your phone with the appropriate apps installed.

In the April 2018 Update, Edge got some small but significant feature boosts including the ability to mute tabs and automatic form fill, an updated flyout menu, and clutter-free printing that carves out all the web ads and other detritus you really don’t need on the printed page. Edge also boosted the ebook reading experience with support for narration in EPUB files and improved note taking.

Perhaps the most important feature, however, is an under-the-hood improvement that lays the groundwork for Progressive Web App (PWA) support. This is basically the latest approach to making web apps behave more like their desktop counterparts.

Finally, Windows 10 Pro users have a security improvement called Windows Defender Application Guard, which is a sandboxed version of Edge for greater security—for more on the current state of Edge check out our Windows 10 April 2018 Update Review.

Read on for our benchmark results and our pick for best browser.

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