I Spent Four Months Studying Browsers. Here’s What I Found.

Photo by Nikolay Tarashchenko on Unsplash

I spent 4 months on my 2019 13-inch MacBook Pro dedicated to one browser at a time for each month. I tried Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Opera. I gave an honest effort on both my laptop and their corresponding mobile browsers on an iPhone Xs. Here is what I came up with.

Let me start by saying I primarily use my laptop for business. I run my company via this single MacBook Pro. I’ve always had a saying, technology is either a toy or a tool but the choice is up to the user. I’m a tool person. I don’t get into computer games, I’m not big on social media, (I do not and will not have a Facebook account), and I try to live my personal life offline as much as I can.

This study was done through my own interest to try and use one tool for both work and personal use and transition between those uses seamlessly.

Some Info That Matters

My company has been an 11 year customer of Google’s G-Suite. This has had an effect on some of my study and you’ll read why below. However, during December 2019 into January 2020, my company migrated away from Google’s G-Suite and to Microsoft 365… also important.

As a company we all use MacBooks… and 90% of the employees have iPhone’s. I have run with both iOS and Android and so I have extensive experience with both. However, I have decided to stick with iOS for the long-haul and will not return to an Android mobile device.

I am also aware I can use different browsers for different things but I’m very much a utilitarian. I’m always going to look for the one tool that does a job well enough to fit the vast majority of my needs so that it’s the consistent and only tool I need to go to.

Global Usage

Google Chrome

The shear speed of Google Chrome, it’s collaborative integration with other Google products and services, and it’s willingness to play nice with others has made it the leader in web browsing. Google challenges it’s own security through a contest to which they pay-out if someone can hack into it and then tell them how they did it.

As a long time Google user I have been using Chrome for years. If you work with G-Suite it is probably the best browser you can use especially as it pertains to Google Hangouts or what is now Hangouts Meet on the business side. Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, when choosing to make available offline, store things in the browser memory. This has helped in presentations at times especially when I ran with a Google Pixelbook for 9 months as my main machine.

The mobile browser is fast and easy to use. Chrome can be downloaded on iOS, Android, MacOS, Windows, and more. I never used a password app such as LastPass or OnePassword; I just always let Chrome do the heavy lifting on that especially having it suggest more complex passwords. And, Chrome has more extensions than any other browser out there. It is, as you can see from the stats above, the most widely adopted browser.

Here’s the problem. It’s a RAM hog and drains batteries 40% more than any other browser. As it pertains to the rest of the browsers you’ll read about below, one thing was constant. They were all at least 30% better on battery over Chrome.

This alone was the biggest reason I chose to try other browsers and what led me to this study. I am very mobile at all times. I had heard from various sources online about Chrome’s memory and battery issues. In addition, I did not think it was a bad thing to have a little less Google in my life given how much I had with them in my digital life. I, from a personal perspective, began moving away from many things Google such as Gmail and Drive for personal things.

Opera

So I decided to try Opera after asking my friend, (and CTO), what he liked using. He mentioned Opera. He was mostly using it for personal use given our company was on G-Suite, Chrome was his preference for that purpose.

Initial thoughts were that I liked the embedded side panel which allowed me to jump to things quickly. It was fast, better on battery, and after a little learning curve, (a solid day), I was able to know my way around this browser and it’s settings pretty well. Built in VPN was nice and I grew fond of the embedded news feature as I’m a bit of a news junky. The built-in messenger would be cool, I guess, but I feel that between the 10 million chat apps out there this could become a distraction quickly. I am not on Facebook or anything owned by Facebook so therefore WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger were not options. I linked Telegram but, again, it got annoying and distracting while working.

I liked dark mode, the browser backgrounds were plenty and a nice change of pace. The sync between devices was well done and the Opera Flow was actually cool. While I did not have the need that often to send files between my laptop of mobile device, it came in handy a few times. Ad blocker, instant search, all good to have but can be found in other browsers as well. After awhile, while the sidebar menu was handy, I also became annoyed with it. It was strange because it is useful but I often felt like it was additional clutter.

G-Suite applications worked just OK on Opera. Hangouts Meet worked but it was not as stable as with Google Chrome. I’m not big on extensions but a few I used with Chrome, (very G-Suite focused), either were not available or just did not work the same. I only ran into a few sites where performing a task like filling out forms was an issue with Opera and was not supported on that site.

I think Opera is a great personal browser alternative if you want something different. I did not find a place where it exceeded others so I did not stick with it but overall I kind of liked it.

Safari

Given that I’ve been a MacBook user for a very long time, Safari is the natural choice to pair with the device. After all, it is Apple’s browser.

And, so, as you would expect it pairs best between MacOS and iOS devices. It is a very natural browser to use on Apple devices. On MacOS you can change your default browser to something else. However, this is not the case on iOS so, in some capacity, you’re going to be forced onto Safari on your phone or iPad.

One of the things I thought would be an issue, because of lack of extensions, but quickly grew on me was the viewing space. Safari is very minimalist and I feel like I get a lot of viewing room on the screen. Especially if you don’t use the bookmarks bar, you get a solid half-inch more viewing space compared to the tabs on other browsers. Some of this might also be having come to Safari from Opera where I had this left hand navigation bar in addition to the top tabs, bookmarks, etc.

While not terrible, it does not play well with G-Suite. During my time giving Safari a solid run, Google made the announcement Hangouts video calling was now supported on Safari. I guess you could say it worked, but not well. I had trouble getting audio to work at all and when I finally did, the call crashed twice on me. Thankfully I do this testing on internal calls before trying with a client. So it worked but was not stable. However, it was also new… like only a few hours new.

Security seemed fine and I liked that if Safari recommended a complex password and when I chose it, the next time I went to that site on my phone Safari remembered it through Keychain. While other browsers do this, I had some issues with it on both Opera and Chrome whereas it was very seamless with Safari meaning it worked within seconds.

But even in 2019 I was still coming across some sites where certain things did not work properly and upon further investigation or help from support I’d get the, “We don’t support Safari” answer. So it has it’s limits as it pertained to auto-fill on forms or ads crashing on some site causing it to get stuck.

If you’re an all Apple user, and browsing is not too business related, Safari is hard to beat given the perfect sync between devices.

Firefox

While Firefox has been around for a long time, (6 years older than Chrome), I have not used it for quite some time.

Wow how things change.

I left Firefox for last because I feel it is the new best. It’s kind of the best of all worlds but one of the things that caught my attention, as I did not know they had this, was additional products such as Lockwise. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve never paid for things like LastPass or OnePassword because I always let Chrome to the lifting. But if you we’re on another machine, and did not have your signed-in Chrome nearby, you were kind of stuck. Lockwise gives you this app that syncs with your browser for these passwords! My wife and I use this consistently. I love it.

Much like Opera, there’s articles embedded in the browser. Firefox bought Pocket which I am a paid member of. I’ve been using Pocket for years and actually did not know Firefox bought them in 2015. While not a customizable news feed like Opera, there are some interesting articles I find to read because of this feature.

I have not used Firefox Send yet. Considering I am mostly a tools person, at work we have other things that are just second nature at this point like Slack.

I’ve used Firefox Monitor as well and have introduced it to family and friends… nice little tool to check-up on things.

I can not say for sure if I could tell you how much faster Chrome is to Firefox, or Opera. I think all of them are fast enough for me as I’m usually where there is significant bandwidth and I’m not heavy into games, video content, etc. Firefox has always had privacy on the forefront of their mission so this is another thing to consider. I can only imagine what Google is doing with everyone’s data.

Conclusion

Firefox

While we recently moved from Google’s G-Suite to Microsoft Office 365, I’ve become even less dependent on what Google Chrome has to offer. Battery power has increased by 30%+. I’m not hitting any sites that Firefox does not support. I’m loving the Lockwise feature. Decent on a minimalist front with plenty of viewing space. Desktop and mobile sync very well. Privacy and security are on point. Auto-fill content and settings are easy to navigate and set-up and plenty of setting to make it your own.

October 15, 2020 UPDATE

My company switched back to G-Suite, now Google Workspace, (like the name better), because MSFT was just a nightmare. With that, I have done some returning to Chrome for things that still just work better with work. I love the dictation tool in Google Docs, but this only works on Chrome. Google Meet is also better, more stable, and I see syncing for work purposes between mobile and laptop to be better on Chrome.

Another change since I wrote this is iOS 14, which now lets you change your default browser on iOS as you have been able to on Mac OS. I don’t know that this changes things for me as it pertains to Safari, as there are still other issues as mentioned above; one being websites that Safari does not work well with.

Still a fan of the Lockwise tool from Firefox over other password tools. I also ditched Pocket for Instapaper, but nothing really lost there. (Instapaper is one of those websites that Safari does not handle well). I still think Firefox is the better browser. I use it for more personal and Chrome for work. While not as optimal as having one browser to do it all, it is easy enough to switch.

Entrepreneur | Tech Innovator | Marine Corps Veteran | Speaker | Coffee Addict

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