Apple’s MacOS already ships with a web browser — Safari — and maybe that’s the only one you will ever want to use. It’s certainly a good app, but is it the best? Should you switch to a different browser — and if so, which one?
We aimed to answer those questions with our comprehensive Mac web browsers group test. We pitted Safari against its main two contenders, Chrome and Firefox, in a series of grueling tests covering features, performance, security, and privacy. Which one deserves our recommendation? Let’s dive in and find out.
Design and features
Most web browsers are stacked full of nifty features that help you get a better browsing experience. That’s no different with our three contenders, all of which offer excellent features across the board.
Let’s start with Chrome. Unsurprisingly, it integrates well with Chromecast-enabled devices. Just right-click anywhere within the browser, click Cast on the pop-up menu, and choose the recipient device. This is a cheaper alternative to streaming from your Mac to an Apple TV box.
Chrome also has a handy built-in task manager to kill troublesome Chrome processes. Click the three-dot More button in the top right corner, then click More Tools > Task Manager. It can also translate foreign language web pages, and there are over 150,000 extensions if there’s something extra you want it to do.
Meanwhile, Safari’s Look Up feature allows you to get a dictionary definition along with entries from the thesaurus, App Store, movies, and more by right-clicking on any word on a page. However, Safari really comes alive with its continuity features.
For example, it syncs your bookmarks, tabs, history, and more to iCloud so they’re available on all your Apple devices. “Handoff” means you can open a tab on your iPhone and have it open on your Mac with a click. Even more, you can make purchases using Apple Pay that are verified with Face ID, Touch ID, or your Apple Watch.
But Safari is also at a disadvantage here because it’s not offered outside the Apple ecosystem. If you need to access bookmarks and whatnot on a Windows machine or Android device, you’d need to use Chrome or Firefox instead across all devices.
With Safari 14 for Mac, Apple finally introduced extensions through the Mac App Store. These insert additional functions to the browser, like storing passwords with 1Password, blocking ads with 1Blocker, checking your writing skills using Grammarly, and more. You can also set a custom background image on the Start Page and add elements like your Favorites, iCloud tabs, the Privacy Report, and so on.
Like Safari, the Firefox extensions portfolio provides fantastic add-ons that tack on specific features and benefits to enhance your browsing experience. And like Chrome and Safari, Firefox bookmarks, passwords, open tabs, and so on carries over to other devices so long as you’re signed in to your free Firefox Account.
Firefox developer Mozilla also owns Pocket, a service that lets you save websites for later reading, even offline. Its tight integration with Firefox may be a boon if you already love the service. Pocket is also available as Chrome and Safari extensions.
When benchmarking these browsers, we have a couple of different tests to gauge how well each app performs.
|Firefox 80||Chrome 89||Safari 14|
Here we disabled all extensions before running the benchmark. As shown above, Safari took a large lead thanks to in-house browser code optimized for an in-house operating system.
Our second benchmark was Speedometer 2.0. This test aims to measure how responsive a browser is to web applications by repeatedly adding a large number of items to a to-do list. As with JetStream 2, a higher score is better.
|Firefox 80||Safari 14||Chrome 89|
This time, Chrome was slightly higher than Safari, making it the fastest of the three in this specific test. However, we also saw a big improvement in Safari now that Big Sur has gone mainstream, jumping up from a score of 67.3 in our previous benchmark to a current score of 80.1.
Overall, Safari won the trophy as the fastest browser of the bunch when averaging the two test scores together. Chrome was a close second followed by Firefox.
Note: We tried running these tests running Firefox 86, but the browser refused to load the parent website. That meant keeping the scores we obtained from this browser in September 2020. We will try again later.
Security and privacy
If you’re using a Mac, chances are you care about security and privacy. They are the two central pillars in Apple’s products, so using a web browser that is strong in both categories is important.
Unfortunately, there’s one browser that really falls flat: Chrome. Why? It’s owned and developed by Google, which has based almost its entire business strategy on monetizing your information.
In the past, Google has been caught automatically signing users into the browser and tracking users even when their location history was disabled. More recently, it’s seemingly begun to declare war on ad blockers. If you want your privacy protected, look elsewhere.
Ironically, Chrome’s security is actually very strong. It’s updated regularly, automatically scans files for malware, and blocks suspicious downloads. It even warns you about dangerous websites.
Firefox and Safari, meanwhile, score much higher on privacy.
Apple implemented cross-site tracking prevention in Safari and has threatened to add restrictions to websites that seek to circumvent its rules. It’s also implemented a form of “privacy-preserving ad click attribution,” so you can click on adverts without seeing ads following you around the web.
Plus, Safari can suggest a strong password when you sign up for a website, then sync that password securely with your other devices if you’re signed in to iCloud. Password Monitoring alerts you to website breaches that include your login credentials and help you change your password(s).
In 2020, Apple announced that it would no longer accept lifelong HTTPS certificates. Instead, it would only allow security certification that lasted up to 13 months before needing renewal.
With Safari 14, Apple introduced a Privacy Report panel that shows what the browser blocked within the last 30 days. For instance, during our use, the report stated that 64% of the websites we visited contacted trackers. Moreover, Safari blocked 183 trackers and prevented doubleclick.net — the most contacted tracker — from profiling us across 37 websites.
Like Safari, Firefox makes a point of focusing on privacy and security. Its Private Browsing mode blocks all trackers and erases your passwords, cookies, and history when it’s closed. However, you don’t need to go private to get the privacy benefits — the regular browsing mode has tracking prevention turned on by default. Even more, its Facebook Container extension blocks Facebook from following you around the internet.
Security is solid, too. Firefox has a built-in password manager and even prompts users with a securely-generated password when creating new accounts. It automatically blocks dangerous downloads, deceptive websites, and pop-up windows. If a site tries to install an add-on, you’ll get a warning. You can even sign up to be alerted if your data is included in a breach.
Of the three, Firefox is the only browser that’s totally open-source, meaning you can examine its code to make sure there are no unpleasant surprises. Google Chrome is based on the open-source Chromium project, but certain Chrome parts do not fall under “open-source.”
Whether you choose Safari or Firefox, you’ll be in safe hands, but we think Firefox gets the security nod here — although Safari is catching up. Firefox simply excels at swiftly patching problems, ditching outdated encryption, and generally staying on top of security issues.
The winner: Safari
This was an incredibly close group test, and it just goes to show how competitive the browser landscape is on Mac. All three have a lot going for them and are constantly adding useful new features, but ultimately, Chrome and Firefox both had major weaknesses: Privacy for Chrome and speed for Firefox. That makes Safari our clear winner.
Safari is simply jam-packed full of features, especially when it comes to working with other devices. It boasts superb privacy and security from a company that’s made protecting your data an absolute priority.
Performance-wise, Safari was either at the head of the pack or a fraction behind in our tests. While it was edged out by Chrome in our Speedometer test, it was still impressively fast, taking first place in the JetStream benchmark.
That overall combination of features and performance is why Safari is still the best browser for Mac.
If the big three still aren’t your style, other, lesser-known open-source browsers work very well on Macs and add unique benefits.
Since its release, Brave has grown into an incredibly smooth browsing experience. This browser delivers speed comparable to other mainstream options. Brave also stands out thanks to its privacy features, like the ability to upgrade HTTPS options automatically, hide your IP address, or disable data collection from third parties.
Brave allows you to take control of your browsing experience and block ads and trackers that intrude on your privacy. All you have to do to start protecting your data is log into your computer and open a new tab to use the Tor network. Brave’s simple, intuitive, and user-friendly interface makes browsing a breeze for its users. You’ll appreciate a minimalistic browsing experience that won’t distract you from the web pages you want to see.
Opera continues to rank high among the most flexible browsers available today. This browser increases browsing speed by loading and compressing only the most essential content to a webpage. You can enjoy a much safer browsing experience with Opera, as it shields you from harmful malware and phishing that can cause severe damage to your computer and threaten your sensitive data. Its built-in VPN feature offers enhanced security and more private, location-based browsing.
You can pick from a wide variety of extensions to completely customize Opera. This browser offers multiple, ready-to-install functionalities, including bookmarks, private messaging, and in-app messaging, among others. With countless extensions available, we recommend that you thoroughly read reviews before installing a certain extension so you can get an idea of what the top-rated ones are and what people like most about each of them. Finally, it’s also important to note that there can occasionally be syncing issues that occur between the mobile and desktop versions of Opera.