Best browser 2020: Chrome vs Firefox vs Microsoft Edge

We put the web's three most popular browsers head-to-head

Best browsers

The web browser is often taken for granted. It's something we all use all-day, every-day, be it for email, social media, reading the news or searching for answers to mundane questions. 

However, not all web browers are made equally, and the process by which you find this information isn't the same across all browsers. Some, for example, let you search the web in a split-second by allowing you to type your query straight into the address bar, while offer numerous add-ons and advanced security and privacy tools. With that in mind, it’s important that you find the best browser for you. 

The browser has been around since the inception of the internet. The first, aptly-named ‘WorldWideWeb’, was developed in 1990 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and this was followed by Marc Andreessen's Netscape Navigator in 1994.

These innovations, however, were soon dwafted following the arrival of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser making its August 1995. Soon after that, more big-name tech firms entered the fry; Mozilla with its open source Firefox browser, and Google and Apple with their Chrome and Safari web browsers, respectively. 

It's undentable that since, browsers have evolved exponentially. They now offer voice search functionality, privacy features that allow you to surf the web anonymously, and numerous add-ons to soup-up your overall browsing experience, be it browser-based VPN tools or extensions that can check your spelling and grammar and find you discounts are you online shop. 

We've tested the top three browsers on an Acer Aspire V3-572G-7105 laptop as well as a MacBook Pro. The Acer laptop runs Windows 10 and packs a 2GHz Intel Core i7 4510U processor, 8GB RAM, an Nvidia GeForce 840M (2GB) graphics card and a 1TB hard drive.

In our benchmark tests, we substituted Microsoft Edge for Safari on the MacBook, since we were unable to install the Chromium-based browser.

Security and privacy

When deciding which browser to use, one of your priorities should be its security credentials, and how the developer is taking action against the huge swathes of online security threats now doing the rounds.

Traditionally, Internet Explorer has the worst track record when it came to data breaches, with security holes exposed and taken advantage of regularly. Although they were often patched fast, because there was such a huge user base, the impact was usually pretty severe.

Eith the introduction of Microsoft Edge, the company promises to have overcome some of its problems from the past. Windows' default browser ships such Windows Hello, a tool that authenticates a user and the website they're trying to connect to on the fly, and Microsoft has also introduced SmartScreen to prevent and protect against phishing attempts. 

Diverse people

Firefox hasn't launched any fancy any tech to deal with security threats, but it offers a bug bounty programme that relies on a huge community of developers and security swats to uncover potential holes and vulnerabilities. This is one of the reasons that Firefox is so widely-used by security professions.  

Mozilla, the company behind Firefox, has also made it clear it's committed to the security of its users, explaining in its user manifesto that "individuals security and privacy on the internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional".

Chrome, which is currently the world's most popular web browser, is probably the most secure option out there, not surprising considering it's owned by Google. However, it's privacy record is somewhat questionable, as the tech giant regularly collects a huge amount of user data, including location, search history and site visits.

Want to try a quick test? Try turning on location settings on your phone for a day. Head to the Google Maps app, click on 'Timeline' on the pop-out bar on the right-hand side, and it should present you with where you have been for the day.

At Pwn2Own 2017, an event where hackers exploit devices to win prizes and show tech companies what patches they need to make, Edge came off as the least secure browser, with hackers successfully exploiting it five times. Chrome was the most secure as it wasn't hacked at all, while Firefox was beaten once. Safari was compromised 3.5 times, with judges awarding half a point for a vulnerability fixed in a beta version of the browser.

Browser benchmarks

We ran each browser through a number of different tests on the Acer laptop and MacBook Pro. Here are the results for each test:

JavaScript

We used the Ares 6 test to measure the execution of JavaScript's newest features, running browsers through four different tests measuring their startup speed. Chrome stormed ahead with a time of 114.67ms on the Acer laptop. Edge lagged way behind at 232.13ms and Firefox had a time of 182.58ms.

On the MacBook, Safari leapt ahead, finishing incredibly fast in 31.89ms, followed closely by Chrome at 50.47ms whereas Firefox had a time of 121.34ms.

The next benchmark was Jetstream, which measures a variety of JavaScript benchmarks. These focus on a variety of advanced workloads and programming techniques, and reports a single score that balances them using geometric mean. Bigger scores are better here.

Edge somewhat redeemed itself with a strong score of 138.79ms, while Firefox and Chrome battled it out for second place with scores of 98.844ms and 98.424ms respectively.

On the MacBook, Safari was once again the winner, scoring 181.09ms. Chrome made sure to beat Firefox by a significant number this time, reaching 164.43ms compared to Firefox's 142.52ms.

The last JavaScript test we conducted was the Octane benchmark, which measures a JavaScript engine's performance by running a range of tests which are representative of certain use cases in JavaScript applications. Octane measures the time a test takes to complete and then assigns a score that is inversely proportional to the runtime. Basically, bigger is better here too.

Edge flexed its muscles and scored 20047 on the Acer laptop, taking the lead once again. Chrome followed at 18999 and then FireFox with a score of 17691.

Chrome and Safari were neck and neck on the MacBook, with Chrome winning with a score of 29582 compared to the Safari's 29253. Firefox blazed in after with a score of 25204.

Graphics

MotionMark is a graphics benchmark that measures a browser's ability to animate complex scenes at a target frame rate. For this test, the bigger the score, the better the browser has performed.

On the Acer laptop, Edge came first with a score of 151.23 followed by Chrome at 147.55. Firefox lagged behind since it received a score of 94.26.

On the Macbook the scores were noticeably higher, but this time Safari was ahead with a score of 455.20. It was followed by Chrome at 324.86 and then Firefox at 107.76.

Responsiveness of web applications

Finally, we carried out the Speedometer benchmark that measures the responsiveness of web applications. It does its best to replay a typical workload and simulates adding, completing and removing to-do items.

Chrome was way ahead of the other two with a score of 81.4 runs a minute on the Acer laptop. Firefox just crept ahead of Edge with a score of 34.6 runs per minute, versus the Microsoft browser's 32.33.

On the MacBook Pro, Safari beat Chrome with a score of 130 runs a minute compared to 116. Firefox, surprisingly, was way behind at 47.4.

Design

Although, in principle, the three browsers we've looked at are pretty similar in design, there are some substantial differences between the three.

Chrome is probably the most uncluttered, with a minimalist design and pale colour scheme. Tabs along the top are light grey and the search or URL bar itself is pleasingly curved, making it feel softer. Although Chrome wasn't the first to introduce the concept of tabbed browsing, it's one of the most effective, with a refined UI. Thanks to the Omnibox feature, it's much easier to search for what you're looking for too.

Firefox is the most similar to Chrome, but with a more "angular" and classic design. Tabs are darker and squarer as are the search and URL bars, but that doesn't mean it's worse or less aesthetically pleasing. Nor does it mean the function is limited in any way. What we do like about Firefox is that it can be very easily customised and takes security seriously with stringent privacy features.

Microsoft's Edge alternative has seen a significant revamp to make it look better, but it still doesn't keep up with its competitors. It utilises much larger, squarer tabs, with some distracting features that can sometimes get in the way of standard browsing. 

Mobile Compatibility

All three browsers are available on mobile devices and they sync perfectly with their desktop counterparts. So if you have Edge, Chrome or Firefox installed on your iOS or Android devices, all your bookmarks will be transferred across both desktop and mobile.

To sync your Chrome accounts up, you just need to make sure you're signed into your Gmail account on both your desktop and your smartphone and everything will transfer - bookmarks, preferences and any other info you may have set up.

It's a similar story with Firefox, although you'll need to set up an account if you want to use the same settings across devices. You'll just need to head to the settings menu on either desktop or mobile, then sync and enter your details if you have an account or create one if you don't.

Microsoft Edge was the last of the three browsers to move to mobile, but that doesn't mean it's lagging behind. Of course, Edge isn't available on Macs, so it's likely only Windows 10 users will want to install the app on their iPhone or Android phone, but it still provides a solid experience, allowing you to carry on browsing the pages you were using on desktop, right from your mobile.

If we had to choose one mobile winner, it would have to be Chrome, with its lightning-fast experience. Firefox tends to crash more often (especially on Android), while Edge is limited by the fact it's only handy for those using the browser on Windows 10 if synching across devices is your main motivator.

Other features

It's important to take a quick look at what else a browser offer besides the specs. Some features are universal; all the browsers support tabbed browsing and searching from the address bar, for example.

With Edge's Windows 10 Anniversary Update, Microsoft gave its flagship browser some much-needed new features. These include support for more extensions, to bring the number to 44 in total including AdBlock, Ghostery and LastPass. Syncing user data to the cloud has also been improved, which makes it easier to switch between computers, and its voice assistant, Cortana, has now been integrated. With the Creators Update, Edge introduced the incredibly useful feature of allowing users to create tab groups, which can be saved between browsing sessions.

Chrome is known for its raft of third-party extensions, many of which are essential. It's also unmatched in first-party integration as the way Google services is easy to access from Chrome is extremely easy. Users can look at their Gmail, Calendar, Drive and more within two clicks once you open a new tab.

Firefox has a number of add-ons too which it has been improving, although it doesn't have the same amount as Chrome. Despite this, it presents the add-ons in a much simpler way - just hover over the one you're interested in and it will present you with essential information, such as what it does and with which version of the browser it is compatible with.

Unfortunately, Edge is lagging behind in the number of extensions it offers so if you want to install a wide variety it's best to go for Chrome or Firefox.

Verdict

In the benchmark tests, Edge generally performed the best on our Acer laptop, but Chrome performed better across both the Acer and our MacBook. Firefox, unfortunately, didn't come first in any of the benchmark tests, but placed second three times. On the MacBook, Safari absolutely blew it out of the water, winning four tests but losing to Chrome in one of them. Sadly Mozilla's Firefox disappointed, finishing last in all of the MacBook tests.

Chrome has a solid performance across the board and even impressed us by clinching a win from the power crazy Safari on the MacBook. It's convenient, fluid and makes life easier for us by being super fast, as we saw in the tests. It's got plenty of support, is fairly secure and has won our heart.

It's probably best to try out all three browsers yourself, or even use at least two of them for different tasks; you could carry out day to day tasks on Chrome but watch videos utilising Edge's graphics capabilities. If you're worried about privacy and like to burn the evidence, but still want a good experience, then Firefox is the one for you. Oh, and judging by our tests, if you have a MacBook Pro you might want to check out Safari.

Image sources: Bigstock

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