OK, we’re kidding a bit. Chrome is great. Google did a wonderful job with it—and continues improving it every day. The marketplace recognizes this, and many surveys show Chrome is the most popular browser by far.
It’s not hard to see why. Chrome is stable, in part because its architects made a smart decision to put each web page in a separate process. It has excellent HTML5 standards support, loads of extensions, synchronization across computers, and tight integration with Google’s cloud services. All of these reasons and more make Chrome the popular choice.
But Chrome isn’t perfect, and it’s not the only bundle of bits that can fetch a URL. There are plenty of other good options, and you should explore them for all of these 13 reasons and maybe a few more.
You like fast downloads
Opera was one of the first to stick its own servers in the path between your browser and the larger web. Adding a middleman might slow down some things in life, but not here. Opera designed its Turbo system to cache web pages and compress all of the data into smaller chunks of data. This saves your mobile data and helps the page download faster. That’s why a number of the other browsers offer similar features. Chrome users, for instance, can install the Data Saver extension.
Benchmarks are fickle and don’t always represent real browsing performance, but they’re better than nothing. When DigitalTrends pushed seven browsers through three different sets of benchmarks (JetStream, Octane, and Kraken), Chrome didn’t win once. It came close occasionally, but Edge, Opera, and Vivaldi are the three main browsers that finished ahead of Chrome, at least on some tests.
You use a battery
Batteries have a finite amount of power. Opera has a feature that lets you use less power by shutting down the activity in background tabs and other corners out of sight. It also turns off eye-catching but functionally worthless animation. All of this adds up. In Opera’s own tests, it found its browser lasted 35 percent longer than Chrome when visiting the same pages. That translated into an hour of extra browsing on the test machine.
Mac users should check out Safari too. One test reported by the Cult of Mac showed a MacBook lasting 35 percent longer when it ran Safari instead of Chrome.
You hate phishing
Security testing group NSS Labs tried out Chrome, Edge, and Firefox for resistance to phishing attempts by trying to load dangerous URLs and measuring when and if the browsers blocked them. Edge blocked the most URLs over time (93 percent vs. 86 percent for Chrome and 85 percent for Firefox) and did it faster (with a total response time of 0.4 hour vs. 1 hour for Chrome and 1.4 hours for Firefox). The tests lasted 12 days in October 2016 and included 991 malicious URLs. Your malicious clicks may vary, but it’s clear that Microsoft is serious about building a safer browser.
You hate malware
The same NSS Labs report also contained results from tests of the browsers’ success in stopping “social engineering malware,” a general term that includes bad software distributed through links that are often sent through hijacked email accounts. NSS Labs began with more than 220,000 URLs and found 5,224 bad URLs. Edge blocked 99.3 percent, while Chrome blocked 95.7 percent and Firefox 81.9 percent.
You like a VPN
Opera’s Turbo services don’t simply speed up the web. They can offer privacy and protection too. If you want to enable a VPN, Opera has one built in and ready to go. You don’t need to install extensions or subscribe to services. The VPN is ready to protect you whenever you’re on public Wi-Fi networks.
You don’t need every new HTML5 feature
Web developers logging the adoption of HTML5 standards have long relied upon HTML5Test scores to track how the browsers are embracing and implementing some of the new ideas, tags, and features. For the longest time, Chrome has received the best scores (507 on my current Chromebox) for offering the most complete set of HTML5 features. But how important are these features? Is a high score better than a not-so-high score? Does any normal human notice the difference?
Safari gets a score of only 380, one of the lowest of the major browsers. Why? It loses points for not implementing many of the new HTML5 form inputs that are customized for collecting special data types like dates or colors. But most pages implement their own date picker anyway. How many people choose a color with a webpage? Most decent web pages that ask for a color have a picker implemented already. It’s hard to dwell too much on the FOMO (fear of missing out). But Safari also lacks support for items like a Gamepad controller and offers no way to use new peer-to-peer features like WebRTC. How many times have you noticed? How many times have you said, “Gosh, I wish I could hook up a game controller to my Mac and browse the web?”
Firefox, Edge, and some of the other browsers are closer to Chrome’s high score, but it’s hard to get too upset about what they’re missing. One day we’ll want our browser to implement a native color picker to select a new hue via WebRTC, but until then we’ll be fine without many of the slickest new HTML5 features.
You want serious privacy
The Tor Browser is a modified version of Firefox that sends your requests bouncing through the Tor network, an encrypted swamp that hides the connection between you and the website. It makes using the Tor network so much easier.
The Epic browser deploys a number of privacy-enhancing features, including blocking the web “trackers” employed by advertising companies. The developers worked hard to give you more control over the data that’s stored and the data that’s hidden. You have power over cookies, cache, and the history—if you choose to use it. Power is wonderful, especially over personal data.
These are only two of the more extreme options. The regular browsers like Opera and Firefox also protect their users. Even Chrome can be reconfigured to turn off some of the tracking that Google uses to deliver its services. But as you might expect, Google likes Chrome to support its core business built upon tracking what we do on the web.
You want to dive into the web
It’s hard to find the right metaphor for Opera’s experimental Neon, a new “concept browser” that melds the web with your desktop and arranges your bookmarks and tabs like objects in space. A built-in physics engine makes these objects bounce, snap, and pop like real objects when you drag or push them. Are you diving into the web? Floating in outer space with web pages? It’s a gimmick, perhaps, but they said that about the web itself.
You like sharing images
Opera’s Neon offers a nice feature called “snap to gallery,” a clever wormhole that lets you grab an image and store it to your disk. Neon also keeps the URL in case you want to return. It’s not only saving the IMG SRC, but nurturing the beginning of an image sharing ecology. A picture is more than a collection of pixels.
Your sun rises and sets with Apple
Apple loves to connect the software in its universe, and Safari is the star in the center of that cosmos. Bookmarks and passwords are a few items synced with iCloud. If you’re the type that buys Apple underwear, it makes sense to use Safari for everything too.
You love open source
Firefox began life long ago as Mozilla, the core of Netscape, the (almost) original browser. The company was one of the first big players to embrace opening up its source code, and it remains one of the leaders of the movement. Using Firefox on your desktop or phone supports the open code base.
You hate monocultures
Between Google Chrome, Google Wi-Fi, Google DNS, Google Domains, Google Cloud Platform, Chromebooks, and the Pixel, your HTTP request could go from your fingers to the server and back to your eyes through Google Glass lenses on your face without leaving Google’s silo. If you love Google, that’s not a bad development. But if you believe the rhetoric about competition, monopolies, and an open internet, it has to leave you a bit worried. Using another browser brings ad revenue to another company and keeps the competition alive.