Are you happy with your default browser? We’ve put Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Opera head to head to see which comes out on top.
According to the Office for National Statistics, 78% of UK adults use the internet daily. That’s 39.3 million people checking the weather, reading emails and watching cats careen into boxes on YouTube every day.
Computers come with a baked-in browser, but you aren’t limited to it. There’s a worldwide web of alternatives out there, each with their own benefits and drawbacks.
We’ve put five of the most popular head to head to help you find your new default browser.
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The famous five
By virtue of being built into the most popular computer operating system on the planet, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was once the most commonly used browser. Microsoft is in the process of retiring the 21-year-old browser though it’s replacement, Edge, is available on Windows 10 machines.
When it comes to downloadable browsers, Google Chrome is top of the heap in terms of popularity.
Firefox, built by Mozilla, is another downloadable option, and while it may not be as popular as Chrome it has some unique features.
Finally, Opera has a bigger presence on mobile – there are over 100 million downloads on the Google Play Store alone – but that doesn’t mean it’s a slouch on laptops either. Opera is responsible for many features we take for granted, including tabs and, let’s face it, we’d be in the internet equivalent of the Dark Ages without tabs.
Round one: which browser is fastest?
When it comes to choosing a browser we want one that loads webpages as fast as possible. Measuring browser speed is difficult thanks to the number of factors – internet speed, browser extensions and computer power can all affect how long it takes a page to load.
Having said that this wouldn’t be much of a head to head without some stats to get your teeth into. We used three free browser speed benchmark tools running on a mid-range laptop to get our results.
We can’t guarantee tests on your computer would be the same, but the browser rankings should be similar even if the scores aren’t.
Firefox should be quickest based on these tests, but on particularly demanding websites Edge should come out on top.
Round two: which browser is best for extensions?
Any of the browsers we’ve mentioned will see you safely to amazon.co.uk to buy a new toaster, but some go the extra mile. With the aid of extensions some browsers will point out that it’s actually cheaper on another site, or source discount codes automatically to try and save you money.
Price Blink and Coupons at Checkout are just some of the many extensions that can be added to your browser for free. But which browser has the best extensions and the most?
Chrome – if you like the sound of tinkering with your internet experience Chrome has the most options. There’s no way of knowing how many extensions Chrome has, but try scrolling through the seemingly endless array and you’ll soon realise there are more than enough.
Better still, the vast majority are free – just be careful not to overload Chrome with too many as your speed will suffer.
Edge – at the other end of the spectrum, Edge has precisely zero extensions. You might think Edge is dead on arrival, then, but Microsoft has said extensions are a priority and we should expect to see the first batch towards the end of 2016.
Whether developers think it’s worth porting their extensions onto Edge will depend on how many people upgrade to Windows 10. The take-up rate hasn’t been as significant as Microsoft envisioned and the upgrade is only free for a few more weeks.
Firefox – Mozilla’s browser is second only to Chrome when it comes to the volume of extensions, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty to choose from.
In Firefox, extensions are called add-ons and the browser is chock full of them. They are a doddle to install, too. Firefox displays its add-ons in an app-store-like menu and clicking install on the one you want downloads and activates it.
Internet Explorer – Microsoft’s long-serving browser may not be as bad as Edge when it comes to extensions, but it’s not much better either. If you’re after a wealth of choice and customisation, Internet Explorer shouldn’t be on your radar.
The extensions it does offer often take the form of taskbars – you know, like the Ask Jeeves one we were all so fond of.
Opera – like Firefox, Opera can’t compete with Chrome when it comes to the quantity of extensions but there are still over one thousand to choose from so don’t count Opera out if you’re hungry for customisation.
There’s even an Opera extension that lets you download and install Chrome extensions, giving you access to another huge library.
Round three: what else should you know about these browsers?
Chrome – we’ve already covered off Chrome’s myriad extensions but, even without them, Google’s browser is still a pleasure to use.
The minimal display leaves more room to view the webpage and it’s secure thanks to its frequent upgrade cycle. It asks a lot of your computer, though, and weaker machines will struggle – especially with a few extensions in tow.
Edge – Microsoft’s shiny new software is only a year old, but this pared-back browser has plenty to offer. Edge is intuitive – if you want a slick browsing experience that isn’t bogged down by a bucket load of options it’s worth considering.
There are handy features, too, like being able to write or draw on a webpage as if you had taken a screenshot and loaded it into Paint. More importantly, extensions are on the horizon – Edge should only get better.
Firefox – customisation isn’t all about extensions. Firefox goes one step further by letting you change the appearance of your browser. There are hundreds of free themes on offer designed around anything from space to BMW.
If you hate your tabs being squished together when you’ve got a lot of them open you’ll be a fan of Firefox’s scrolling tabs bar. You may also like the homepage, which shows a grid of your most visited sites rather than one specific page.
Based on our benchmarking tests it’s difficult to recommend this tired browser over it’s sprightly, free competitors.
Opera – considering Opera is as old as Internet Explorer it’s certainly aged better. Speed dial is Opera’s defining feature – it’s similar to Firefox’s new tab home screen but you can add any website you like to the grid.
Opera is a good choice for people with weak internet, too. Opera Turbo compresses images and graphics on a page to make it load quicker.
And the winner is…
Our speed results showed that Firefox was the fastest, though Chrome and Edge both performed better in the JetStream benchmarking.
Based on our tests, if you want the fastest browser around we’d lean towards Firefox, but if you want access to the most extensions Chrome has you best covered.
It’s worth mentioning that we ran the tests with no extensions installed and you may find your speeds dip when you start to tinker. It can be beneficial to run your own tests, too, since certain browsers might be better suited to your computer’s hardware.