As a Mac user, you probably know your computer comes with Safari pre-installed, and maybe that’s the only web browser you ever use. It’s certainly a good app, but is it the best? Should you switch to a different app, and if so, which one?
We aimed to answer those questions with our comprehensive Mac web browsers group test. We’ve pitted Safari against its main two contenders on the Mac, 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 & features
These days, 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 on the screen and click Cast, then choose which device you want to beam you screen to. It also has a handy built-in task manager to kill troublesome Chrome processes. Click the three dots in the top-right corner of a Chrome window, then click More Tools > Task Manager. It can translate foreign-language web pages for you, and if there’s something extra you want it to do, there are over 150,000 extensions to choose from.
Safari’s search bar doubles as a calculator and converter. Type “45 inches in feet,” for example, and you’ll see the result instantly without having to search for it. Just as useful is its Look Up feature. Right-click a word anywhere on a page and click Look Up and you’ll get a dictionary definition, plus entries from the thesaurus, App Store, movies and more.
Safari really comes alive with its continuity features, though. It syncs your bookmarks, tabs, history and more to iCloud so they’re available on all your devices. Handoff means you can open a tab on your iPhone and have it open on your Mac in a click. And you can pay for things with Apple Pay, verified with Face ID, Touch ID or your Apple Watch.
Like Safari, Firefox’s navigation bar is for more than just searching — it too doubles as a converter and calculator. Extensions have always been Firefox’s strength, with a ton of fantastic add-ons that add specific features and benefits to enhance your browsing experience. Elsewhere, Firefox’s developer, Mozilla, also owns Pocket, which is a web service that lets you save websites for later reading, even offline. Pocket is integrated directly into Firefox; while it also has Chrome and Safari extensions, its tight integration with Firefox may be a boon if you already love the service.
In our tests, Firefox lagged far behind Safari and Chrome, with an average test score of 66.001. Safari and Chrome were neck and neck at the head of the pack, scoring 98.804 and 95.282 respectively. That put Safari just ahead, but it was very close.
Our second benchmark was Speedometer 2.0. This 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.
This time, Chrome surged ahead, with Firefox and Safari struggling to keep up. Firefox came in with an average score of 52.6, while Safari scored 46.8. Way out in front was Chrome, with an average score of 71.4.
Those scores make Chrome the fastest browser of the bunch. While it was just edged out by Safari in the JetStream 2 test, its commanding lead in Speedometer 2.0 helped it take home the points.
Security & privacy
If you’re using a Mac, chances are you care about security and privacy. Apple has made these two central pillars in its products in recent years, so using a web browser that is strong in both categories is important to a lot of Mac users.
Unfortunately, there’s one browser that really falls down here: Chrome. That’s largely because its owned and developed by Google, which has based almost its entire business strategy on monetizing your information. In the past it has been caught automatically signing users in to the browser and tracking users even when their location history was disabled, while 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. The app is updated regularly, it automatically scans files for malware and blocks suspicious downloads, and it can warn you about dangerous websites.
Firefox and Safari score much higher on privacy. Apple has 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 it can suggest a strong password when you sign up to a website, then sync that password securely with your other devices if you’re signed in to iCloud.
Like Safari, Firefox has made a point of focusing on privacy and security. Its Private Browsing mode blocks all trackers and erases your passwords, cookies and history when you close it. But you don’t just have to go private to get privacy benefits — the regular browsing mode has tracking prevention turned on by default, and its Facebook Container extension blocks Facebook from following you around the internet. You can even open 100 tabs of content to fool ad trackers with Firefox’s “Track This” project.
Its security is solid, too. It has a built-in password manager (although it doesn’t generate secure passwords yet), and it can automatically block dangerous downloads, deceptive websites and pop-up windows. If a site tries to install an add-on, you’ll get a warning too, and you can sign up to be alerted if your data is included in a breach. It’s also the only browser here that’s totally open source, meaning you can examine its code to make sure there are no unpleasant surprises.
Whether you choose Safari or Firefox, you’ll be in safe hands, but we think Firefox gets the nod here.
The winner: Safari
This was an incredibly close group test, and it just goes to show how competitive the browser landscape is on Mac. Safari, Chrome and Firefox all have a lot going for them, and are constantly adding useful new features.
There can only be one winner, though, and for us it’s Safari. Chrome and Firefox both had major weaknesses. For Chrome it’s your privacy, and for Firefox it’s speed. Safari, though, was either at the head of the pack or a fraction behind in all of our tests. It boasts superb privacy and security from a company that’s made protecting your data an absolute priority.
Although it was edged out by Chrome in our Speedometer test, it was still impressively fast, taking first place in the JetStream benchmark. And it’s jam-packed full of features, especially when it comes to working with other devices. That overall performance makes it the best browser for Mac.