Apple Safari 4 is more than just one of the fastest web browsers for Windows and Mac. UPDATED 9 JUNE 2009.

Apple's web browser has been around for six years, and with Safari 4 we find a stable, mature web browser with both excellent speed and standards compliance.

Safari debuted in Mac OS X 10.3, but many people today will be familiar with Safari as the web browser for the iPhone. For the principal two personal computer OSes in the world, we now have Safari 4 for Mac and for Windows, the fastest and most feature-packed iteration yet of this relative newcomer.

But being an Apple app, more features doesn't immediately equal more user complexity. Open Safari 4, and the main window is automatically populated with Top Sites, a wall of thumbnail pages based on your browsing habits. Clicking on any of these brings you directly to your site, making a good visual aid to quick browsing.

You can also manually assign what sites will appear in this space, and the thumbnails you see are updated regularly, to reflect up-to-date content on your favourite sites, all in miniature.

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To customise the layout, you just click the Edit button in the bottom left corner, and select either the X to delete or a pin symbol to ‘fix' any displayed site.

Safari was one of the first web browsers to include tabs to allow easy switching between different pages within the same window. Safari 4 beta, released earlier this year, put those tabs above the address bar, increasing space available to view page content below.

This had the side effect of removing the easy reordering of tab positions just by dragging. It also made complete window reposition somewhat more challenging, as grabbing the window by its top bar could cause an inadvertate switch to the page of the tab you picked up.

Apple may have listened to the critics; the tabs are now firmly back below the navigation bar, in what must be said is a more visually elegant arrangement.

NEXT PAGE: Speed and recent changes >>

Apple Safari 4 is more than just one of the fastest web browsers for Windows and Mac.

Also changed since the beta is the way that page-load progress is indicated.

Safari 3 and earlier used to colour in the space behind the address with an expanding blue bar - a sight familiar more to iPhone users, due to the slower loading process - while Safari 4 beta relied on just a spinning cogwheel (which also doubled as a Stop loading button, since the usual discrete Reload and Stop buttons had been removed).

Now in Safari 4 we have a graphical device at the end of the address field which shows ‘Loading...' and also spins a cog as the page completes.

With a typical broadband connection, you won't be looking at the loading icon for long, though. We found Safari 4 to be quick - very quick in fact - in its page rendering. For many sites we visited, pages would appear just as quick as clicked.

And with that speed comes good standards compliance. In the Acid3 test for web standards (including compatibility with JavaScript and Document Object Model, plus SVG, XML and CSS standards), Safari 4 scored the required 100/100. To give some context, Firefox 3 for Windows gives 71, the latest Firefox 3.5 beta 99 for Mac scores 93, while Internet Explorer 8 is languishing down at 20/100.

Acid 3 test for Apple Safari 4

Another addition for Safari 4 is the Cover Flow navigation model. First seen in iTunes, this similarly allows a graphical way to look around your favourite or previously visited sites. You can use Cover Flow here to flick your way through bookmarks or history, with again small thumbnail renderings to guide your way.

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We found a picture of a site painted on the screen in this manner could give faster cues to sites in our browsing history, rather than reading site URL addresses and trying to imagine what we saw on that page.

For Mac users with Multi-touch trackpads, the final release of Safari 4 addresses an issue with pinch zooming of pages, altough we found this still not quite as fluid as it was with Safari 3, as magnification jumps in a limited number of steps between different zoom factors.

For web developers and the technically curious, Apple provides a neat view of page source along with load times for the various code elements.

Apple Safari 4's Web Inspector

Just enable Develop mode in the Safari 4's preferences, and look under the newly instated Develop menu between Bookmarks and Window. There you'll find Show Web Inspector. In Windows, the Develop menu appears with other window menus under the folded-corner page icon on the right of the browser pane.

NEXT PAGE: Our review of the February beta version >>

Apple Safari Bet review

Apple is trumpeting its updated Apple Safari 4 web browser as exceptionally fast and innovative. It certainly looks good, but what does it actually offer? We gave it a quick spin to see what's under its hood.

"Safari 4 is the fastest and most efficient browser for Mac and Windows, with great integration of HTML 5 and CSS 3 web standards that enables the next generation of interactive web applications," proclaims Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice-president of worldwide product marketing.

Safari prompts you to install Bonjour for Windows and Safari Desktop shortcuts. Bonjour is the applet used to aggregate content from attached devices as well as your hard drive. It's not an essential part of the Safari experience.

Apple Safari 4 installed

Having specified whether these two extras should load along with Safari and accepted Apple's licence agreement, you get a rather odd Apple thankyou message that stalled the installation progress. What it actually means is we needed to quit the existing web browsing page so everything could be updated. It would have made sense to say so.

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Once the installation has finished, and you've gone through the rigmarole of restarting your PC, you'll be able to start using the Safari 4 beta. Unless you've specified a home page, the main window will be black - something we can only hope Apple changes in the final release as it looks plain wrong.

To set your website as the home page, you need to click the Sprocket icon to the right of the Safari home page and click the Preferences option the drop-down list. You can then enter a new web address as your desired home page.

At first glance, Safari is a plain-seeming browser, but, as soon as you start typing in web addresses or entering a search term, things pick up. If you were already using Apple Safari as your web browser, the Top Sites tab should already be populated; if not, you might want to start by having a look at what Apple deems Popular.

Apple Safari 4 Popular sites list

The tab on the right of the links options immediately below the web-address bar in Safari 4 proffers a drop-down list of sites such as eBay, Amazon, Craigs List, Flickr and so forth. You can optionally view these as a succession of tabs that runs across the top of the browser window. If you find these less-than-inspiring, press the + button and, rather than being offered the option to add items that are Popular with you rather than Apple, you get a list of Top Sites.

Much like Google's Chrome browser, this list is displayed as a set of visual thumbnails of sites you frequently visit. The thumbnails are 'live', meaning that you can see what's currently on the main page, rather than being shown what was uppermost on your last visit. You can flick through these if you're using a touchscreen display or zip through them with a mouse. The experience is similar to the Cover Flow feature in iTunes or on the latest iPods and iPhone.

See also: Google Chrome review

Apple Safari 4 Top Sites

In any case, Safari remembers what you looked at, the pages you visited on each site and records useful keywords so you can easily call up previously-visited information.

NEXT PAGE: more useful additions

Apple is trumpeting its updated Apple Safari 4 web browser as exceptionally fast and innovative. It certainly looks good, but what does it actually offer? We gave it a quick spin to see what's under its hood.

Another useful addition is the RSS feed at the far end of the address bar. Where a site has an RSS (really simple syndication) feed so you can receive updates in your email inbox, clicking on the blue RSS icon gives you options for which feeds you get.

Similarly, the News button in the links bar lets you view updates from a range of publications and websites. As with the Popular list, a tabbed view is available, and it's also possible to customise your settings.

Safari 4 News customise page

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We like the fact that you can view the stories here by source, date or title and can specify whether Safari displays related stories on the topic or a simple list of articles from a range of sources. An 'article length' slider lets you adjust this to suit.

We've yet to find a way to activate and deactivate the sources on offer to make them more UK-specific, for example.

The Settings tab offers a comprehensive set of customisation options. You can also launch the Private Browsing feature and clear the History so that other people using the PC can't follow your web trail.

Preferences extend to how frequently the History cache should be cleared out, whether Safari should use a particular style sheet standard, the text encoding, Auto Fill for passwords and usernames at secure sites, and so on.

Cookie preferences, plug-ins, Java and JavaScript enabling and other Security settings can be specified, while the Bookmarks tab lets you choose how, whether and what are associated with the Bonjour service.

While it's too soon to say whether Safari will become our browser of choice, our first impressions of a highly user-definable experience and a neatly ordered information repository in which items are quietly logged and can be called up again whenever we need. We'll give you a fuller review in due course, once we've run some more formal tests to establish whether it live up to its claims of being speedier and more innovative than the rest of the browser bunch.

Rosemary Hattersley

Apple Safari 4 beta Bookmarks Preferences

See also: Mozilla Firefox 3.0 review

Apple Safari 4: Specs

  • Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista
  • 256MB RAM
  • 500MHz Intel Pentium processor. Any Mac running Security Update 2009-001 and Mac OS X Leopard 10.5.6 or Mac OS X Tiger 10.4.11, Mac with an Intel processor or a Power PC G5, G4, or G3 processor and built-in FireWire
  • 256MB of RAM
  • Top Sites and Cover Flow on Mac OS X Tiger require a Quartz-Extreme compatible video card
  • Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista
  • 256MB RAM
  • 500MHz Intel Pentium processor. Any Mac running Security Update 2009-001 and Mac OS X Leopard 10.5.6 or Mac OS X Tiger 10.4.11, Mac with an Intel processor or a Power PC G5, G4, or G3 processor and built-in FireWire
  • 256MB of RAM
  • Top Sites and Cover Flow on Mac OS X Tiger require a Quartz-Extreme compatible video card

OUR VERDICT

Safari 4 has come out of its short beta period to blossom as a remarkably attractive and well featured modern web browser. For Windows users, Safari has previously been something of an also-ran behind Firefox and IE, but with Safari 4, the browser could catch up on XP to Windows 7 systems too. Safari 4 is extremely fast in its page rendering thanks to the refined WebKit engine, and offers some genuinely useful user interface elements which make finding sites quicker and browsing a more comfortable experience.

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