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Reviews
15,670 Reviews

Apple Safari 5 review

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Manufacturer: Apple

Our Rating: We rate this 4 out of 5

Apple Safari 5 ups the ante in the web browser wars, with two major improvements: a performance boost to rival speed king Google Chrome, the highly useful Safari Reader, which makes it much easier to read multi-page web articles.

Apple Safari 5 ups the ante in the web browser wars, with two major improvements: a performance boost to rival speed king Google Chrome, the highly useful Safari Reader, which makes it much easier to read multi-page web articles.

Apple Safari 5 has a host of other useful new features as well, including extensions and better HTML 5 support. Is all this enough to put it at the top of browser pack? In this review, we take an in-depth look at Safari and let you know how it stacks up against the competition.

Apple Safari 5: Reader takes central stage

By far the most important addition to Apple Safari 5 is the Safari Reader. This nifty new feature is not only the best part of the new Safari, but it's also the best new feature that's come along in any browser for quite some time. It's so useful that it would be no surprise if all other browser makers eventually copied it.

When you come to a web page that Apple Safari 5identifies as an article, a gray Reader button appears on the right side of the Address Bar. Click the button, and a window appears over the top of your web page, which displays the article, stripping out ads and extraneous layout. It shows you the text, graphics, videos and links in a very easy to read, scrollable display.

If the article has more than one page, the entire article is included, not just the current page. The original web page is darkened so that it doesn't distract you as you read the article.

Buttons at the bottom of the Reader window let you zoom in and out, email the page or print it. When you email the page, Apple Safari 5 launches your default mail client and embeds the page link in the body of the message.

Printing, though, needs some help, because images inside articles don't print. Instead of the image, there is a large white space, with no option to instruct the Reader to print the image.

Still, that is a minor point. Anyone who frequently reads multi-page articles on the web will welcome this new feature, which makes it far easier, more productive and more enjoyable to read long articles.

This has both pros and cons for web publishers, who typically find there's a drop-off in article readership from page to page because people simply don't want to click to the next one. So people using the Reader are likely to read deeper into articles. On the other hand, it may also take revenue away from publishers, because no ads are displayed in the reader.

Safari Reader, by the way, wasn't built by Apple from scratch. Rather, it's an adaption of the bookmarklet Readability, which is distributed under the Apache 2 Open Source license. Readability can be used with a variety of browsers. It lets you choose from multiple font styles and sizes, which Safari Reader doesn't do. But Safari Reader displays all pages of a multipage web article in a single, scrollable window, while Readability only displays the current page you're on, not the entire article.

Apple Safari 5: Who's the real speed king?

On its website, Apple calls Safari "The world's fastest web browser". That has generated quite a bit of controversy on the web, with some saying that Chrome is faster than Apple Safari 5 on both the PC and Mac.

The problem is that there are no widely accepted tests that can accurately gauge real-world web browsing, which includes page loading, running JavaScript, performance on web-based services such as Gmail, and so on. In our experience, Apple Safari 5 felt slightly faster than Chrome on the Mac, but on the PC, we were unable to discern any difference between the two.

We put Apple Safari 5, Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer through the most widely accepted browser speed test, the SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark suite. We ran the tests three times on each browser on a Dell Dimension 9200 with a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad CPU running at 2.4GHz and 2GB of RAM, running Microsoft Windows Vista; and a Apple MacBook Air running OS X 10.6.3.

On the Dell, Chrome completed the tests in an average 357ms, versus Safari's slightly slower 380ms. Firefox was well behind at 929ms, about 2.5 times slower than either browser. And Internet Explorer, at 5069ms, was more than 14 times slower than Chrome.

On the Mac, it was a different story, with Safari completing the tests in an average of 425ms compared to Chrome's 491ms. Firefox was again way behind at 1239ms.

So who is the speed king? In real-world use, you'll likely find Safari and Chrome indistinguishable.

NEXT: extensions and HTML 5 support >>

Apple Safari 5 Expert Verdict »

Windows XP SP2/Vista/7, Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.2 or later, Mac OS X Leopard 10.5.8
500MHz Pentium-class processor or better
256MB RAM
Top Sites and Cover Flow require a compatible DirectX 9.0 video card with 64MB of video RAM
  • Overall: We give this item 8 of 10 overall

How does Safari stack up against Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer? When it comes to speed, Safari's at the head of the pack - at least, on the Mac. Its new Reader feature is unique among browsers; as a result, for reading long web articles, Safari is clearly the best browser. However, even though Safari now supports extensions, at the moment there are few available, so it's far behind Firefox and even Chrome in this area. Its Address Bar is the least functional of all the browsers, and its bookmarking, which is no different from the last version, is still very basic and leaves something to be desired. As for HTML 5 support, there are so few HTML 5-enabled sites and features these days, it's not yet particularly useful. The upshot is that anyone who already uses Safari should upgrade immediately to Apple Safari 5. Those who have yet to use Safari may well want to download it as well, if only to check out the Safari Reader for reading long articles, and for experiencing speedy web browsing.

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