When you first turn on a new PC or laptop, you’ll find that your only route to the internet is via Internet Explorer or, if you’ve just bought a machine running Windows 10, Microsoft’s new Edge web browser.

The first thing most people do with a new PC – even before downloading some up-to-date antivirus software – is to download their favourite web browser. And thanks to StatCounter’s browser stats (taken from October-December 2015), you can see which are the most popular:

Google Chrome, then, is by far the most used browser which accounts for over half of web traffic, followed by Safari in a distant second place. Internet Explorer comes in third, with Firefox fourth. (Note that Chrome is no longer supported on Windows XP and Vista. Google recommends you upgrade your OS. For more details, see Google's blog post.

Battery drain

In June 2016 it was widely reported that Microsoft had conducted controlled lab tests of several web browsers, in part to promote its own Edge browser which is replacing Internet Explorer. The headlines were that Google Chrome is a battery drain, and this is evidenced by the results in the picture below. 

Google has taken steps to improve Chrome's impact on battery life and, for example, in the Chrome 57 update it will throttle background tabs to save energy.

Opera recently added a new low-power mode that's said to improve battery life by 50 percent. It follows the introduction of an in-built advert blocker and completely free VPN service within the browser that offers unlimited use and supposedly decent speeds. Both features are now in the public version. 

Which is the best web browser?

In terms of popularity though, you can’t always believe statistics – the US government’s figures put IE in second place for the same period with 24% - but all agree that Chrome is by far the most popular.

That’s one measure of the ‘best’ web browser, but there are others too.

Previously we have reviewed the top six web browsers, benchmarking them for speed and rating them on features. The problem with that approach was that all of these browsers are updated constantly, meaning that those reviews quickly became outdated. And that’s why we’re not offering benchmark results here.

Google, Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple also add, change and remove features in those regular updates, so on the odd occasion, a feature which was a reason to use a particular browser would vanish overnight.

Even if a browser is better than its rivals because of performance, security or features, they’re all free and there’s no limit to how many you can install or run at the same time. So while many would agree when we say that Google Chrome is the ‘best’ web browser, there’s nothing stopping you from using five or six different browsers.

At PC Advisor we all use multiple browsers on a daily basis. Those of us running Windows use Chrome, Firefox and Opera most of the time with Edge when necessary, while Mac users will use a blend of Safari, Chrome and Firefox.

And all of these browsers offer decent performance and compatibility. They all offer to save your passwords and aside from Internet Explorer (and to some extent Microsoft Edge) they will sync your data, favourites and tabs between multiple computers and devices so you can grab your phone and carry on reading where you left off on your laptop.

They all support extensions and add-ons so you can add specific features, shortcuts and widgets. As of the Windows 10 Anniversary update in mid 2106, Edge finally started supporting extensions. 

If a specific extension isn't available on your favourite browser, simply check and see if it for another browser. Similarly, if a website isn't displaying properly or working in one browser, try another. These are the most common reasons why we use more than one browser.

Here's a table which summarises the main features, as well as which platforms each browser supports. Chrome, Firefox and Opera are the most compatible. You might find older versions of Safari for Windows, but it's no longer kept up to date by Apple.

 

Chrome

Firefox

IE

Safari

Edge

Opera

Features

           

Cloud sync

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Download manager

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Private browsing

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Full-screen mode

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Tabs on the side

Yes

Yes (with add-on)

No

No

No

Yes

Custom extensions

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

No

Yes

Platforms

           

Windows

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Mac OS

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

Linux

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Yes

Android

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

Yes

iOS

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

No

Yes

Windows phone

No

No

Yes

No

Yes (Windows 10)

Yes

Details

           

Engine

WebKit

Gecko

Trident

WebKit

EdgeHTML

Webkit

Javascript engine

V8

TraceMonkey

Chakra

Nitro

Chakra

Carakan

Open source

Yes

Yes

No

No

No

No

Website

google.com/...

mozilla.com

N/A

apple.com/...

microsoft.com/...

opera.com

Best alternative web browsers

Nonplussed by the big-name browsers? Well, there's good news: there are literally loads of alternatives which you've likely never heard of. That doesn't mean you shouldn't install or try them out, though.

Back in 2013 we rounded up six of the best alternative web browsers, and most of those are still good choices today.

Here are several of the best alternative web browsers we recommend you check out in 2017:

Yandex: This is the Russian equivalent of Google Chrome, having been developed by the Russian search engine Yandex. It's available for Windows, Android, iOS and macOS. It defaults to Bing search, but you can change this to Google, Yandex or others. It's based on Chromium and supports extensions, although the list isn't as expansive as Chrome's or Firefox's.

Comodo IceDragon: Like Yandex, Comodo claims to be a secure web browser, protecting you from dodgy websites, keeping your logins safe and more. It also has full compatibilty with Firefox plugins.

Maxthon: It's not enough just to be a web browser these days. Maxthon offers extras such as Maxnote for clipping things from the web, Passkeeper for logins and UUMail for virtual inboxes.