If you have a Mac, you have Safari – it’s the built-in default browser and a great one. Apple’s macOS browser is very fast, respects your privacy, and works seamlessly with Safari on iPhone or iPad through iCloud sync features. But it’s not the only game in town – and it’s not the only one running on a new M1 Mac.
Unlike on iOS and iPadOS, Apple is quite lenient when it comes to running full-fledged browsers on macOS. Mac browsers can use their own technology to render web pages and set them to be the default browser. So the experience can be quite different depending on the browser you are using. Of course, there is nothing wrong with sticking to Safari, but depending on your own special needs, it may not be the best browser. Some services, such as YouTube TV, will not run on Safari at all, and some features, such as YouTube̵
7;s 4K video support, will take longer to reach Safari than other browsers. Here are five other browsers ready for M1 Macs that are worth trying.
By far the most popular browser in the world, Google’s Chrome is fast and offers a lot of flexibility through its many powerful extensions. If there’s a “default” for browsers, Chrome is.
On the plus side, you get a powerful and flexible browser that due to its popularity is likely to be supported by which web app or service you want to use. If you use your Mac with non-Apple platforms like Android or Windows, you can sync bookmarks and history between them with your Google Account.
Chrome was one of the first browsers to support Apple’s Silicon Macs version 87 in November. When it landed, Google claimed that the M1 allowed Chrome to use CPU usage “up to 5 times” and extend the battery life of MacBooks. Google also says it starts 25 percent faster, loads pages 7 percent faster and uses less RAM. Inexperienced, these claims are not so strange, and the Chrome performance between an M1 Mac and Intel under the Rosetta is definitely noticeable.
Chrome is also available for iPhone and iPad, but like all browsers on these platforms, it uses Apple’s own Webkit rendering engine. Still, you can use it to take advantage of synced bookmarks and close integration with services like Google Search or Translate.
If there is one drawback, it is that Chrome is not very privacy focused. Google will suck up your data and use it to create better services and customize ads – for better privacy, you need to run extensions that block scripts and web tracking. Chrome is often ridiculed for being a bit of a resource pig and not as battery efficient on MacBooks.
Firefox is one of the oldest browsers still kicking around, and has experienced something of a resurgence in the past thanks to rapid updates and a renewed focus on improving speed and reliability.
Recent updates have improved the battery life of Mac laptops (often a sore spot for non-Safari browsers). Firefox is also very concerned about privacy – it has pretty good built-in tracking blocking, and password synchronization depends on locally encrypted files. Firefox has a large collection of extensions, but not as many as Chrome. They are less about “making your browser a separate operating system” and more about customizing your web experience.
Firefox launched M1 support with version 84, claiming that it is “over 2.5 times faster, and web apps are now twice as responsive” as the non-native version. Firefox was already incredibly fast, so the speed benefits are not quite as noticeable as they are on Chrome, but it’s definitely snappier than it was before.
Firefox has an iOS version that works well if you want to sync bookmarks and saved login information. Of course, it can not use the Gecko rendering engine used by the desktop client (due to Apple’s rules), but it is a good mobile experience that supports dark mode and gives you all the tracking prevention and privacy of the desktop version.
Another old browser that still gets regular updates, Opera has undergone many changes over the years. While it once ran its own web rendering engine (called Presto), it switched to the Chromium engine many years ago and never looked back.
Opera’s biggest claim to fame is the free built – in VPN. Although not everyone needs something like this, it is probably good to have on public networks such as coffee shops. There are no data limits, but performance can vary widely, so while it may reduce your vulnerability to snoops on public Wi-Fi networks, it may not be a great tool for, for example, watching Netflix choices from other countries.
However, that is not the only trick in Opera’s sleeve. It can display videos from web pages, has a built-in ad blocker, and there are integrated messaging clients that can connect to Facebook Messenger, VKontakte and WhatsApp. It is a nice battery saving feature that reduces the activity of the background tabs and also stops some plug-ins and animations. Opera also has a respectable list of extensions, but since it’s based on Chromium, many of the Chrome extensions work well too.
The M1 version of Opera was launched in April 2021 and Opera claims that it “runs twice as fast as the previous version of our browser.” You can also set custom shortcuts for Opera’s “Flow” feature, which is actually end-to-end encrypted chat with Opera on your other devices to quickly send pictures, links and files.
If you want to sync bookmarks and tabs with your iPhone or iPad, Opera Touch, like all iOS browsers, uses Apple’s own WebKit rendering engine. It has a built-in ad blocker like the desktop app, but no longer includes a free VPN.
After many years of going its own way, the Microsoft Edge browser switched to the Chromium engine and joined the open source consortium that develops it. Along with the change comes a version for Mac.
It is in order. There are not lots of unique features, but not everyone needs it. One of Edge’s best features is tracking prevention, which has three settings: Basic, Balanced and Strict. It’s nice to see an approach that is not just all or nothing. The Web site “collections” feature is perhaps the most unique, making it easier to use web content in Microsoft Office documents.
The new Edge works with most Chrome extensions, which is a big step up from the old Edge browser’s poor selection. And there’s an iOS version that can sync your bookmarks (Microsoft calls them “favorites”) and saved passwords, but browser logs and open tabs are still synced between devices. It is said to be on its way later in 2020.
Microsoft jumped on the M1 bandwagon in February 2021 with a design optimized for Apple’s new silicon. Since it uses the same engine as Chrome, the speed benefits are in line with Google’s claims – but strangely enough, you have to use Rosetta to run the installer. There’s nothing wrong with Edge, but there’s little reason to go out of your way to use it unless you regularly work on a Windows PC and need to use the Edge browser there. Something like Chrome or Firefox is probably a better cross-platform choice for most users.
Brave is an interesting experiment in browser technology. It’s based on Chromium and really looks and feels more like Chrome than most browsers. If you’re used to Chrome, you’ll feel right at home with Brave, and you can use almost any Chrome extension. It launched an M1 native version in December and is often faster than Chrome due to its key principles: privacy and security. Brave’s fairly comprehensive built-in ad blocking and tracker speeds up page loading, but it can sometimes destroy websites, and of course it robs them of revenue. It’s easy to “shield down” a website if you need it.
Brave can show you its own ads as alert windows, as you earn a currency called BAT (Basic Attention Tokens). You also earn them at a lower price just for surfing the web. These tokens are then used to pay out participating sites and to pay you, the user. You can submit them for real money, or to tip websites or content creators.
It’s a new idea, but it’s a little annoying to sign up for the entire Brave Rewards program, and even more annoying to link the account to the third-party Uphold service to actually make BAT money. And it’s useless for any website or creator who does not similarly sign up to be part of the revolution.
Brave has an iOS app loaded with privacy features (HTTPS everywhere, script and tracker blocking, popup blocking). And it’s a nice bookmark sync feature that does not even require you to create an account and sign in. Unfortunately, the sync feature currently only supports bookmarks – not open tabs, history, passwords, autofill, or your BAT earnings.
Even if you do not care about BAT, you will find Brave as a very fast Chrome-like browser that puts privacy and security very high. It just needs a more robust synchronization system.
I have written professionally about technology throughout my adult career – over 20 years. I like to find out how complicated technology works and explain it in a way anyone can understand.