As a Mac user, you probably know your computer comes with Safari 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 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 and features
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 within the browser, click Cast on the pop-up menu, and choose the recipient device. This is a cheaper alternative to streaming from your Mac to an Apple TV box.
Chrome also has a handy built-in task manager to kill troublesome Chrome processes. Click the Three Dots in the browser’s top right corner, then click More Tools > Task Manager. It can also translate foreign language web pages for you, and there are over 150,000 extensions if there’s something extra you want it to do.
Meanwhile, Safari’s search bar doubles as a calculator and converter. For example, type “45 inches in feet” and you’ll see the result instantly without having to do a search. Another useful feature is Look Up, which allows you to get a dictionary definition along with entries from the thesaurus, App Store, movies, and more by right-clicking on a word anywhere on a page.
Safari really comes alive with its continuity features. 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. Even more, you can make purchases using Apple Pay that are 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.
Firefox developer Mozilla also owns Pocket, a service that lets you save websites for later reading, even offline. Its tight integration with Firefox may be a boon if you already love the service. Pocket is also available as Chrome and Safari extensions.
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 test 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 and privacy
If you’re using a Mac, chances are you care about security and privacy. They are the two central pillars in Apple’s products, so using a web browser that is strong in both categories is important.
Unfortunately, there’s one browser that really falls flat: Chrome. Why? It’s owned and developed by Google, which has based almost its entire business strategy on monetizing your information.
In the past, Google has been caught automatically signing users into the browser and tracking users even when their location history was disabled. 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. It’s updated regularly, automatically scans files for malware, and blocks suspicious downloads. It even warns you about dangerous websites.
Firefox and Safari, meanwhile, score much higher on privacy.
Apple 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, Safari can suggest a strong password when you sign up for a website, then sync that password securely with your other devices if you’re signed in to iCloud.
In 2020, Apple announced that it would no longer accept lifelong HTTPS certificates. Instead, it will only allow security certification that lasts up to 13 months before needing renewal.
Like Safari, Firefox makes a point of focusing on privacy and security. Its Private Browsing mode blocks all trackers and erases your passwords, cookies, and history when it’s closed. However, you don’t need to go private to get the privacy benefits — the regular browsing mode has tracking prevention turned on by default. Even more, its Facebook Container extension blocks Facebook from following you around the internet.
Security is solid, too. Firefox has a built-in password manager, although it doesn’t generate secure passwords just yet. It automatically blocks dangerous downloads, deceptive websites, and pop-up windows. If a site tries to install an add-on, you’ll get a warning. You can even sign up to be alerted if your data is included in a breach.
Of the three, Firefox is the only browser 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 security nod here — although Safari is catching up in some ways. Firefox simply excels at swiftly patching problems, ditching outdated encryption, and generally staying on top of security issues.
The winner: Safari
This was an incredibly close group test, and it just goes to show how competitive the browser landscape is on Mac. All three have a lot going for them and are constantly adding useful new features, but ultimately, Chrome and Firefox both had major weaknesses: Privacy for Chrome and speed for Firefox. That makes Safari our clear winner.
Safari is simply jam-packed full of features, especially when it comes to working with other devices. It boasts superb privacy and security from a company that’s made protecting your data an absolute priority.
Performance-wise, Safari was either at the head of the pack or a fraction behind in all of our tests. While it was edged out by Chrome in our Speedometer test, it was still impressively fast, taking first place in the JetStream benchmark.
That overall combination of features and performance is why Safari is still the best browser for Mac.
If the big three still aren’t your style, there are other, lesser-known open-source browsers that work very well on Macs and add unique benefits.
Since its release, Brave has grown into an incredibly smooth browsing experience that can easily rival mainstream options for both speed and privacy. If you really care about security, you’ll love the abilities to automatically upgrade to HTTPS options, hide your IP address, and disable data collection from third parties.
Brave provides built-in features to remove or block ads, especially those that track you. There’s even an option to open Tor right from a new tab for extra VPN-based privacy. We also love the minimalistic and friendly interface.
Opera remains one of the most flexible browsers available. It decreases the load on your computer by compressing web pages and only loading the content that matters to that page. It has great phishing and malware protection and comes with its own built-in VPN component for greater security or location-based browsing.
There are plentiful extensions as well, allowing you to find your favorite options for bookmarks, in-app messaging, private browsing, and much more. However, you may need to do a little research for the best extensions, and Opera still struggles with syncing between desktop and mobile devices.