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The best browsers in 2021

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(Image credit: Shutterstock: fizkes)
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

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Privacy and speed are two of the biggest considerations when you're looking for the best web browser for your device. Some demand more of your system resources, while others are relatively lightweight. Some anonymous browsers offer full suites of security tools to protect your online identity and shield against malware, while others allow cookies and ads to run unhindered.

It's a very close-run competition, but we believe that Firefox is the best browser you can download today. It's not without its flaws, but developer Mozilla has committed to supporting its users' privacy and developing tools to stop third parties from tracking you around the web.

Microsoft Edge comes a close second. It supports all the same browser extensions as Google Chrome, due to it being based on the same Chromium engine. However, it’s noticeably less demanding on RAM, allowing for faster performance - plus it now comes with an in-built password manager.

We're in a time where browsers are even more important for those who are still working from home or transitioning between jobs, and it's been up to different vendors to bring out features that cater to these needs in innovative ways.

These are far from the only options though, and there are lots of reasons to look beyond the biggest names to the more niche browsers. Read on for our complete guide, and discover the best one for you.

1. ExpressVPN - The best VPN service for your browser
We have reviewed more than one hundred VPN providers, both free and paid, and our top recommendation right now is ExpressVPN. Given the risks of using free VPNs, we think the price of $6.67 per month is absolutely worth paying - it comes with a no-questions-asked 30 day money back guarantee too.
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2. Surfshark VPN - by far the best cheap VPN option
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3. NordVPN - the biggest name in VPN
Chances are, even if you don't know a lot about VPNs you may have heard of NordVPN. They advertise on TV, they sponsor sports teams and they've been a leader in the VPN market for over 7 years. Nord doesn't quite lead the way like it once did but it's still a fantastic service from $3.49 per month.
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Mozilla

(Image credit: Mozilla)

1. Mozilla Firefox

The best browser for power users and privacy protection

Specifications
Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS
Reasons to buy
+Incredibly flexible+Cross-platform sync+Good privacy protection
Reasons to avoid
-A bit slower than rivals

Firefox has long been the Swiss Army Knife of the internet and our favourite browser. Version 90 is particularly good: it can alert you if your email address is included in a known data breach, it blocks those annoying allow-notifications popups, it blocks “fingerprinting” browser tracking and it brings its picture in picture video mode to the Mac version. As before it’s endlessly customisable both in terms of its appearance and in the range of extensions and plugins you can use. Last year’s overhaul dramatically improved its performance, which was starting to lag behind the likes of Chrome, and it’s smooth and solid even on fairly modest hardware.

As much as we love Firefox – right now it’s still our favourite browser – we’re worried about its future. 2019 wasn’t a great year for Mozilla, with a major add-on crisis in May that Peter Saint-Andre and Matthew Miller claimed “was the result of having an interlocking set of complex systems that were not well understood across the relevant teams”. The lack of in-house quality assurance teams was also highlighted – much of Mozilla’s QA is outsourced – and in early 2020 the QA leads were reportedly let go in a round of layoffs. Mozilla’s struggling for income, so if you value Firefox you might want to visit donate.mozilla.org to help secure its future. 

Read our full Mozilla Firefox review

Microsoft Edge

(Image credit: Microsoft)

2. Microsoft Edge

A genuinely great browser from the former browser bad guys

Specifications
Operating system: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Linux coming soon
Reasons to buy
+Very, very fast+Crystal clear privacy tools+Can save sites as apps
Reasons to avoid
-Windows really wants it to be the default

Older readers will remember Microsoft as the villains of the Browser Wars that ultimately led to the rise of Firefox and Chrome. But Microsoft is on the side of the angels now and its Edge browser has been rebuilt with Chromium at its heart. It’s Windows’ default browser and there are also versions for iOS, Android and Mac.

The new Chromium-powered version is considerably faster than its predecessor and includes some useful features including Read Aloud, the ability to cast media such as inline videos to Chromecast devices, an Opera-style start page and a good selection of add-ons such as password managers, ad-blockers and so on. You can also download web pages as apps which then run as stand-alone applications without having to launch the whole browser. That’s useful for the likes of Google Docs or Twitter.

There are lots of customisation options and we particularly liked the Privacy and Services page, which makes potentially confusing settings crystal clear, and the Site Permissions page. That gives you fine-grained control over what specific sites can do, including everything from pop-ups and ad blocking to MIDI device access and media autoplay. 

Edge looks like Chrome and works like Chrome, but we like it more than Chrome: it’s noticeably faster on our Mac and the customization options are superb. 

Read our full Microsoft Edge review

Opera

(Image credit: Opera Norway)

3. Opera

A classy browser that’s particularly good for collecting content

Specifications
Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS
Reasons to buy
+Built-in proxy+Great security features+Really nice interface
Reasons to avoid
-No more Opera Turbo

Opera sets out its stall the moment you first run it: its splash screen enables you to turn on its built-in ad blocker, use its built-in VPN, turn on its Crypto Wallet for cryptocurrency, enable in-browser messaging from the sidebar and move between light or dark modes.

It’s a great introduction to a really good browser, although if you’re a gamer you should check out Opera GX instead: that’s designed specifically for gamers and features Twitch integration and Razer Chroma support.

Opera is yet another Chromium-based browser, so performance is speedy and you can use add-ons from the Chrome library. It also has some interesting ideas of its own such as Flow, which is designed for people who often spot things they want to come back to later: if you’re constantly emailing or messaging interesting links to yourself, Flow enables you to do that more elegantly by making it easy to share content from Opera on your phone to Opera on your computer.

With its recent R5 update bringing a refined design and more integrated apps such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, the company want to make sure that it's the all-in-one browser for as many users as possible.

They've also recently brought the browser to Google Chromebooks, opening up choice for owners and potential students when they're looking to buy a laptop for their studies. They're also looking at Windows 11 and how the new store can help them in the near future.

Opera is packed with useful features, but one of our favourite ones is no longer in the desktop browser: Opera Turbo, which compresses internet data such as images so things load faster on crap connections, is now only available for mobile browsers. You do get a handy battery saving mode, however, so when your downloads are slow at least you don’t need to worry about your laptop battery dying.

It's improved in leaps and bounds in recent years, and with its focus on catering to many users, from gamers, to students, it's a browser to watch in 2021.

Read our full Opera review

Google Chrome

(Image credit: Google)

4. Google Chrome

It’s the world’s favourite browser, but it can be a memory-muncher

Specifications
Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS
Reasons to buy
+Speedy performance+Very expandable+Cross-platform
Reasons to avoid
-Can be resource-hungry

If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery then Microsoft’s adoption of the Chromium engine for its own Edge browser must be making Google feel pretty good about itself.

But there are some areas in which Microsoft’s contender actually beats the big G, most noticeably in resource usage: Chrome is infamous for its hefty resource demands and it can fairly chug along on low-powered hardware with limited RAM.

The new Tab Freezing feature is designed to address that by automatically 'freezing' background tabs so they’re not using resources unnecessarily, but Chrome remains pretty hardware-hungry.

Chrome 91 is by no means a bad browser. Quite the contrary: it’s a brilliant browser with a superb library of add-ons, cross-platform support and sync, excellent autofill features and some great tools for web developers. It can warn you if your email’s been compromised, it has secure DNS lookup for compatible providers (Google’s own Public DNS is one of them) and it blocks lots of dangerous mixed content such as scripts and images on otherwise secure connections. It also enables the WebXR API for AR and VR. And don't forget about Chrome dark mode, which makes browsing easier on the eyes at night.

These are all good, but we think Firefox beats it on privacy protection, Edge is nicer to spend time in and other, niche browsers don’t come with the lingering fear that Google’s just a little bit too involved in all of our lives.

Read our full Google Chrome review

Vivaldi

(Image credit: Vivaldi Technologies)

5. Vivaldi

Build your own browser with unique docking and tab-stacking

Specifications
Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android (beta)
Reasons to buy
+Incredibly customizable+Creative interface features+Supports Chrome extensions
Reasons to avoid
-Bad for procrastinators

Vivaldi is the brainchild of former Opera developers, and like Opera it does things differently from the big-name browsers. In this case, very differently. Vivaldi is all about customization, and you can tweak pretty much everything from the way navigation works to how the user interface looks.

Chromium is once again under the surface here (which means you can use most Chrome add-ons), but what’s on top is very different from other Chromium-based browsers. You can pin sites to the sidebar, stick toolbars wherever suits and adjust pages’ fonts and color schemes; have a notes panel as well as the usual history and bookmarks bits; customize the way search works and give search engines nicknames; change how tabs work and get grouped and much, much more.

You can even view your history in graph form to see just how much of your time you’ve been spending on particular sites. We particularly like the tab stacks, which are a boon for anyone who tends to end up trying to keep track of dozens of open tabs.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to fiddle with interfaces instead of getting on with stuff, it’s a potential productivity nightmare – but it’s fantastic for power users who know exactly what they want and how they want it to work.

Read our full Vivaldi review