Browsing the web should always be 100% secure. We shouldn’t have to worry about being tracked and spied upon, and our search data should remain our own. However, most browsers fail basic security tests. They make it hard to block cookies and ads, they don’t make encryption available as a standard feature, and they leak data in all directions.

Secure browsers are different. They have been designed to plug the loopholes that allow companies and governments to track our movements. And when they do, they go way beyond “Incognito Mode.” These browsers offer a much more comprehensive suite of protective features, from URL filtering and phishing protection, to using open source software instead of proprietary systems.

This Brave browser review will introduce one of the leading secure Chrome alternatives, and assess whether it’s really a major step up from mass-market options.

What is Brave?

Brave is a web browser which seeks to treat each user as an individual, instead of a “product.” Created by Brendan Eich, one of the originators of the popular Mozilla browser, it seeks to go well beyond Firefox in terms of security and privacy, while retaining its speed and ease of use.  Founded on open source software, Brave is completely free to use (and has a commitment to remain so for the foreseeable future). It’s also ad-free if users prefer, just as you’d hope from a secure browser.

Moreover, the team behind the Brave browser goes out of its way to establish its transparent nature, operating a policy of inviting bug fixes and suggestions from open source coders. The idea is to create a community of users that works to keep the browser as clean and honest as possible.

The browser itself was launched in 2016, and it’s still a work in progress to some extent. Everything is working properly, and features are being added with every new update, but it’s worth bearing in mind that users can expect greater functionality in the future.

How to use Brave

Brave’s interface should be fairly familiar to Chrome and Firefox users. The browser is based on Chromium infrastructure, which means that there will be few surprises. A few more elaborate features may be lacking, but you’ll notice that this has a speed benefit.

The browser has been made available across a range of platforms, including Windows 64-bit, Windows 32-bit, Linux, macOS, Android, and iOS. There are some differences between them, so it’s worth having a look at each in turn.

Brave browser for Mac

The Mac version is a solid alternative to Safari, offering a clean interface and fast speeds. However, most users report that Brave still doesn’t quite match Safari in the speed stakes.

As a Chromium browser, Brave will inevitably suffer in comparison to the Mac’s native browser, and some users will find the differences too much to bear. If you’re looking for a Safari alternative with stronger ad-blocking and anti-tracking features, it’s worth a look.

Brave browser for Android

The smartphone versions of Brave are a little different to their desktop cousins. Most importantly, they lack the option to engage Brave Rewards. We haven’t mentioned this feature yet, but it’s one of the most innovative elements of the Brave browser package. It allows users to funnel micro-payments to their “favorite creators,” offering a different way to fund online businesses than intrusive advertising.

But it’s not available for Android. Instead, it’s a simple, secure, browser with zero plug-ins, no unsolicited ads and speeds that are 2-4 times of those experienced with Chrome. The iOS version is pretty much the same, and both are worth checking out.

Brave browser for Windows

At the moment, the Windows version of Brave is the core product, and it has the widest feature set. Marginally less complex than Chrome, it’s definitely quicker, and avoids the need to handle constant ad-blocking notifications. Instead, it just blocks unwanted pop-up ads. Plug-ins are strictly by invitation only, and there’s zero data collection, while essentials from Chrome are included, such as bookmarks, find on page, auto-complete forms, and many more.

Is Brave browser safe?

So, now we reach the crucial question for this Brave browser review. Is it safe? As far as we can tell, the answer is yes – or at least much safer than Chrome or Firefox. Cookies can be blocked completely, the browser collects no personalized data, scripts can be blocked effectively, users can use a built-in password manager, and when you clear your browsing data everything gets flushed – not something that’s easy to say about products like Chrome.

There are only a couple of things to worry about. Firstly, there’s Brave’s advertising policy. When we say that there are zero ads, that’s not exactly true. There are zero unsolicited ads (or pop ups). Banner ads may still appear. And when pop-ups are blocked, Brave’s default setting is to replace them with ads approved by Brave itself.

While this sounds unscrupulous, the revenue sharing model is interesting.  A portion goes to the advertiser, a chunk to Brave, and 15% to the user. So technically, users can “make money” by browsing with Brave.

Some users will be delighted with that setup. Others will be turned off by the continuing existence of ads. Either way, it’s important to remember that these ads come with no tracking cookies or pixels unless the user asks. So there’s a major difference with standard browsers.

Secondly, some users have raised issues regarding “whitelisting.” This involves approving certain websites to bypass Brave’s security features, in order to allow the browser to function properly. Not everyone has been satisfied by the company’s response, which still seems to permit companies like Facebook to avoid all of the browser’s security checks. This could potentially lead to concerns regarding data harvesting.

How do you clear cookies and cache in Brave browser?

Clearing user data in Brave isn’t difficult. Just head to the three dots in the top right corner, choose the Security tab,  and toggle which pieces of private data you’d like to flush. When you’re done, press Clear browsing data now and cookies and cache data will be gone in a second.

Clearing browsing history in the Brave browser

The same applies to clearing your browsing history. Just head to Settings, followed by Security, then choose the Browser History option. When you press Clear browsing data now, your history will be wiped clean, and no one will know where you’ve been.

How to set Brave as default browser

As with all web browsers, Brave can be configured as your number one option. To do so, head to the Settings menu and scroll down the menu until you find the Default Browser option. Choose Make Default, and you’ll load up a secure browser every time you click on a link.

How do I spend Brave Rewards?

When you browse ads delivered by Brave, your Brave Wallet will receive small amounts of BAT – a form of the crypto-currency Ethereum. These tokens cannot be exchanged for cash at present, and can only be used to purchase a limited range of products, so the usefulness of this feature may well be restricted for most Brave users.

Does Brave whitelist any websites?

When Brave was first launched, some users flagged up potential concerns that the browser had opted to “whitelist” certain websites to enhance functionality, at the cost of security. Sites involved included Facebook, which has a poor record on data privacy. Since then, Brave’s developers have sought to reassure users that whitelisting is not carried out routinely.  However, a customizable whitelist is still not included as a default feature, so users are not in total control of which sites are approved.

Comparing Brave vs Google Chrome

Google Chrome

Owning company: Alphabet

Launched in 2008

Security features: Sandboxing to handle malware infections, ad-blocking available, Incognito mode, website certificate security checks.

Private browsing available (Y/N): Y

Custom extensions available (Y/N): Y

Supported Platforms: Windows 7 and above, MacOS 10.10 and later, Linux, iOS 11 and later, Android  4.4 and later

Open source (Y/N): N

CloudSync (Y/N): Y

Brave Browser

Owning company: Brave Software, Inc.

Launched in 2015

Security features: Block all tracking cookies, Complete ad-blocking if desired, No collection of personalized user data, in-built password manager, Detailed plug-in screening, Open source bug fixes welcomed

Private browsing available (Y/N): Y

Custom extensions available (Y/N): Y

Supported Platforms: Windows 7 and above, MacOS 10.10 and later, Linux, iOS 11 and later, Android  4.4 and later

Open source (Y/N): Y

CloudSync (Y/N): Y (Beta)