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Picking the right browser is more important than many people think. For starters, web browsers vary by speed and reliability. They may shine on some platforms, but struggle on others.
And then there are usability issues. All of the major browsers (Opera, Firefox, Chrome etc…) have their quirks and features which make them ideal for some, but a pain for others.
However, there’s another less well-understood factor to bring into the discussion, and that’s security. Not all web browsers are secure, and each one has its own pros and cons from a privacy perspective.
In this review, we’ll see how Apple’s Safari browser measures up on every front, with a particular emphasis on security. And hopefully, we’ll be able to ascertain whether this is the browser you need – or whether alternative apps for Apple devices make more sense.
What is Safari?
If you’re a regular user of Macs or iPhones, this question probably won’t require much of an answer. Safari is the official Apple browser, like a Mac version of Internet Explorer. And it’s been around for almost as long, having been first introduced in 2003.
2018 saw the release of the 12th iteration of the core browser, so there’s been less than one major release every year (compared to 74 for Google Chrome in just 10 years).
There are separate versions for smartphones and desktops, which draw on the special features of iOS and MacOS respectively, and we’ll try to draw out those differences later. And – it needs to be said – there are no versions for Windows, Linux, or Android phones. This is a purely Apple-related review.
How to use Safari
Before we dive into specifics, let’s lay out some general aspects of what Apple’s browser has to offer:
- Energy efficiency and speed – Designed for iOS and macOS, the browser reflects Apple’s knowledge of its own systems, and delivers fast speeds at relatively low RAM overheads. This promises longer battery life for Apple devices when you are streaming with the browser.
- Interoperability – One of the biggest selling points of the browser, at least for Apple users. Accounts can easily be shared across phones and computers (or tablets).
- Automatic video detection – This is a really welcome feature. Instead of playing every video that you access, Apple’s browser always asks whether you need audio – avoiding that irritating eruptions of noise.
- Apple Pay – As you’d expect, users can hook up their browsers to Apple Pay, providing an easy way to shop at online retailers.
- iCloud storage – You don’t just have the option of sharing across devices. Documents, music, links – you name it – can be stored in Apple’s iCloud for convenient access.
- Plenty of accessibility options – If you want precise tab and bookmark management, you’ve come to the right app. Pin favorite links, setup settings for each individual site, read articles in a dedicated window without any distractions, and block popup ads with ease.
Those features build on a tried and trusted interface that’s changed very little in the past decade. While Apple bolt on new elements to the browsing experience, the company has managed to keep everything clean and familiar. And it’s also created options for various platforms, which we’ll come onto now.
Safari browser for Mac
If you want a browser that’s totally optimized for macOS, Apple’s own software seems like the logical place to start. It comes as standard on all Apple laptops, so we’re not advising that you seek out a new installation (although you can head here to download a replacement).
It’s worth noting here that a Windows version was updated until 5.1.7, and you can still get it here. But that was discontinued in 2016, and it’s now well out of date.
Safari browser for iPhone
However, the iPhone implementation is utterly cutting edge. Again, if you’ve bought a new iPhone, it will come installed already, so there’s no need to seek it out.
Should you use it over alternatives like Opera or Firefox? Probably. You’ll enjoy faster speeds, be protected more comprehensively against online threats (see below), and you’ll be able to sync up with devices like Apple Watch or Mac.
But users should know that the iOS version is not the same as the macOS version. As you’ll see if you compare the two, the window in the Mac version is much more static and feature rich. With the iOS app, there’s little to engage with (at first glance), making it ideal for swiping. But there’s no Flash support, and some sites can struggle. Facebook has often been an issue for iPhone users, so it’s generally less user-friendly. But it’s still at the head of the pack.
Safari browser for Android
While Apple’s browser wasn’t designed for Android phones, it is possible to install very similar apps. Or at least apps that claim to be similar. For instance, Google Play features an app called “Surf Browser” which sells itself as an imitation of the iOS browser.
However, reviews are very negative, as they tend to be for non-official imitations. So it’s best to opt for Firefox or Chrome is you’re looking for an Android browser.
Safari browser for Windows
As we noted earlier, there was once a version of the browser for Windows, but that’s officially been abandoned. Given that 3 years have passed since then, it’s hardly worth exploring as an alternative for regularly updated alternatives like Opera, Edge, Chrome, or Firefox.
Is Safari browser safe?
Let’s move onto our core question. Does Safari actually qualify as a “secure browser”? Several key features suggest so:
- iCloud keychain – Instead of leaving cloud users unprotected, Apple has added 256-bit AES encryption and a full password manager to their iCloud services.
- Apple Pay is shielded by TouchID – No payments can be made without the extra authentication supplied by TouchID, at least for mobile browsers.
- Private browsing – As you’d hope, Apple has included an effective private browsing function, keeping your browsing history and cookies private after your session concludes.
- Phishing and fake site protection – Apple keeps a massive register of fake sites, and incorporates active protection for all users – so if you happen upon a risky site, the browser will tell you.
- Integrated password management – All of your passwords are stored securely, and Apple provide enhanced support to make them as strong (and unique) as possible.
- Tracking prevention – Don’t be tracked by cookies everywhere you go. Instead, this feature keeps your movements as private as possible.
- Sandboxing – This feature effectively quarantines questionable sites, keeping them walled off from the rest of your browsing.
In the past, Apple has been accused of collecting data without the browser users’ knowledge, but in 2018 the company made an important announcement. From then on, users would need to opt in to all data gathering techniques and “fingerprinting” devices would become much harder.
Most common Safari browser issues and questions asked by users
Every browser has its minor issues, and Apple’s web search application is no different. Here are some common complaints, and what to do about them:
1. How to clear the browser cache in Safari
This is an easy one. Just head to the “Preferences” menu at the top of the screen, choose “Privacy” and then look for an option entitled “Remove all website data”.
2. How to set safari as default browser
This shouldn’t be a problem for Macs or iPhones unless you’ve been tinkering with your set up. In that case, head to the Apple menu, then click Preferences. Choose General, and you’ll see an option entitled Default web browser. Just toggle that to select your preferred option.
3. How to fix Safari browser hijacking
If this happens, don’t panic. On iPhones, the solution is usually to Force Quit the browser. Now, go to Settings, then Safari, followed by Clear History and Website Data. Clean the cache and you should be good to go.
4. How to find your Safari version history
If you’d like to know where you stand in terms of updates, finding out your version is simple. Just fire up the browser and head to the About menu. That should instantly let you know your version. Then head here to compare it to recent updates.
5. How to enable cookies on Safari
Sometimes, you won’t want to block cookies. They aren’t all sinister surveillance devices after all. To turn them on, go to the Preferences menu, choose Privacy, and you’ll call up a list of cookie-related actions, including turning them on or off.
Safari vs Google Chrome
If you fancy a change from Apple’s offering, Google Chrome is likely to be top of your list, so let’s see what the two browsers have in their lockers:
- Owning company: Apple
- Launched in: January 2003
- Security features: Blacklist for dangerous plugins, notifications of harmful sites, active tracking prevention, sandboxing, integrated password manager, private browsing, iCloud keychain, VPN add-ons available
- Private browsing available: Y
- Custom extensions available: Y
- Supported Platforms: Mac, iOS
- OpenSource: N
- CloudSync: Y
- Owning company: Alphabet
- Launched in: September 2008
- Security features: Incognito browsing, VPN compatible, sandboxing, clear security badges for approved sites, phishing protection via Google API, adblocker included
- Private browsing available: Y
- Custom extensions available: Y
- Supported Platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac, iOS, Android
- OpenSource: N
- CloudSync: Y
Mikaela is an investigative journalist that likes to cover the ever-changing world of technology. She tries to keep her finger on the pulse of digital trends and share her insights on the most relevant topics, including big tech, security, privacy, and data breaches.