Though large tech corporations leverage their dominance to promote use of their own web browsers, you do have a choice in which browser you use. Many of the alternative browsers that aren't so mainstream offer unique or interesting capabilities, such as greater customization, added privacy, and different browsing tools.
If you’re like the majority of web users, you’re using Google Chrome, which means you’re missing a few very useful features. For example, Chrome offers no reading mode, which you find in many of the alternatives included here. This mode lets you read a news article in a cleaned-up view without all the screaming clutter that adorns today’s web pages (present company included).
Perhaps of greatest importance is that Chrome’s built-in ad blocker doesn’t offer true ad blocking and privacy—only ad blocking that permits its own ad network to function unimpeded. Google has announced that even effective ad-blocking extensions won’t fully work in the future. Several browsers included here let you install plugins that block all ads and tracking. Some browsers in this list go even further, offering turbocharged privacy that includes VPN and Tor encryption.
A big factor in browser choice is customization. Chrome and Firefox offer backgrounds, but Vivaldi takes customization to new levels and Opera features a customizable side toolbar and a tile-based Speed Dial home page for easy access to your most-frequented websites.
Below, you'll find some alternative browsers that are well worth your consideration. We’ve downloaded and installed them all to assure they work as advertised. If you have a favorite lesser-known browser that’s not listed here, please feel free to add it in the comments section.
Best for Privacy and Earning Crypto: Brave
In addition to being one of the most privacy-focused browsers you can find, Brave wants to change the web economy from its foundations up. The browser blocks standard web ads by default, but beyond that, it introduces a new way for websites to monetize your attention. Like the Bing search engine, Brave can even reward you for your browsing, with a cut of the ad revenue you generate. Your rewards come in the form of Brave’s own cryptocurrency, BAT (Basic Attention Token), and they’re based on advertisers paying you for your attention. Your rewards are capped at $1 million dollars of tokens, which is nothing to sneeze at.
Brave is based on Chromium, Google’s open-source project underpinning the company's Chrome browser. It features all the standard browser features—bookmarks, history, extensions, themes, and syncing. It produced the best results on the EFF's Cover Your Tracks privacy test, which susses out fingerprint tracking vulnerability, as it was the only browser tested for which the test reported a randomized browser fingerprint. For even more privacy and web anonymity, the browser comes with a Tor mode built in (saving you from installing separate software), and Brave offers a VPN service. The also-private Brave Search recently added limited Bing-like AI chat capability, Summarizer.
Best Interface: Colibri
Colibri offers a truly different take on the web browser: It has no tabs! You need to sign up for a free account with your email to use it—another difference from most other browsers. Minimalists will love Colibri's pared-down interface, which dispenses with all the doodads and whirlygigs found in today's leading browsers. It shows just six buttons at the top: Back, Forward, Reload, Add to Links, Web Search, and Toggle View.
When you log in, your saved links, lists, and feeds appear. Instead of opening sites in new tabs, you get a choice of a new window or replacing the current window's contents. The Toggle view shows your pinned site links in tiles for easy access. Colibri blocks third-party trackers, ads, and malicious hosts, but don't expect extensions or other extras. If less is more for you, then Colibri is your browser. The HTML5Test website reports that Colibri has a high level of website compatibility, but the EFF's Cover Your Tracks tool reports that it doesn't protect you from tracking, so caveat emptor.
Best for Unique Features and Media Sniffer: Maxthon
One of my favorite unique features in Maxthon is its Resource Sniffer. It lets you find and download pictures, videos, music, and other files that are part of the webpage you're visiting. Another standout option, Split Screen, has been slow to appear in standard browsers like Chrome, Edge, and Firefox. Newer additions to the browser's toolset include synchronizable notes, a password saver, and built-in screenshot capabilities, though you can find those in other browsers. Maxthon ditched its cloud storage ambitions and is now just a regular browser.
Like Opera, Maxthon includes a customizable left button rail for notes, favorites, RSS feeds, and so forth. The highly customizable browser includes other intriguing features such as a built-in screenshot tool and a Night Mode that turns web pages black with white text to save your eyes during late-night web reading.
Maxthon's documentation claims that it doesn't do any tracking of your browsing. You have the option to install a free VPN called BrightVPN at installation. Unlike the proxy built into Opera, this one is a full VPN, cloaking all internet traffic to your device. Finally, Maxthon boasts a built-in blockchain wallet option for Web3 compatibility, but you can find those in Brave and Opera, or add one as an extension in just about any other browser.
Best for Built-In VPN: Opera
Opera has been an alternative browser since before several of the current leaders in the category existed. Its developers are responsible for introducing many standard features we now take for granted, including basic things like tabs, built-in search, a pop-up blocker, and page zooming. Not all of Opera’s novel developments have lasted the test of time, which says something about its ingenuity, or at least its willingness to try unconventional features. For example, at one point Opera let you use it as a server so that you could host your own photo galleries or chat rooms and access them from anywhere. It also once had a built-in email client, a Turbo mode of cached websites, and even a BitTorrent client. (Turbo mode remains on Opera’s mobile versions.)
Opera is the first browser with a built-in (and very good) VPN, a cryptocurrency wallet, and built-in ad blocking. The Opera Flow feature takes syncing between mobile a desktop to a new level. The latest? Opera has announced that the browser will integrate ChatGPT features, starting with a Shorten summarization feature.
Though ad blocking isn’t turned on by default in Opera you can get it by checking the option called “Block ads and surf the web up to three times faster.” Like many browser alternatives, Opera runs on top of the Chromium code base, which powers Chrome, so you’re unlikely to run into site incompatibilities.
Best for Anonymity: Tor
The Tor Browser
Tor is more than a browser; it’s a complete privacy software stack. Tor traffic is not only encrypted, but also forwarded to multiple nodes, with each successively encrypting it again. At the end your traffic is inside multiple layers, like those of an onion. Hence the name Tor, which stands for the onion router. Private Tor sites even use the .onion extension. Those sites make up what's known colloquially as the dark web.
The browser itself is based on Firefox, with some privacy extensions and settings locked, so standard websites display just fine inside this private browsing space. The big downside is all that routing and encryption slow down your browsing considerably. Despite that, it's the ultimate tool for people in repressive countries who need to circumvent internet filtering or those who simply demand privacy and anonymity. For even more of that, you can set it up so that the ISP doesn't know you're using it by using a bridge(Opens in a new window) relay or by running it in Tails(Opens in a new window), a portable OS you run from a USB key. If you don't want to install extra software, Brave (see entry above) offers a built-in Tor private browsing option.
Best for Customizability: Vivaldi
Coming from one of the creators of the Opera browser, Vivaldi offers customization galore and has garnered passionate fans among the technorati. It’s based on the Chromium open source browser code that’s managed by Google and used in its Chrome browser. You can enable, disable, and tweak every minute aspect of the browser. Vivaldi resembles Opera in using a tile-based start page, tab previews, mouse gestures, and a side rail of buttons for frequent actions like note-taking, downloads, history, and favorites.
Standout features include a split screen, clutter-free printing, and an Image Properties view complete with a histogram. A favorite trick of mine is that the browser window changes color to match the site you’re on. Vivaldi now includes an email client as well as Mastodon integration. In another great example of stretching our concept of what a browser is, Vivaldi lets you control Philips Hue smart bulbs based on the browser's color pattern!
More on Web Browsers
Even the market leading web browsers seldom sit still, with Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari getting frequent updates. Read PCMag's roundup of the established browsers, Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Opera, or Safari: Which Browser Is Best? And keep up with all the latest developments at our browser home page.