Mar 20, 2011 — by: Karl Johnson
Categories: Products, Review

Since Chrome's first stable release, it has become the third most poplar browser on the Mac. Because Chrome has rapidly grown in popularity, it is time to compare it with the default browser, Safari.

Both browsers use the same Webkit rendering engine, but does Chrome offer features compelling enough to switch? Time to find out.

Google released the first beta version of their browser Chrome on the Mac in December 2009. The first stable release of Chrome was version 5, which debuted in May, 2010. Google has released several major updates since then and they are currently on version 10. Major releases of Google products must be viewed differently than other companies, since they are usually called minor updates. This is clearly evident with the fact that version 5 was the first stable release.

At first glance, Chrome offers some visual changes compared with Safari. The tab toolbar is above the address bar instead of below which goes against Apple's user interface guidelines. Apple tried the same thing with a preview version of Safari 5, but removed it upon its release.

Chrome also has one entry bar for both search and address, a feature some like and some don't. The one bar approach may be easier to use for advanced users, but also can be confusing for new users. A good reason to leave them separate for Apple.

Google's Chrome has more visual information for web pages that are being viewed. It will show security level, cookie acceptance, and a separate popup for the linked address under the mouse. Apple displays the linked address in the status bar instead, which delivers a clean feel to the interface. While Chromes extra information was nice at first, it quickly grew distracting over time, and it provided no real usefulness.

After comparing visual differences, the next comparison was to look at video performance. The movie trailer from Prince of Persia was used for this test. Recently, Google announced that they would no longer include H.264 codec in the their Chrome Browser. Yet the current browser still includes this codec, but maybe not for long. When Google removes it, this will become a deal breaker for most Mac users, as most videos for the Mac use the H.264 codec. Both browsers were tested with the H.264 codec with HTML5 and Adobe's Flash. The results are shown in the chart below and shows Safari beat Chrome in both tests. Clearly, Safari has been more optimized for the Mac and Chrome has not.

After extended use, the memory footprint for both browsers were also compared between the two. This unscientific experiment shows Safari with 350MB and Chrome with 500MB. Both browsers were used to do similar tasks. Chrome has a few more extensions which added about 40 MB to its size. Chrome shows up in the activity monitor as multiple threads since each task, such as extensions, plugins, and browser windows, run in separate threads. Again, Safari shows it is more optimized for the Mac by using less memory.

Chrome does have a few nice features that are not in Safari. Chrome gives the option to go full screen, a feature which Safari should have had for a while, but this option will come with Lion this summer. Another nice feature is better cookie control. This feature causes Chrome to delete all cookies when Chrome closed and allows for exceptions. Both Firefox and Chrome currently have this feature and Safari needs to have it. While these features are nice, they are not big enough to switch browsers.

Safari has its own set of features that Chrome does not. Safari uses the Shortcuts ?+(1-9) for the first nine shortcuts in the bookmark bar. Chrome and Firefox use the same shortcuts for switching between tabs. Since there are already shortcuts for tab switching, these are fairly redundant. This is an incredibly useful feature for Safari and gives users quick access to the top websites. Safari also removes distracting favicons from the bookmark bar. Safari's interface is also less distracting, which allows the users to focus on the web page instead of the browser.

Safari is clearly more optimized for the Mac with faster video performance while using less memory. Chrome uses the same Webkit engine as Safari, which offers no advantage over Safari. While each browser has some advantages and disadvantages, Safari is the clear winner. Chrome doesn't have a compelling reason to switch from the default Safari browser. Safari is still the cleanest, most refined, and fastest browser for the mac.

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  1. Scott ~ Mar. 21, 2011 @ 9:37 am

    You didn't mention the two biggest advantages Chrome has over Safari... 1. the key whole underlying philosophy of Chrome, that each page is a separate workspace. In Safari, if one page hangs up, gives you a beachball, becomes unresponsive... you're dead in the water. In Chrome, you can keep working in other tabs/windows, and a one page crash won't bring down your whole session. This was Chrome's original raison d'etre, and is still its big, unique advantage. 2. tons of extensions, some of which are quite useful #
  2. Marc Schwachter ~ Mar. 21, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

    Another serious oversight is the extensions and other customizations. Safari extensions are crippled by Safari guidelines and modifying the browser requires hacks to program. Chrome's extensions have serious power and flexibility. #
  3. Jeff ~ Jul. 25, 2011 @ 3:28 am

    Safari handled Flash better, but it crashes more frequently thanks to Flash.......riiiiiiiiight. #
  4. William ~ Jul. 29, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

    Flash crashed all the time on Chrome for me, but on Safari I've only had 2 or 3. I've also never had a problem with either Chrome or Safari add-ons. @Scott: Really? I thought you could kill a bad script on Safari as well, although a major crash will still shut down Safari. However, you can restore just like on Chrome. #
  5. David Lee ~ Aug. 2, 2011 @ 4:27 am

    I use both of them in 13.3 macbook pro, but chrome is much better. #
  6. Chris ~ Sep. 1, 2011 @ 11:29 pm

    I've never felt comfortable with Safari, and now I'm just happy with my Chrome #
  7. Chris Gadsby ~ Sep. 9, 2011 @ 7:30 am

    for me chrome>firefox>safari. performance wise safari doesn't feel as good as chrome, but is better than FF (seriously what are you guys up to, use to be my fave). safari crashes for me all the time when playing flash and beach ball kills everything. chrome is like a separate work space so if one page clogs up, doesn't affect the others. also why i consider chrome + FF better than safari, is cause safari feels restrictive, it maybe clean and fast in respective areas but it lacks apps and add-ons. i will admit that i hate the favicon things though, wish they would put in opt to get rid of it. course this be my personal opinion. #
  8. lulz ~ Sep. 24, 2011 @ 2:46 am

    umm chrome has better security hands down.... dude you can hijack a MBP through safari check out blackhat events others has been done safari the easiest to attack... if you use safari dont use online banking on it period. #
  9. Elizabeth ~ Jun. 11, 2012 @ 9:20 pm

    For me it'd have to be Chrome. I used Safari for so long, but ever since I got Chrome, I've been in love with it. It's much easier to customize and personalize to fit your needs. And while I do like having the loading bar that comes with Safari, I enjoy Chrome's speedy loading times. #
  10. Guybrush ~ Jun. 29, 2012 @ 8:09 am

    "Again, Safari shows it is more optimized for the Mac by using less memory." yeah right. Cuz everyone knows that Safari is a frickin' RAM HOG!! #
  11. Shane ~ Sep. 9, 2012 @ 12:22 pm

    I have currently have a Macbook Pro, but previously had a HP laptop(blah... much happier now!) I have used Chrome on both. I have never had any problems. I LOVE Chrome. Safari is to bulky for me, I like to flow and smoothness Chrome provides. I recently downloaded Chrome for my iPhone and it is just as great! #

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