Hands On With The Brave Browser

Asking someone what the best browser is can be a great way to start an argument. For what it’s worth, I don’t find a lot of difference in the performance and features of the main browsers on the market although I do have some preferences when it comes to their interfaces. Brave browser is a multi-platform app that promises to protect your privacy and block ads. Here’s what I found after a few days of use.

I’m currently testing a new PC out, a HP Elitebook X360, so I installed Brave and made it the default browser. As I switch between machines quite often, I don’t have a favourite browser. I tend to roll with the default browser on the operating system I’m using so I generally use Edge on Windows 10 and Safari on Macs and iOS devices.

Brave’s big push is that it performs faster than other browsers, and blocks tracking cookies and ads.

The usage stats Brave displays on its default homepage after installation give you a running count of how many trackers and ads it’s blocked as well as time saved. The performance stats are based on Brave’s own benchmarking against Chrome. But given Chrome’s performance is a moving feast, as it’s updated frequently, it’s not a performance stat that’s easily quantified.

However, Brave’s developers claim to be twice as fast on desktops and up to eight times faster on mobile devices.

Interestingly, Brave claims to have quantified the cost savings that come from blocking ads and trackers. They say “The average mobile browser user pays as much as $23 month in data charges to download ads and trackers”. Given very few people pay per GB these days that’s an interesting claim.

One feature that I’m struggling to find good information about is the HTTPS Upgrade capability. Brave’s developers say this “means more of your connections are encrypted, protecting your identity, browsing, payments and more”. So, if I’m reading that correctly, Brave is encrypting previously unprotected connections. But documentation on the company’s website or Github is not very clear.

Brave is open source and still in pre-release mode.

Brave on Windows 10

If there’s a performance difference between Edge and Brave I cannot pick it. On the machine I tested, both browsers performed well. On a fresh installation of Windows 10, both browsers loaded pages quickly and I didn’t have any hassles playing video or other rich content.

What I did find annoying was that, unlike Edge, I couldn’t swipe across the touchscreen rather that hitting the back button, which is sized for mouse use, rather than fingers on a touchscreen.

Brave on macOS and iOS

One of the first sites I visited on all my devices was The Age newspaper. As I started typing the URL into the address bar, once I’d typed “th”, Brave defaulted to auto-filling for thepiratebay.se which was curious coming from a software developer. Given I never pirate content I can only conclude the autofill was coming from some other source.

Otherwise, performance on my Mac running macOS High Sierra Public 9 and iPad running iOS 11 Public Beta 8, mirrored what I saw on Windows. Performance was snappy and ads were gone. For example, on The Age, it removed 28 ad blockers and performed two of those curious HTTPS upgrades.

Brave also works on Linux and Android systems but I wasn’t able to test those.

Is this enough to make me switch?

As I said at the outset, I switch machines regularly. That means I stick to default apps most of the time in order to minimise the time and effort it takes to start working on a new machine. But I’m becoming increasingly security and privacy conscious. With the number of potential threats out there I’m taking a more critical eye to the software I install and how it interacts with the outside world.

I have five core computing devices I go back to regularly, a Mac mini, a Windows 10 desktop, a Windows 10 2-in-1, an iPhone and an iPad Air 2. On those, I’m going to persist wth Brave.

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