Four reasons I switched to Safari after years of using Chrome and why I’ll probably switch back

After upgrading to OS X Yosemite last week, I got an interesting notification when booting up Chrome for the first time. Apple wanted me to give Safari on the desktop another try. Instead of dismissing it, I booted up Safari for the first time since I used it to download Chrome. After years of using Google Chrome as the primary browser on my Mac, I’m not going back, at least not yet. Here are a few reasons why:


1. It definitely feels faster

In my limited usage, it feels like Safari is quicker to load pages, is less likely to lag, and my whole computer just feels a little lighter. I no longer have Google Chrome Helper — a catch-all for rogue Chrome extensions and plug-ins — hogging the majority of my CPU cycles, either.

Other people are backing up my anecdotal evidence with benchmarks. [company]Apple[/company] claims that Safari beats Chrome and Mozilla Firefox on several JavaScript performance benchmarks including JSBench and Apple’s new JetStream test. Stephen Shankland at CNET ran a few benchmarks of his own that largely agree with Apple’s findings.

The one claim I’m a little more dubious about is that Safari provides longer battery life for MacBook laptops. I haven’t noticed a bump in battery life, but that might be because I usually have a lot of tabs up at once, including ones that are using Adobe Flash, like Spotify’s web client. It’s nice that Safari natively supports Netflix and no longer requires you to install a plug-in.

It’s also worth noting that Safari runs in 64-bit mode and the stable version of Chrome on OS X is currently is 32-bit, although that doesn’t make a huge difference to the end user.

2. Apple’s ecosystem pull is stronger than ever for iPhone users

Although there’s a great mobile Chrome app for iOS devices, I’ve tended to stick with Safari because it’s been faster. Changes in iOS 8 WebKit allow Chrome and other browsers to use Apple’s fast Nitro JavaScript engine, but Safari is still my choice because it’s the default — I like that it’s the browser that other apps choose (are forced to) to open pages in.

And Safari has largely caught up with Chrome in terms of browser sync features. The new Handoff feature is a very easy way to send a tab from your phone to your desktop, and iCloud can sync bookmarks, history, tabs and Apple’s read-later service Reading List.

I also started using iCloud Keychain as my primary way of saving passwords, and I’m finding its password and credit card autofill feature to be surprisingly good on mobile, and I feel that it’s a little more secure than Chrome’s way of storing passwords, which used to be in plaintext. I particularly like that iCloud Keychain requires an iOS device to have a passcode.

3. The new tab page is nearly perfect

I’m a big fan of Safari’s new tab page, specifically the favorites view. You get big, clickable buttons for the very few websites you designate as a “favorite” — like a Bookmarks bar — and below that, buttons for frequently viewed websites. You can easily drag a frequently viewed page into favorites.

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Your “Favorites” sync with Safari on iOS, and I’ve found it to be the most convenient way to get around many of the problems surrounding mobile bookmarks, namely that nobody uses them. Chrome has a similar feature, but the way Safari syncs a small amount of core bookmarks is very elegant.

The left sidebar is surprisingly useful. Reading List is a very lightweight way to save a webpage to read later, which is appreciated after years of services like Instapaper and Pocket adding more features I don’t necessarily want. Although heavy Twitter users might find the list of shared links from your timeline superfluous, I thought it was a good way to find something to read before starting the aimless browsing that Twitter can encourage.

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In contrast, Chrome’s new tab page has a Google search bar (redundant because there’s one at the top of your browser) and eight recently used webpages, but instead of favicon Google has opted for screen previews, which don’t really add any useful information and look kind of junky.

4. Native OS X notifications are elegant

Notifications on OS X has improved a lot in OS X Yosemite, thanks to a growing importance for calling features part of Continuity. Safari works with the Mac’s native notifications, as opposed to Chrome which has its own notifications system, which is the bell in your notifications bar. Aesthetically, I prefer Apple’s notifications.

I even found that I liked the Safari push notifications from individual sites. While there are some high-volume sites that will ping you several times an hour, there are many sites — including Gigaom — which only push notifications for stories that they think are important.

There’s a chance I may switch back to Chrome. Here’s why

Chrome is vastly superior at tab management. Safari doesn’t provide favicons in its tabs, which makes it easy to lose a page you need for reference. In addition, because of Chrome’s other life as a complete operating system, it handles web pages much better as apps. The pin tab feature is indispensable for the way I work, and really is perfect for Gmail or Calendar tabs.

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I also missed a little bit of the Google integration, like the ability to left click and search by image, or automatic translation.

Although the way Safari presents tabs can promote focus, the fact is, if you’re a heavy browser user, the way Chrome handles background tabs is superior and better reflects the importance of web apps in many people’s workflow. But if you’re written off Safari in the past, it’s time to give it another try.