One of the most important pieces of software you will use on your computer is going to be the web browser. There are really three main browser brand names, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer/Edge, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome/Chromium. There’s also dozens of smaller third party browsers around to try out. Although Firefox and Chromium are both open source, the majority of third party browsers are based around Chromium and the Blink engine.
Chromium is the browser project from Google that Chrome is based around. The two are very similar but Chrome is more like the public version as Chromium is never officially released as a standalone browser. Chrome has extras like a PDF reader, Flash player, auto updater and multimedia codecs. Each third party browser developer has its own ideas and either takes things out of Chromium or adds new functions and features in. There are several functions built into Chromium and Chrome already but today’s internet user often needs more, which has to be taken care of with extensions.
A number of third party Chromium based browsers are really pretty similar to standard and offer a few security or privacy tweaks such as removing communication with Google servers. We’re more interested in looking at a browser that enhances the features and functions over and above the standard Chromium, such as built in ad blocking, mouse gestures, better tab/download/bookmark management or even something unique like a built in VPN or DNS encryption.
Here we list seven browsers based on Chromium and the Blink engine that have a bigger feature set and more options than the browser they are developed around. Importantly, the browsers can still directly or indirectly install extensions from the Chrome store, any that can’t were not included.
Vivaldi is the newest big player in the browser market with the stable version released in April 2016. It was created by a former founder and CEO of the original Opera. Unhappy with the direction Opera took after moving from its own Presto engine to Chromium’s Blink, they decided to create a new browser that reintroduces many of the features and functions removed from Opera. As a result, Vivaldi is currently popular among advanced users and geeks.
Perhaps the most striking difference Vivaldi has over other browsers is the color changing theme which alters the UI color to match the general color of the current web page. A very useful space saving feature is the tab stacking which allows you to drop one tab on top of another to group them together. What Vivaldi has in abundance is tons of options to tweak things like appearance, tabs and the address bar to your preference. As it’s still pretty new, Vivaldi should improve further and pick up more options and features as time goes on.
- Customizable Speed Dial/Start page with folder groups
- Auto Color changing UI to match the website you’re viewing
- Custom themes with scheduling for day and night time themes
- Mouse and rocker gestures
- Tab stacking, tiling, cycling, hibernating and preview options
- Page actions including CSS debugger, content blocker, color filters
- Side Panel to view bookmarks, notes, downloads and web pages
- Vivaldi button or horizontal options menu
- Customize tab bar position, display, handling, cycling, stacking and pinned tabs
- Custom keyboard shortcuts and quick commands
- Save and load all tabs in a custom session
- Reading view mode
- Bookmark system with thumbnails and nickname shortcuts
- Quick commands (F2) to quickly find the function or keyboard shortcut
2. Yandex Browser
Yandex is the Russian internet services giant with one of the biggest search engines in the world. Their Chromium based browser has been around since 2012 and within that time it’s gained many users and some interesting features. The user interface is somewhat different to standard but it still looks and behaves like you’re using a Chromium browser. Yandex Browser is also available for Mac OS X, iOS, Android, and Linux.
One of the most talked about and currently unique features in Yandex Browser is DNSCrypt which sends to and receives encrypted requests from a DNS server. The Tableau is a fancy name for a start or new tab page but is nicely done with a default full window animated background, optional personal news feed and a speed dial of your favorite websites. Although the website doesn’t specifically say, the Protect security system supposedly scans downloaded files with Kaspersky. On install, you will be offered the choice of Google, Bing or Yandex.ru as the default search engine.
- Mouse and rocker gestures (not customizable)
- Tab position top or bottom with colored tabs to match website theme
- Disable all notifications for 3 hours
- Opera based Turbo mode to compress pages and video on slow connections
- Tableau URL shortcuts for Start page/new tab with Yandex Zen personalized news stories
- Smart box with advanced search and share to email/Facebook/Twitter
- Antishock blocks fraudulent or unpleasant ads and popups
- One click extension install for Evernote, LastPass, Adguard, Lightshot, Pocket, Turn off the lights
- DNSCrypt sends encrypted requests to a DNSCrypt enabled DNS server
- Protected mode for banking and payment systems applies stricter security policy
- Protect security system scans downloads with antivirus and secures webpages/WiFi/settings
- Ebook and document viewer can read epub, fb2, doc, docx, ppt, pptx, rtf as well as pdf
3. Cent Browser
Cent is a Chromium based browser from a small group of developers in China which first appeared in early 2015. If you are someone who wants a more feature rich browser but likes the minimalist user interface of Chromium and Chrome, Cent maybe just what you are looking for. Unlike some other browsers here, Cent sticks more closely to the original look and feel of Chromium with most of its power coming from the array of extra options found in the Settings window.
Cent is not the type of browser that is loaded with tons of big features but instead includes loads of tweaks, improvements and functions that accumulate to make a big improvement over the standard Chromium. For example, a few changes to the default new tab page, bookmark layout, toolbar buttons and how tabs look and behave make a difference. The single extension process memory saving feature could potentially reduce memory usage if you use multiple extensions. The drawback is one extension crashing will likely crash the other extensions as well.
- Changeable tab shape and new tab button. Remove avatar button
- Toolbar buttons for restore closed tabs, downloads, mute, bookmarks
- Custom new tab page or edit the default Google new tab page
- Scrollable tab bar with tab menu to select, close or unload tabs
- Multiple open/close tab options with custom width and hover activate
- Hideable bookmarks bar, multiple bookmark columns, left edge bookmarks
- Custom stylesheet, cache directory and startup command line box
- Built-in download manager accessible from the toolbar
- Memory optimizations with auto purge and use a single extension process
- Mouse gestures, rocker gestures and Super Drag
- QR code generator in address bar
- Custom keyboard accelerators and shortcuts including Boss key
- Fast image saver, auto scroll, custom background color for all web pages
- Video popup with play in window, enlarge to page, download video/audio
- Official portable version
The Opera browser is now over 20 years old and in 2016 was sold to Chinese internet security company Qihoo 360. Opera is still owned and run in Norway though, which has to adhere to local and European laws regarding privacy and data. Back in 2013 Opera made a decision to discontinue its Presto engine based browser and instead go with a Blink based Chromium version. Opera has been introducing some interesting features in recent times which is helping to put it back up there as one of the most used Windows web browsers.
The currently most talked about feature in Opera is the new VPN which goes through Opera owned SurfEasy servers. Over 2 million users were added to Opera’s user base within a week of its release. The other recent addition of an ad blocker is very useful. The Speed Dial has been present for a long time and is one of the most polished around. Opera cannot install extensions direct from the Chrome Store, only the Opera extensions site. To get around this install “Download Chrome Extension“, it can’t install Chrome store themes or apps but should support just about all extensions.
- Built in unlimited SurfEasy VPN with 5 global locations
- Built in ad blocker with exceptions list and custom block lists
- Battery saver mode to reduce battery drain while unplugged
- Opera Turbo pre-compresses pages on Opera servers
- Video popout enables floating video window
- Customizable Speed Dial/Start page with folder grouping and news
- Full window tab previews
- Mouse and rocker gestures (not configurable)
- Custom keyboard shortcuts
- Personal news reader with RSS support
- Highlight text quick menu with search and copy buttons
- Enhanced Bookmarks with page previews and customizable thumbnails
- Fast startup sequence loads multiple tabs quicker when starting the browser
The Slimjet browser is made by Flashpeak who also make the Trident engined SlimBrowser and Slimjet’s predecessor, SlimBoat. Slimjet has been around since 2014 and during that time has developed into one of the most feature and function rich Chromium based browsers available. In addition to the main Windows 7 – 10 version, there’s also versions for Linux and a special version for Windows XP and Vista users.
While Slimjet doesn’t contain anything groundbreaking, it is stuffed full of very useful features that aren’t in the standard Chrome/Chromium. All of these add up to make a browser which should have something for average and advanced users alike. The built-in ad blocker is a welcome inclusion and should have broad appeal as will the memory optimization functions, which actually do seem to work. The proxy manager is good for quickly changing between different proxy addresses and the resumable download manager is a handy addition.
- Built in ad blocker with whitelisting and additional filter lists
- Multiple connections download manager with resume
- Video downloader with audio extraction
- Screenshot capture including selected area mode
- Built-in video recording of current tab via Screencastify extension
- Customizable toolbar with 21 buttons and profile switch button remover
- Enhanced tab options
- Mouse gestures with basic super drag to search and open links
- Photo shrink and upload with photo enhancer and clipboard upload
- Custom cache directory and size
- Memory management with idle tab unload and auto optimize memory
- Facebook integration with one click share text/image/link
- Customizable new tab/Start page with built-in weather forecast
- Smart form filler with quick fill and auto fill
- Url alias shortcuts
- Proxy manager with quick switcher toolbar button
- Save web page as PDF
- Profile switch button remove, hide/auto hide bookmarks bar
- Auto refresh current or all tabs at specified intervals
- Tracking prevention with remove search engine indirect links and block third party content
- Official portable version
6. UC Browser
UCWeb’s browser is one of the most well known and popular on mobile platforms but they also have a Windows web browser that’s been around since 2015. The UC Browser user interface is visually quite different from most other Chromium based browsers and the extra themes that can be applied are quite striking. We find the default theme is probably the best looking though. One issue with UC Browser is it’s often three or four major versions behind the current Chromium which means it’s also behind on security updates.
One of UC Browser’s most interesting features is the free WiFi option. In reality you don’t really get anything for free and the option will simply turn a wireless enabled computer into a WiFi hotspot. It’s quite simple to do anyway in Windows 7 and above but the browser makes it easier to setup for non techies. Many of UC Browser’s features are media related with the built-in screenshot tool, resource downloader, video popup and image previewer. The included ad blocker and download manager are something all users should find useful.
- Custom layout with theme support
- Screenshot tool with built-in editing functions
- Free WiFi quickly turns your computer into a wireless hotspot
- Link preloading, next page preloading, auto page scroll
- Cloud Boost compresses images before loading
- Mouse gestures and Super drag
- Customizable keyboard shortcuts, Boss key function
- Built in ad/popup blocker with custom filter lists and exceptions
- Built in resource downloader extension to grab on page images, video or audio
- Online video popup to play video in pop-out window or download video/audio
- Full window opened tabs viewer with thumbnails
- Custom user data folder location
- Customizable new tab/speed dial page with 2 different styles
- Download manager with Thunder high-speed downloads
- Image Previewer to see full-size images while hovering over thumbnails
- Brightness adjustment with auto UI night mode
Sleipnir is a browser from Japan, which is a bit of a pain on the website as most web pages redirect to Japanese pages. Luckily the browser itself is fully multi-language. Sleipnir has two different maintained versions of their Windows browser, 6 and 4. While the version 6 user interface is pretty looking but somewhat of an acquired taste, Sleipnir’s version 4 is the one we are looking at because it more closely resembles a Chromium based browser. We’ve also read several reports of version 6 being quite sluggish to use although feature wise they are quite similar.
One of Sleipnir’s most prominent features is tab grouping. The Groups button is to the left of the opened tabs and pressing it will open a new grouped tabs area above. The feed reader is very useful for users that need one as few other browsers include such a feature. Being able to switch between Internet Explorer and Blink rendering engines is good to expand page compatibility while extras like Supersearch, smart search bar, quick security switcher and tab preview help to enhance the browsing experience.
- Choose from 16 different user agent strings or create your own
- Includes Internet Explorer Trident rendering engine with per site switching
- Mouse gestures, mouse aliases and super drag extension
- Customize keyboard shortcuts
- SnapCrab window and desktop image snapshot tool
- Quick security switcher allows default, secure or full access modes
- Tab groups allows you to create separate sets of color coded tabs
- Integrated Feed reader
- Side panel shows bookmarks, history and feeds
- Clear history, cookies, cache etc on exit
- Customize user interface by editing toolbar items and buttons
- Smart search bar popup on highlighting text
- Auto refresh selected tabs at intervals, refresh all or stop all tabs loading
- Restore data mode to restore previous bookmarks and opened tabs
- Supersearch searches the web, search history, bookmarks, history, tabs and actions
- Tab preview on hover with mini toolbar to bookmark, close or pin page
- Open tab in SuperView which is a floating window with just the page content and no controls
- Official portable version
Note: There are dozens of other Chromium based browsers available and some have useful or interesting features. For instance, Brave Browser has the very good Bravery security/privacy panel and a rather unique ad payments option. Epic Browser has a built in US proxy and the Umbrella button to turn on or off ad blocking and privacy options. Unfortunately, neither support extensions. Avant Ultimate is a triple engine browser which does support Chrome extensions but they are not completely implemented because there is no toolbar with icons to control them.
Some Observations About Browser Performance
Because all these are Chromium based browsers, they should perform pretty much the same. Of course, included features might consume more or less system resources depending on what that feature is designed to do. While this is not a controlled speed or memory benchmark test, we did make a few notes about anything that stood out performance wise while testing.
The memory tweaks in Slimjet really do appear to work and it used far less memory than anything else. Conversely, Vivaldi was the biggest memory consumer by some margin. With seven tabs open it used nearly twice as much RAM as Slimjet. The other browsers were similar to each other but when you take into account some have built in features like an ad blocker, memory usage will not be as high compared to browsers that need an extension to perform the same task. If you have a computer with low memory, Slimjet as a good place to start.
We noticed no huge differences in general page load speed (excluding ad blocker usage). Cent launched itself and loaded a predefined set of pages a bit faster than the others though. The difference wasn’t massive but noticeable (2-3 seconds better than average). With a handful of extensions added Vivaldi really slowed down in launch time. In fact, with the same extensions installed Cent could launch and almost load its pages before Vivaldi even opened its window.
Chromium releases a new major version around every six weeks or so. As a consequence, the browsers based on it are being updated almost as fast with new features, functions, fixes and tweaks. Although during general testing a few browsers stood out performance wise, it really comes down to whether the browser in question has an appealing feature set that will likely decide whether it’s right for you.