Trust the lion: the Brave browser

It’s been a while since I talked about browsers. Those who have known me for a long time will remember how I’ve always liked to try new browsers and never limited myself to using just one. Given how I usually keep a fair amount of browser tabs open all the time — to access frequently-used resources, and as a buffer for stuff I plan to read later — it’s just unfeasible to use just one browser. For the past several years my multiple browser setup has involved a main browser (Safari, unquestionably), and usually two, sometimes even three, secondary ones. 

My preferences for these secondary browsers have changed with time. When I used PowerPC Macs as main machines, Camino and Stainless would be my choices other than Safari. When I decided to remove Flash from my system, the secondary browser would become Chrome because it incorporates a Flash plug-in, and I would resort to Chrome to access those websites requiring Flash to work. Then in recent years, when 99% of the sites I visit either don’t use Flash anymore, or serve HTML5 content, I’ve basically stopped using Chrome. Meanwhile, Firefox and Opera have been getting better and better: faster, leaner, less resource-hungry, less memory-leaky, less bloated, generally way more pleasant to use than in the past. And so, for a relatively long period of time, my browser trinity has been Safari, Firefox and Opera. Another browser I tried for a while was Sleipnir, but, while I appreciate the software, its user interface never really clicked for me. I left Opera behind when Vivaldi came out. And just when I started getting accustomed to Vivaldi, I discovered Brave.

In this age of invasive Web advertising and tracking, I find Brave to be a great resource to browse faster, safer, and better. I know it sounds like a slogan, but it’s true. Ads and trackers get automatically blocked when you browse with Brave, and as you imagine this has a very positive impact on performance (and energy consumption if you’re using a laptop). But Brave also wants to help publishers and content providers with Brave Payments, a micropayment system where 

Readers may choose a monthly contribution amount which is divided among the publisher sites they visit most. […] Once a user enables Brave Payments, the Brave browser automatically and anonymously keeps track of the publisher sites each user visits. The more times that a user visits a site, the larger the proportion of the user’s monthly contribution is “ear-marked” for that publisher. These funds grow as new micropayments are added.

Check out the above-linked Brave Payments page for more information on how to become an official partner of Brave. I think it’s a great idea, and I’m considering becoming one myself. In my case the problem is that I don’t update my blog really frequently; it’s what one would call a ‘slow feed’, so it’s unlikely that it would make the top list of a visitor’s ‘most frequented’ sites… Oh well, never say never, right?

Brave is open source, and available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android. (See the Downloads page).

Really, just take a tour of the Brave website for all the information about what Brave does and why it’s faster and safer to use it for browsing. Everything you need to know is explained clearly and to the point. My experience so far on the Mac has been great. The interface and application chrome are minimal and let you concentrate on the content. Very occasionally I’ve noticed some intermittent spikes in CPU usage, but most of the times it was the website’s fault. Lots of ad-ridden tech sites load noticeably faster. To achieve a similar performance on Safari, I had to install specific blockers like AdBlock, Ghostery, and more importantly Better by Ind.ie, which I truly recommend.

Brave on iOS

I saved what I consider the best bit for last, though. If you, like me, still own and use older iOS devices with 32-bit CPU architecture, you’ll know that unfortunately they don’t support the Safari content blocking feature Apple introduced in iOS 9. As I wrote previously:

I’ve always found this limitation quite irritating because — as I often stated — this is the kind of feature that would be especially helpful on older devices. A lot of today’s websites are so littered with ads and all kinds of unrelated, superfluous content that loading them becomes unnecessarily cumbersome and resource- and battery-draining. On older devices the issue is exacerbated: my iPad 3, which is still a good performer overall, becomes very sluggish on certain ad-heavy websites. 

Well, rejoice, because the ad- and tracker-blocking features in Brave for iOS do indeed work with older devices — well, relatively older, as its minimum requirement is iOS 9.0. I still haven’t tried it on my wife’s iPad 2, but on my iPad 3 Brave appears to achieve the best browser performance so far. Ads and trackers are effectively blocked, and with an iOS device of that vintage, you really notice the difference in loading speeds and responsiveness. On my iPhone 5 it’s even better. 

In the first empty tab when you launch Brave, and whenever you open a new tab, the browser shows a few default shortcuts for sites people frequently visit; as you keep using Brave, the shortcuts of the sites you visit more often will start appearing next to those. Above the shortcuts, Brave displays a few statistics: 

Brave iOS

This is Brave five minutes after using it for the first time and visiting just three pages of The A.V. Club website: 47 ads blocked, 91 trackers blocked. Macworld’s home page on the Mac loads in 3.43 seconds, while on my iPad 3 it takes a bit longer, about 6 seconds — which is still great, considering that on Safari it takes no less than 18–20 seconds before the site fully loads and can be navigated.

When you visit a site, tapping the Brave logo in the toolbar shows you the Site shield settings, where you can fine-tune what you want to block:

Brave iOS shield

To sum up, Brave appears to be a very promising browser and project; it’s been around for a couple of years now, but I’ve found it to be more mature and reliable since late 2016. For the past seven months I’ve been using only Safari and Brave on my Mac, and it has become my go-to browser on my older iOS devices because, as far as I know, it seems to be the only browser with effective ad-blocking and tracker-blocking capabilities for 32-bit iOS devices. Check it out if you haven’t already, or if you did when it was still in a very beta stage and disappointed you. You may be surprised.

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About Riccardo Mori

Writer. Translator. Mac consultant. Enthusiast photographer. • If you like what I write, please consider supporting my writing by purchasing my short stories, Minigrooves or by making a donation. Thank you!