Safari 4 Beta review

Safari 4 is the second version of Safari for Windows, and it brings some major changes from its predecessor. The first can be discerned at a glance: where Safari 3 irritated us with its incongruous Mac-style front end, the new version adopts a native Windows skin.

It’s still a slightly quirky design, though. The tab controls have moved to the top of the window, and also act as the window’s title-bar.

This makes for a very compact interface, but it also means that, as with Google Chrome, there’s no full-length display of page titles. Indeed, once you open a few tabs only a small snippet of text remains visible on each, making it hard to find the page you want – especially since Safari doesn’t show favicons in tabs. In Vista and Windows 7 things are even worse, as the tabs are transparent, reducing their readability.

One of Safari’s new headline features is the “top sites” view, which presents a grid of your most commonly-visited sites for quick access. It’s nicely configurable – more like Opera’s “speed dial” page than Chrome’s “most visted” view, allowing you to pin thumbnails into position and indicate if you don’t want a particular site to appear in the grid. You can also choose whether to view six, 12 or 24 pages, making it the most versatile implementation we’ve seen.

But though the visual approach is very accessible, Safari (unlike Opera) seems to update the thumbnails only irregularly, so a preview may look nothing like the page it leads to.

It’s the presentation of “top sites” that’s guaranteed to divide opinion, though: rather than a simple grid, Safari shows a glitzy, curved wall of thumbnails – a gimmick that feels incongruous amid the otherwise sober interface.

It’s a similar story with Safari’s other big new feature: a jazzed-up history view which now shows recently visited pages within Apple’s “coverflow” interface. Again, the visual approach makes a lot of sense, but it’s questionable whether such a linear system is the most efficient way to navigate a browser history. Thankfully, you do get a search field, and a traditional list of page titles.

And if parts of Safari smack of superficiality, that’s offset by the inclusion of some very practical debugging and analysis tools, intended to help developers troubleshoot and optimise their sites. Offering these tools for free should benefit every web user, whether they use Safari or not.

Naturally, Safari 4 is designed with performance in mind. Apple claims its Nitro JavaScript engine is “three times faster than Firefox 3.0” – though since Safari is still in beta, a fairer comparison would be with Firefox 3.1 Beta 2, which uses a more advanced JavaScript engine.

In our own comparative tests, we found Safari completed the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark in 1.89 seconds, while Firefox 3.1 Beta 2 running on the same system followed closely behind with a time of 2.02 seconds. Third place went to Chrome, with a time of 2.27 seconds, Opera ranked fourth with 5.63 seconds and the public beta of Internet Explorer 8 languished last at 7.43 seconds. While Safari may not be the runaway winner Apple would have you believe, it’s unarguably fast.

It feels fast, too. Start typing into the search box and Google suggestions leap up in a fraction of a second. Complex pages render in the blink of an eye. For everyday browsing it feels as responsive as Chrome.


If you don’t have a meaty video card, though, the 3D elements drag things down. On a laptop with integrated graphics, we found the coverflow view infuriatingly slow and juddery.


Software subcategoryWeb browser

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported?yes
Operating system Windows XP supported?yes
Operating system Linux supported?no
Operating system Mac OS X supported?yes

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