Apple Safari 5 review

Standards and performance

Finally, we’re told Safari 5 offers “even greater HTML 5 support” and “better performance”. The enthusiasm of the first claim seems a little transparent: Apple’s insistence on presenting HTML 5 as the sine qua non of rich web content is clearly a strategic position against Flash, rather than a realistic reflection of what’s out there. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with supporting the new standard – on the contrary, it’s good that someone’s getting the ball rolling – but we very much doubt you’ll see any benefit from it during the lifetime of this browser, especially since, unlike Apple’s mobile efforts, Safari 5 is fully compatible with Flash.

What’s more, according to the independent test at http://html5test.com, Safari 5’s HTML 5 implementation is no more complete than the previous version’s, with both scoring 207 out of 300. Still, it’s ahead of Chrome 5 on 197 and well in the lead over Firefox 3.6.3 on 139, Opera 10.53 on 129 and Internet Explorer 8 on a pathetic 27.

Safari 5 also scored 100% on the Acid3 CSS test, but that’s not so remarkable: Safari 4 managed the same, as did Chrome and Opera, while Firefox lagged just a little with 94%. The only disaster was IE, which scored just 12%.

Safari's visual History view makes it easy to find previously-accessed pages

On the performance side, one big improvement in Safari 5 is the use of DirectX 9 hardware acceleration for the glitzy “Top Sites” interface and the graphical History view. Now, even with entry-level hardware, they feel snappy and slick. That goes a long way to alleviate the “bolted on” sense that we felt lingered around Safari 4.

It’s responsive in everyday use, too, as we expect of all modern browsers. Pages appear quickly, and when you resize the window the text and graphics reflow instantly. Improved caching of DNS and content should help followed pages appear more quickly too, whether you’re browsing forwards or back.

To get an idea of performance in rich web applications, we compared all five major browsers using the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark. Here Safari 5 completed the SunSpider tests in just 324 milliseconds, a minimal improvement over the 336 seconds taken by Safari 4 on the same hardware. Chrome, though, came in with an even faster time, of just 292ms, and Opera undercut them both at 277ms. Runners-up were Firefox, on 710ms, and IE with an embarrassing 3.9 seconds.

Like the concurrently launched iPhone 4, Safari 5 is an evolution rather than a departure. There are some neat features here, but nothing that’s going to change the game. Likewise, performance and standards support are slightly improved, but not dramatically so.

Yet it feels fast and solid, and it’s no quirkier than the likes of Chrome or Opera. Couple that with the gradual normalisation of the front-end, and for the first time you’re left with an Apple-branded product that’s starting to feel genuinely at home on Windows. There’s still work to be done, but Safari 5 feels like it’s ready for the big time.

Details

Software subcategoryWeb browser

Requirements

Processor requirement500MHz processor

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?no

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