Microsoft Edge is dead, long live Microsoft Edge. Although the old Edge long failed to make it on to anybody’s list of best browsers, Microsoft has completely revamped its web browser by basing it on Chromium, which has improved its performance, created a more pleasant user experience and opened the door to Chrome’s library of extensions.
Microsoft’s history with web browsers is a turbulent one, to say the least. Although its original browser — Internet Explorer — was once dominant, it lost its crown to Google Chrome in the mid-2000s (read our Microsoft Edge vs Chrome piece). It isn’t without some irony, then, that Microsoft has decided to pin its hopes on the Chromium framework to revive interest in its struggling browser. The biggest benefit that the new Edge browser gets from moving to the Chromium framework (read our Chromium review) is that it is now compatible with Chrome’s vast library of extensions. Although Microsoft also operates its own store for dedicated Edge add-ons, it’s dwarfed by the Chrome web store, which contains tens of thousands of extensions.
Although not all extensions will work with Edge, most will, with the exception being ones that directly modify the user interface. This means that invaluable web apps — such as password manager extensions, ad blockers and security extensions — are all available for the browser, greatly expanding its list of potential new features. Edge also comes with a sync feature that’s similar to that of Chrome. Currently, you can sync your favorites, settings, form content and passwords using your Microsoft account. Although it hasn’t been implemented yet, Microsoft also plans to add history, currently open tabs, extensions and collections to this list of syncable items.
Another similarity to Chrome is the context menu options. You can select and right-click any text — and more importantly, images — and choose “search the web for” to instantly do a text or reverse image search in your chosen search engine. By default this is Bing, but you can change it to Google, Yahoo or DuckDuckGo. Like most browsers, Edge has a reading mode — called “immersive reader” — that strips out everything except the text on a webpage to make it easier to read. There’s also a “read aloud” feature that takes highlighted text and, you guessed it, reads it out loud. This works quite well for English text, but not so much for any other language (reminding us a bit of speech-to-text software).
The new Edge browser features a slick and easy-to-use design that will no doubt be familiar to anyone who has used Chrome or other Chromium-derived web browsers. When you first install Edge, you’re taken through an introduction that helps you set up the browser. First, you can import bookmarks from Chrome or Internet Explorer, but if you wish to import from any other browsers, you’ll need to first export your bookmarks to an HTML file and import from there. Check out our guide on how to backup Firefox bookmarks for an example of how to do this.
Next, you’re prompted to set up the sync process, as well as choose a “tab style” that suits you. This “tab style” is basically what you’ll see when you open a new tab. You can choose between “focused,” “inspirational,” “informational” and “custom.” There’s not a huge amount of difference between these, as it basically boils down to whether or not you want a personalized news feed on your homepage, as well as enabling or disabling the “image of the day” as your Microsoft wallpaper. You can choose a country for the news feed, which will then show you the day’s headlines relevant to your location.
Besides the new tab page, there’s not a whole lot of customization available. You can switch between a light and dark theme, as well as download and install additional fonts, but both of these are features commonly included in most web browsers these days.