One of the heavily touted features of Windows 10 is that Edge (formerly Project Spartan) replaced Internet Explorer as the default web browser. I spent the last couple of days evaluating this new browser, and I want to share my thoughts with you in this review of the Edge Browser on Surface.
In this review, I’m going to (mostly) compare it to Internet Explorer as it is in Windows 10 as opposed to how it was in Windows 8.1 but, there will be a few lamenting words when I speak of the Modern version of IE in 8.1.
I have to tell you up front, I’m not that impressed but I’m not completely put off either. I think it’s an acceptable browser (especially for a 1.0 product) and it does have some good points but I don’t think it’s the huge improvement over Internet Explorer, as Microsoft was implying.
Edge Browser on Surface: The Good
Like I said, it is an acceptable browser; so I’m starting off with what I liked about it in the release version of Windows 10. Below is a list highlighting what I consider to be the points where Edge is an improvement over Internet Explorer.
Look and Feel
Some people, however, have been complaining about the fact that the Edge controls (address bar, tabs, and buttons) are huge in comparison to their counterparts in IE. Personally, I don’t mind the larger controls. I have big fingers and old eyes, so I like the fact that I can actually see and use the controls in touch mode. With IE on Windows 10 (yes, IE is still there), the controls are very tiny and I often hit the wrong thing when I’m using my touchscreen.
Honestly, I don’t think that neither Edge nor IE in Windows 10 beat the Modern version of IE in Windows 8.1 for touch friendliness – Edge isn’t bad though.
I’ve had little to no stability issues with Edge, so far (though others haven’t been as lucky). Don’t get me wrong, it has an issue where it hung up quite frequently but it never outright crashed or became unresponsive for very long (more on that in a bit).
I think the reading mode is the single best new feature. This mode offers you a nearly distraction-free reading experience, when you’re reading blogs or news sites, as it hides things like banner ads, sign-up forms, etc. and let’s you focus on the content.
This feature is “intelligent”; so if you’re not looking at an article that it can display in reading mode the option will be greyed out to help prevent confusion. In addition, you can add pages to a reading list to look at later. Essentially, the reading list functionality is just a bookmark, except, it will work offline and it automatically displays the content in reading view. It’s a minor convenience, I understand, but I really like it.
If you want to make notes on a website, you can easily do so via the Make a Web Note button in the upper right of the Edge screen. Doing so will open a copy of the webpage in a OneNote interface. From there, you can mark it up with a Surface Pen, mouse, or even just your finger then save it or share it with someone.
I feel it’s good to be able to do that but I imagine it will end up being a thing that only a small minority of Edge users use on a regular basis. For everyone else, it’s going to be a non-feature.
Search Provider Selection
At first, it’s a bit of a head scratcher trying to figure out how to add search providers (what Edge uses to do a search when you type a question into the address bar). In the past, there was a list of search providers you could choose (Yahoo, Google, etc..) but, with Edge, the list may be empty when you try to set the option.
Well, it turns out that there’s a trick to it. You see, unlike Internet Explorer which had the afore mentioned set list of search providers, Edge notices which recent pages in your browsing history has a search function and you can choose any of them as a search provider. Technically, it doesn’t even have to be a search engine. For example, I was browsing new mods for the game Kerbal Space Program at www.kerbalstuff.com and since it has a search field on the webpage, I could choose it as a search provider.
In Windows 8.1, IE fought me tooth and nail when I tried to make Google my default Search Provider. With Edge, you can configure any page to provide search results. I think this is a really cool option and a great way to make sure Edge looks in all of your favorite places to find results for your searches.
Edge Browser on Surface: The Bad
Now it’s time to discuss what I don’t like about Edge.
I think bookmark management in Edge is horrendous. Yes, it works but it’s clunky and difficult to navigate unless you just dump your bookmarks onto the favorites bar with no organization.
If you have a complex set of folders to organize your bookmarks, like me, you’re going to be frustrated because it’s difficult to tell where in the folder structure you’re placing new bookmarks. To illustrate this, below is an picture showing the bookmark manager for Edge and IE side-by-side:As you can see, in IE, you can easily tell what’s a folder, sub-folder, or bookmark and you can easily move folders and bookmarks around to organize them. In Edge, it’s just a flat list with no indication of what’s a folder and what’s a sub-folder and the actuall bookmarks aren’t even listed.
As a result, I’ve taken to the practice of creating all of my bookmarks on the Favorites bar, then dragging them to the location in my folder hierarchy I want – alas, even this has problems. While I can drag bookmarks to a folder on the favorites bar, I can’t directly drag them to one of the sub folders, so I have to drag it to a folder, open that folder and drag the bookmark to a sub-folder, etc…
In addition, if you try to open a sub-folder from the favorite bar, it opens on the other side of the screen, Here’s an example of what I’m talking about (click on it for a larger view):
It works but it’s not how I would have expected my bookmarks to open. Like I said, not broken but clunky.
Occasional Hanging or Missing Status Indicators
As I said earlier, I haven’t had any significant stability issues with Edge. It hasn’t locked up or crashed on me at all. However, I noticed an occasional problem where either the status indicator (the little ring of spinning dots that tells you it is loading a page) or a tab disappears and the browser hangs for several seconds before responding.
This can be very frustrating because there is no way to tell if the page has crashed and it happens all the time.
On long pages that require a lot of scrolling, I’ve noticed that I often have to wait until the page completely loads before I can begin to scroll. If I don’t the page becomes choppy and starts to stutter as I scroll down. Funny enough, picture intensive pages haven’t caused this problem as often as text/link intensive pages (like Fark).
Missing Some Touch Controls
While it works fine with touch most of the time, I miss the ability to swipe left and right to go forward and back as I surf. I know there are buttons in the upper left corner to do this but, they just aren’t as elegant as swiping with my finger when in touch mode. It’s just another reminder that Windows 10 seems to be more of a keyboard and mouse operating system than a touch optimized one, like Windows 8.1.
Edge Browser on Surface: Conclusion
I know there have been a lot of complaints online about the lack of plug-in support for Edge and some stability/crash issues. However, I haven’t cared about the plug-ins and I haven’t had any crashes or major stability problems.
The bottom line is that I see a lot of potential with Edge. It is a modern and attractive browser but it still has some bugs to be worked out. It’s really the occasional hangs and poor bookmark management that is keeping me from adopting it as my primary browser.
So, for the moment, I’m going to split the difference and go back to using Internet Explorer as my primary browser when I’m working at my desk (and my Surface is in its dock) but I’ll use Edge when I’m in tablet mode because I’m willing to trade a bit of space on the screen for larger controls.
Microsoft is expected to make some improvements to Edge when they release what’s being called the Autumn Update later this year. With a little luck, they’ll address the shortcomings and I’ll become a hard-core Edge user – we shall see…