Windows 10 review: It's familiar, it's powerful, but the Edge browser falls short

Microsoft has listened, and Windows 10 debuts with compelling new features—Cortana, Task View, a familiar Start menu—well worth the upgrade.

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The Edge browser isn’t fully baked

Windows 10 also introduces Microsoft Edge, a browser that Microsoft has touted as the answer to the demands of the modern Web.

I have very mixed feelings about Edge, both aesthetically and functionally. Part of the issue, for me, is that Edge doesn’t feel fully finished. And it’s not, clearly, as support for Firefox-style extensions won’t arrive until later this fall. That means Edge has some breathing room, though, as Microsoft can either tweak its functionality or let third-party developers step in. 

windows 10 edge new tab Mark Hachman

I just don’t love the design aesthetic of Edge.

To begin with, Edge’s UI looks spartan even compared to Chrome. When you start Edge or load a new tab, you have a choice of loading a bare search bar, or a bar accompanied by a few icons of frequently-accessed pages, or a bar surrounded by content from MSN. There’s something industrial and lifeless about it all. Even switching over to the “dark theme,” accessible via the Settings menu, doesn’t do it for me.  Heck, there’s no default homepage (or button) unless you dive down deep into the advanced Settings menu and add one. 

Those Settings are worth poking through, by the way. Edge loads Flash by default, which you can toggle off. Do Not Track privacy requests are off by default. Pop-ups are blocked. And there are some other very nice features – pre-loading Web pages, password management, and caret browsing – which are worth a look.

Pick a page, though, and I found Chrome more responsive—even with all plugins turned off. With both browsers I navigated to the SFGate.com homepage and picked a story at random, that I’d never read before. Chrome loaded the page in under 8 seconds, which I defined as a point in which I could scroll down and read the remainder of the story. Edge required just over 23 seconds. But it admittedly has improved. I repeated the test Wednesday night with random pages from SFGate, PCMag.com and Salon.com, and only the Salon page loaded significantly faster on Chrome: 5.0 seconds versus 8.3 seconds for Edge. Otherwise, they were roughly comparable.

However, Edge performed even worse on a “stress test” I ran: 30 tabs of major websites. Edge tabs hung, stuttered, and became unresponsive, pegging a Core i5-based HP Spectre x360 at 98% CPU utilization and 97% of the available memory. Using the same tabs, Chrome hit 59% to 70% CPU, and 78% memory utilization. When I re-ran the test several days later, Edge loaded 22 tabs, then crashed. Edge may indeed be “blazing fast” on the benchmarks, but right now, Chrome wins in my everyday usage.

Cortana’s also built into Edge, although she’s only there if you want her. You can highlight a word or phrase, right-click, and ask Cortana. A sidebar will slide in from the right, essentially a small Web page with a fuller explanation. Microsoft’s tried this trick before with Office, and it’s a useful tool.

Reading List is, too. By clicking the star icon after the page loads, you can save it to a Pocket-like Reading List for later. About the only thing I’d like to see here is either RSS integration, or a right-click option to save a page you haven’t clicked yet to the list.

windows 10 edge cortana Mark Hachman

Adding Cortana, however, is a welcome feature. 

I’m less impressed with Edge’s ability to mark up a webpage. Microsoft pitched this feature as something akin to a personalized Web, but it isn’t. Clicking the icon that looks like an overly abstract pencil in a box allows you to add notes, squiggles, even text to a webpage. The problem is that the result is stored as an image file for OneNote or other apps. So who cares? You can take a screenshot of any Web page with any browser in the world, save it to Paint, and then mark it up. As I wrote this review, IDGNS reporter Blair Hanley Frank informed me that Edge crashes while trying to save a marked-up Web page. He’s right. It did.

Edge’s Reading Mode, which strips the unnecessary cruft out of a webpage, is a mixed bag. For a visually distracting page with ads and popups all over the place, it’s nice. You can’t load a page in Reading Mode without viewing the page as it was originally laid out, however, a nod to advertisers and the sites that depend on them (cough).

Edge will undoubtedly improve over time. But Chrome fans would always joke that Internet Explorer was “the browser that downloads Chrome.” Right now, Edge looks to be more of the same.

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