Quick Review of Apple's Safari 4 Public Beta

The browser wars rage on with the new version of Safari, just released by Apple in public beta form.  I've been a fan of Safari for a long time, before people even actually liked Safari.  It just seems so tightly integrated with OS X and generally feels slicker to me.  Plus, I like syncing my bookmarks over MobileMe so I can access the same things from my laptop, desktop, and iPhone.

Now, Apple has made (one of my) favorite browsers even better.  It's not perfect by any means, and not everyone will appreciate the pretty significant changes - but I do.  Here's the short list of what you can expect from this shiny new window to the Intarwebs.

General Look And Feel: Overhauled

In my opinion, Safari 4 looks totally different from the previous version.  Most drastic change is in how it handles the tabs; they're now located at the top, ala Google's Chrome.  I hated it at first, but quickly got used to it.  The small amount of extra room it gives actually seems HUGE and pages feel much larger than they used to.

Top Sites

Apple's Safari 4 Public Beta

This is another new feature that you'll notice right from the start.  Click on the icon next to the Bookmarks icon in the toolbar, and up will pop your "Top Sites."  Safari, apparently, will learn and observe which sites are your favorites and plop them in here.  You can then re-arrange and "pin" them so you have a completely static "Top Sites" menu, or one that is partly static and partly dynamic.

This is merely Apple's fancy version of Opera's Speed Dial feature, and it works well.  The one thing that irks me is taht I'm a control freak.  I want to manually add sites to my "Top Sites."  I can't find an option to do this... grr!

History Search

This is totally awesome, and it has nothing to do with the admittedly gorgeous site preview images that are displayed Cover Flow-style while searching.  However, it has EVERYTHING to do with the robust history search feature working behind the scenes.

From the Top Sites page, you can search through all sites in your history for any keyword, whether in the title of the site or in any text located on the site.  Want to find that low price on that server you saw on that shopping site last week but can't remember which site you were on?

Apple's Safari 4 Public Beta

In this photo, you can see that I had looked at a MediaSmart Server on Amazon.com.  I searched only for "MediaSmart" (displayed in the search box below) and voila... there it is.  This search is lightning fast, too.  What an awesome and practical feature, especially for heavy Internet users.

Cover Flow

Apple's Safari 4 Public Beta

I've never been much for Cover Flow, but it seems that the image-craving masses demanded that it be added to Safari.  Since I'm not too enthusiastic about it, I can't really say much - yup, now you can flip through your bookmarks using nifty site preview images rather than a drop down list.  Pretty, but cumbersome.  Some people will love it!


Apple claims that Safari 4 is significantly faster than Firefox 3, which I couldn't reproduce.  I don't have any "professional" browser testing equipment or software, so I'm hesitant to make any definitive claims on speed differences.  However, it's definitely fast, I can tell you that.

Interestingly enough, it's the only browser to date to pass the Acid3 test, a rigorous test designed to evaluate a browser's ability to follow certain standards on the web.  Give it a try and compare your results with what you see in Firefox.  Interesting stuff.

In addition, it's got something called the "Nitro Engine," which apparently boosts JavaScript rendering significantly as well as improving HTML performance.  Sounds a lot like "Blast Processing" to me, but Apple's numbers are convincing.  That being said, the creator of jQuery blasts Apple's choice of test platform, and Wikipedia reveals additional criticism of said test suite.

Again, whatever the case, it feels fast... certainly on par, if not better than, Firefox 3.

Other Features Too Cool To Ignore But Too Small To Warrant Getting Their Own Heading

I really like the new Zoom feature, which allows you to either zoom text only, or text and images.  I find myself often using the "Ctrl+Mouse" zoom feature of Mac OS X to zero in on small text or embedded videos, and this is merely a better substitute.

There's also the "Smart Address Field," basically a slightly more intelligent nav bar that will search your bookmarks and history for relevant sites based on what you are searching for.

Finally, of great interest to developers, geeks, and those curious about the behind the scenes code of your favorite website or eBay listing, Safari 4 has a pretty robust new set of developer tools, including a new web inspector.

Conclusion: A Must-Download

If you're a Mac or Apple fan in general, this is clearly a must have. It's got some minor UI issues, but such is to be expected with a public beta.  Anybody tested it on Windows yet?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

[Click here for more details on all of the features of Safari 4]


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