Should you switch to the Brave Web Browser?

“You fought in the Browsers Wars?� asked Microsoft Edge. “Yes. I was once a Web Browser, the same as your father, � said Internet Explorer 6. OK, that doesn’t quite have the same dynamic as Luke’s and Obi Wan’s conversation in a New Hope. However, the browser wars were a thing at one point. I also (wrongly) thought they were over, except for a few skirmishes. But once in a while someone, somewhere says to themselves, “What we need is another web browser.� At that point I would normally groan and move on. However, things are a little different with the Brave browser.

Historically a “new web browser� meant some nerd wanted to write a better HTML/CSS rendering engine and a super-fast JavaScript engine and then wrap a UI around it. The “engine
� wars are basically over with the Chromium engine, called Blink, basically powering everything (Chrome, Opera, Edge, Vivaldi). The notable exceptions are Firefox and Apple’s Safari.

The Brave browser uses Blink, so it isn’t special in that regard. What makes it special is its emphasis on making privacy and safety front and center. Let’s take a look at what this browser brings to the table in this Brave browser review. 

The problem is Ad Tracking

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Most browsers do a good job of keeping you secure while browser. There is universal support for secure HTTP connections, support for incognito tabs (useful when you are using a public computer and not your own), and various levels of sandboxing support that stops one tab stealing data from another. However, one area where privacy has been slowly eroded is advertising.

To be effective advertising needs to be targeted. It is pointless showing me ads about rock climbing equipment or baby strollers, but show me an advert for the latest bit of tech and maybe, just maybe I will click. To send the right ads to the right people advertisers build up virtual profiles about your web browsing activities and start to hone in on your likes and dislikes. That in itself sounds harmless enough, even useful. However, the tracking techniques that advertisers use are getting more and more invasive.

Online advertising is big money. Google has an annual revenue measured in the billions of dollars, $161 billion for 2019. Most of that money comes from advertising. Sure, it sells apps and movies, offers cloud services, and sells Pixel smartphones and Google Home smart speakers. But most of the money comes from advertising. That is a lot of dollars invested in selling ads based predominantly on a model where money changes hands if, and only if, an advert is clicked.

brave browser review

As with most business ventures, the lines between ethical behavior and the relentless pursuit of profit seem to blur the bigger the sums of money. For a long time the advertisers were winning. But consumers have started to rebel. While initiatives like “Do Not Track� and the EU’s GDPR have attempted to clip the wings of advertisers, they have generally been badly conceived and badly implemented. For most people, the GDPR just means they have to click an “I accept your cookies� message every time they visit a new website.

The most drastic option available to users is to completely block data-collecting trackers, which in turn, means blocking most adverts.

Take back control with Brave browser

There are lots of options available for those who wish to block trackers, but Brave  browser makes it easy and it is the default behavior. Most advertising platforms use techniques to try to identify you and track you as you move across the web. Brave browser blocks all this, allowing you to browse freely. As well as the privacy advantages there is also a performance boost. According to Brave’s internal testing, the Brave web browser can load the major news site up to six times faster than Chrome, Safari and Firefox on mobile and desktop. Why? Because all the extra images, JavaScript, and tracking data is no longer needed.

brave browser review

But won’t that harm publishers who rely on advert income?

The simple answer is yes, and for me that is a huge downside. From the hobbyists who need to fund their websites or YouTube channels, to the independent websites free of corporate shackles  – like Android Authority – advertising income is essential. Until now I haven’t used an ad blocker because I know that good content isn’t free. Everyone needs to eat. But Brave has a surprising answer to this problem – Brave Rewards.

Rather than tempting you to click on adverts, Brave anonymously calculates the amount of attention you give the sites you visit. Once a month, the Brave Rewards program will compensate the sites you’ve visited. You can also tip creators directly and remove any sites you don’t want to support.

Brave has a surprising alternative to traditional advertising: Brave Rewards.

The twist is that the currency behind Brave Rewards isn’t the US dollar, or the Euro, or even the Chinese Yuan, but a cryptocurrency called BAT (Basic Attention Token), which itself uses the Ethereum blockchain. The idea is that blockchain digital advertising can offer a decentralized, transparent digital ad exchange.

Stage one in replacing the traditional advertising model is to bring the Brave browser to the mainstream along with its built-in use of BAT. Stage two is for users, publishers, and advertisers to use BAT as the means of funding advertising and attention-based services. As the name implies, the value of the token is derived from — or denominated by — user attention, the one commodity you have to spend while using the web.

BATs, Uphold, and tips

Like all crypto-currencies you need to keep your tokens in a wallet. Brave includes an anonymous wallet that is stored locally on your computer or mobile device. In a future update you will be able to sync the wallet across your devices using an online wallet service. As a side note, the syncing of bookmarks etc. is currently disabled in Brave browser because the current system is flawed. The developers are working on Sync V2, which will be compatible with Google’s official sync protocol.

You can earn tokens by viewing Brave Ads. Ads presented are based on your interests, as inferred from your browsing behavior. However this time, no personal data or browsing history ever leaves your browser. When you click on an ad you earn a part of a BAT.

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When you see something you like online, you can support the content’s creator by sending a tip, as a thank you. Verified creators get paid their tips during the first week of each calendar month. You can also set a monthly recurring contribution.

If you want to turn traditional currency into BATs you can fund your wallet using Uphold is a digital money platform with over 1 million users, covering over 50 currencies and four commodities. I am skeptical of “digital money platforms� in general, as buying the coins/tokens is easy, however converting them back into real cash has been – in my experience – a challenge.

To test Uphold, I linked my Brave wallet to an Uphold account. I went through the verification process, which included identity checks etc, and then funded my wallet to the grand sum of £10. This was then turned into 71.785044215959870653 BAT. You need to wait 1 day before you can withdraw the money. After 24 hours, I paid my 71.785044215959870653 BAT into a Euro account. In less than 4 hours the money was in my account! So it seems that real-world to crypto to real-world exchanges work!

brave web browser brave rewards per site

I lost about €1 in the process. Uphold does promise 0% trading commissions, 0% fees on credit & debit card deposits and 0% bank and crypto withdrawal fees, but I guess I lost out in the exchange rates!

Uphold is going to release a debit card linked with your account. You’ll get a physical chip-and-PIN card and a virtual card to buy stuff online. It is a Mastercard, which means it will be accepted at millions of merchants and ATMs across the world. I have joined the waiting list and I am number 28,492 in the queue. Apparently I can skip the line by referring friends. The more people I refer, the earlier I get your card. So, for the sake of good consumer reporting, please consider taking a look for yourself, and then when I get the card I will be sure to make a video about it on Gary Explains.

But Chrome is a memory hog!

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Even with revolutionary talk of overthrowing the advertising industry, Brave browser still needs to be a decent web browser to gain any traction. Thankfully, it is. I tested the JavaScript speed of Brave and it is faster than Chrome and Firefox but slower than Microsoft Edge. When it comes to memory use Brave uses less memory per tab than Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. These are good signs. Since it uses the same internals as Chrome and Edge the browsing experience is as expected and I couldn’t detect any difference or anomalies in rendering etc.

Brave combines better privacy and safety with a browsing experience that’s faster Chrome — despite being Chromium-based.

Another advantage of Brave’s Chromium roots is that you get access to the Chrome Web Store. When you click on “extensions� you get taken directly to Google’s web store, not even a copy or cheap replica, but Google’s actual store. That means that migrating to Brave browser is very simple for Chrome or Edge users. You can also import your bookmarks from Edge, Chrome, Firefox or a HTML file. I didn’t spot a way to import saved passwords (which I guess is a good thing), but if you are using a password manager like LastPass or Dashlane then that won’t matter.

Read more: How to install web extensions with Brave browser

Will you switch?

Brave browser has quickly become part of my normal workflow. I have been using it for some sites/tasks every day and the reasons for not migrating to it fully are, well, non-existent. Brave is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS and Android. I have tested it on all 5 and the experience is as consistent as any other browser across such a diverse set of platforms. Sadly there is no support for ARM processors either on Windows for ARM devices like the Surface Pro X, or for boards like the Raspberry Pi. However, that is forgivable at this stage in the browser’s development.

That’s it for this Brave browser review. If you want to give Brave a try, and I recommend that you do, then use the link below.

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