Brave Review: Putting the Hurt on Trackers and Ads

Posted on November 13, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Web browsers with 36 Comments

While everyone in the Microsoft community was excitedly updating their pre-release versions of the new Edge last week so that they could see a new icon in action—yes, seriously—I was quietly undertaking a different but related experiment: I switched over my PCs and smartphone to another, less well-known Chromium-based web browser, one that offers many of the advantages­ of the new Microsoft Edge and even better tracking protection than Firefox. It’s something you need to know about. And it’s called Brave.

Brave has been on my radar for a while now, but I’ve only discussed it a few times. I wrote about the release of the first beta way back in September 2018, for example, and it was my Windows Weekly app pick of the week in December 2018 and then again this past June.

Like the new Microsoft Edge, Brave builds on the open-source Chromium foundation that Google also uses for Chrome, its dominant web browser. And like the new Edge, Brave strips out all of the awfulness of Chrome—like Google’s tracking, account sync, and search suggestion functionality—while leaving intact the core benefits of Chromium, including its industry-best Blink rendering engine and excellent extensions functionality.

But Brave goes much further than even Microsoft Edge. It blocks more trackers than any other web browser by default—more than even Firefox and Safari, Brave says—and it blocks all advertising and auto-play media. The result is a web browser that is much more secure than Chrome, and much lighter and faster than Chrome or Edge. In fact, Brave claims that its browser is 3 to 6 times faster than Chrome in real-world usage. Microsoft Edge, to date, has offered no measurable advantage over Chrome in this regard; in fact, Microsoft has simply replaced most of Google’s functionality with its own.

It’s hard to overstate how important this is. By loading less of the crap that bogs down most browsers and makes you the unknowing victim of online trackers, Brave uses less data and fewer PC resources, and it consumes less battery life while it’s doing so. This is even true on mobile, where all third-party web browsers are forced to use the native browser provided by the platform maker (Chrome on Android, and Safari on iOS/iPadOS).

If you’re familiar with Chrome or the new Edge, the basic Brave experience will be very familiar, and this browser offers the same functional benefits of its Chromium-based peers, including its exceptional rendering prowess, its support for features like dark mode, and the ability to install web apps and save shortcuts to any web page and then access either as if it were a native Windows application. (Brave also runs on Mac and multiple Linux distributions, too.)

But Brave also offers some unique functionality that really separates it from the pack.

First up, you can monitor all of the trackers that Brave is blocking via the Brave Shields icon that appears in the right of the address bar., for example, had 13 items blocked during a recent visit—12 cross-site trackers and one “cross-site device recognition.” CNN, by contrast, had 29 cross-site trackers blocked. Brave Shields also enables HTTPS access for sites that support it but don’t necessarily enable it by default; this was something I didn’t experience.

As interesting, Brave Shields is available on mobile, too. (And on mobile, it blocked 39 ads and trackers when I visited CNN!) This is a big deal because ad blocking, in particular, is less common on mobile.

And Brave supports the Tor open-source anonymous communications technology in its Private Windows and DuckDuckGo search in its Private Tabs, further enhancing your privacy. On iOS, you can even enable a “Private Browsing Only” mode with Face ID and Touch ID unlocking and automatic deletion of all trackers, cookies, and history on exit.

To counter the negative effect its ad blocking has on content creators, Brave offers a unique, opt-in content creator reward system called Brave Rewards. Some high profile news sites, like The Washington Post, The Guardian, Slate, and the LA Times, are already on board, and as is anyone who posts on YouTube, Vimeo, Twitch, or Twitter. Today, you can reward any of the 300,000 compatible content creators with Basic Attention Token (BAT)-based tips on the fly, and in the future, Brave will support premium content payments and subscriptions too. As a user, you can also earn BAT by watching advertisements that respect your privacy, or you can simply pay to add BAT to your account.

If you do opt-in to Brave ads, you’ll receive two pop-up notifications per hour, but you can adjust the rate or, if you find it too annoying, just turn it off. (They will not appear unless you opt-in first.) And you can configure Brave to auto-contribute to those content creators you view the most.

Are there downsides to Brave? Sure. Its syncing functionality is currently limited to bookmarks and the way you set up sync is unique, just not in a good way: It requires you to display a 24-word phrase on your PC and then laboriously type it in, without errors, on a second PC.  (Mobile is a bit easier, as it only requires scanning a QR code.) This system is at least secure—it uses end-to-end encryption, ensuring that no one else, not even Brave, has access. But it’s just too limited and obtuse. Hopefully, this improves over time. (You can, of course, import other information, like passwords, cookies, and browsing history, in addition to bookmarks, from other browsers. But the goal should be replacing those older browsers, not keeping them around for this purpose.)

And while I appreciate what Brave is trying to do with advertising, I find its (opt-in) advertising to be incredibly annoying on both desktop and mobile. They arrive in the form of pop-up notifications, seemingly randomly, and they just seem to pile up. I keep wanting to turn them off, but I like the idea of supporting content creators, so I haven’t yet.

Ultimately, what Brave offers is something that all web users should want: A modern and powerful browser that works just like Chrome but with none of the privacy violations and with even better performance. This is the promise of rival browsers, like the new Microsoft Edge, which is based on Chromium, and Firefox and Safari, which are not. And while each succeeds to some degree, Brave’s unique approach gives it an edge, assuming, of course, you can live with its few weird issues.

I’m going to keep trying: I really appreciate what Brave is trying to do, and I feel like its more aggressive stance on trackers and privacy is something that Microsoft, in particular, will need to address once it gets its first Chromium-based Edge version out the door.

Brave is free and is available on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS, and in 52 different languages. You can learn more at the Brave website.

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Comments (36)

36 responses to “Brave Review: Putting the Hurt on Trackers and Ads”

  1. Bob Nelson

    I can't make up my mind if this is a press release, or a cut & paste job.

    Either way, it doesn't read like Paul wrote it.

  2. jsulliweb

    I primarily use Vivaldi on the desktop (wish they had an iOS app), but I do use Brave for some things. Though, I've had issues on iPadOS and iOS with Brave not liking certain things. PDFs and Google related stuff, mostly. PDFs just come up as jibberish, and Google's pages like docs and drive (and a gmail account I use to avoid spam that I only check through a browser) gripe because it's not a supported browser. Not major gripes and I may be doing something wrong, but it does tend to steer me back to Safari on my iPhone and iPad.

    And several of my desktop bookmarks are apps on mobile, so as long as I can sync on the desktop, I'm mostly ok, recreating what I need on iOS.

  3. chillstreem

    "This is even true on mobile, where all third-party web browsers are forced to use the native browser provided by the platform maker (Chrome on Android, and Safari on iOS/iPadOS)."

    What? Android has no such restrictions. Firefox on Android uses its own Quantum engine, the same one as the desktop version.

  4. F4IL

    IMHO, the problem is that the proliferation of all these chromium based browsers end up cannibalizing the product and creating confusion for the average user who can't really perceive any obvious benefit. Long term, this greatly benefits google which gets to secure the market under Chrome ensuring the lack of real competition for the Web.

  5. sevenacids

    ", for example, had 13 items blocked during a recent visit—12 cross-site trackers and one “cross-site device recognition.”" - Now the question is: why are trackers on your site in the first place? I mean, from what I read, I assume you're not a friend of tracking, too. Isn't this kind of paradox? Just curious.

  6. red.radar

    Any website compatibility issues? I like the idea but worry the over aggressive blocking would break some sites.

    • MikeCerm

      In reply to red.radar:

      There are some sites -- though very few -- that are broken if you turn Brave's blocking up to maximum. If you encounter issues, it's very easy to adjust what is being blocked -- you don't have to drill down into the settings -- or you can completely disable blocking for that site with just 2 clicks. And all the settings are kept on a per-site basis, so turning off blocking for one site will have no effect when you browse to another site.

  7. miamimauler

    Just as an aside Malwarebytes Browser Guard is an excellent extension worth considering as it blocks ads, trackers, malware, scams and PUP's.

    I do think the Brave system has potential though as it can allow ads without the tracking that many of us refuse to accept.

  8. Winner

    I've been switching between Firefox and Brave for about six months now. Rarely use Chrome.

    Competition is good.

    • sandeepm

      In reply to Winner:

      lol, who forced you to use Chrome in the first place? I never used it and am very satisfied. Fortunately, I retired from active web development before Chrome became a 'thing', since back in the day, you had to test your apps in all 'major' browsers

  9. jgraebner

    How often did you have to turn off the ad blocking on Brave? I've used ad blockers in the past and certainly understand their appeal, but I basically gave up on them after getting fed up with the constant "turn off your ad blocker" pop ups that I found were slowing down browsing more than the ads are.

  10. ben lee

    A little PSA of you want Web cont dark as well as the UI, toggle the following flag to enabled.


  11. jrzoomer

    Check out the interview with Leo Laporte and Brave Chief Security Officer Yan Zhu (aka bcrypt) on Twit

  12. sandeepm

    I followed advice from Leo and you to give it a try. It sucks as much as the Google Edge on Windows since it does not support touch functionality properly on Microsoft operating system. I am staying with Microsoft Edge till the time they fix copy / paste on Windows tablets (I am suddenly reminded of Windows Phone 7 when I use these) or they block me from using the old edge, whichever is first. When I contacted Google Edge team at Microsoft about this issue, their response seemed to imply that there is no plan to continue touch support on Windows 10 as it costs a lot and no one cares about it. Google Edge and Google Brave are complete trash if you have ever used Microsoft Edge.

  13. obarthelemy

    How does it compare to Firefox +uBlock Origin + Privacy Badger ? I'm currently using that because it works well enough, and until now it was the only solution that covered both Desktop and Mobile.

  14. Daekar

    Paul, do you have any personal experience that would confirm a performance advantage of Brave over Edgium running with uBlock Origin?

  15. wolters

    Considering the likes of LastPass for password storage and Pocket for "read later" stuff, I may consider something like Brave or the new Edge when it becomes final. But for right now, I just love the way Chrome "flows", especially in saving passwords across desktop and mobile.

  16. RonV42

    On my home network I do the tracking and ad blocking via a pi.hole. For about $80 and a ISO to install on a Raspberry Pi it's worth it. No need to touch the desktop and it even applies to your cell phones and tablets which may not allow extensions, since it's DNS.

    • wright_is

      In reply to RonV42:

      I have a Pi 3b with Pi-Hole. It is great. I've got it blocking around 2.5 million tracking and malware domains, plus all Facebook properties (around 1,500 domains).

      What I did have to do was set my firewall to block DoH as my Fire tablets were ignoring my DNS settings and using the Amazon DNS servers.

  17. amosclan

    "all of the advantages of the new Microsoft Edge"

    I guess maybe that's true for Paul. But I miss read aloud, PDF editing, timeline integration, and all my saved passwords.

    With that being said, it's a good browser, fast and clean, and I'm glad to see that Brendan Eich is still doing cool things.

  18. Stooks

    UBLOCK ORIGIN with the new Edge. The only thing it does not do is stop media from auto playing. Safari is the only one I have seen so far that is 100% in regards to stopping media auto play.

    Going with a lesser used browser is always a gamble. Opera is a perfect example, eventually you find something you need that does not work/render or whatever in a browser. With Microsoft behind the new Edge, issues like this should be fixed and fixed fast.

    I do hope that Microsoft eventually gives a REAL way to block media auto play in the new Edge. I did update to get the icon, but when it did update and gave me the new icon.....I really like it.

    • Watney

      In reply to Stooks:

      Check the settings mate, search for media settings.

      • Stooks

        In reply to Watney:

        You mean site permissions>>>media auto play. Yeah I have allow and limit. I used to have block. Anyhow with Limit enabled. I go to CNN and pick any article.....and the video starts playing.

        It needs to be blocked, like Safari does on the Mac.

  19. longhorn

    "This is even true on mobile, where all third-party web browsers are forced to use the native browser provided by the platform maker (Chrome on Android, and Safari on iOS/iPadOS)."

    This is not true for Android. Mozilla can use its own rendering engine for its products on Android and so can everyone else. It's just that most use Blink anyway.

  20. bddiskind

    Just switched to brave, and it is faster and the ad block, TOR and torrent downloaderis cool.

    However the sync is an issue. You can't follow up on a the desktop from mobile since u can't sync history.

    Mobile has the additional issue that you can not import passwords. LastPass is much, but now I need another app.

    And has anyone got chrome cast to work?

    By biggest fear if I reinstall my computer how can I reimport all the info? With chrome all you do is log in. Here there is no such option. I assume eventually they will need create the option for Brave accounts. So you can sign in from any platform and continue.

    I will cont with Brave but they need to fix the sync issue to be issue go chrome.