Vivaldi Browser: Tom's Mac Software Pick

Power Web Browsing the way it Should be

Vivaldi browser with notes panel open
Vivaldi browser with notes panel open. Courtesy of Vivaldi Technologies

It's been a while since I recommended a browser; after all, the Mac comes equipped with what is currently the second most popular browser: Safari. And you can easily add Chrome or Firefox, to round out the top three Mac browsers.

But if you’re using any of the big three, then you're giving up many features that used to be common to web browsers, but are now missing, or at least on their way out.

The Vivaldi browser, on the other hand, is designed for power users who like to configure their browsers to meet their specific needs, and not have to make use of a bunch of add-ons just to get back features that have been taken away with each new release of the big three browsers.

Pro

  • Customizable in so many ways.
  • Tab bar can be placed almost anywhere.
  • Address bar can be placed on top or at the bottom of the browser.
  • Address bar can show full URL.

Con

  • Do Not Track option is turned off by default.
  • Mouse gestures seemed intermittent.
  • Bookmark import is pretty basic 

Vivaldi Setup

You can tell Vivaldi is a different sort of web browser from the moment you launch it for the very first time. Vivaldi starts by taking you through a setup process that allows you to pick some of the basic user interface elements that will define how the browser looks and feels. This includes the overall look, where tabs will appear, and background images used on the start page.

Once you complete this easy setup, the Vivaldi browser is ready to use, and yes, you can change these settings anytime you like, from the Vivaldi preferences.

Using Panels

Vivaldi makes use of panels. If you’re a Safari user, this is similar to the sidebar, although you can configure panels to show on either the left or right side of the browser.

Vivaldi comes with three predefined panels: a bookmark panel, which provides easy access to all your bookmarks; a download panel, which keeps a list of your downloads, and one of my favorites, a notes panel, which allows you to write notes about the website you're currently viewing.

The notes feature is a bit clumsy; it would be nice if it was smart enough to capture the URL of the web page without you having to copy/paste it from the URL field, but it's still a handy feature.

The Download panel lists recent downloads, as well as provides quick access to where the download is stored on your Mac. While a download is occurring, the Download panel can be used to view the download process. The download status indicates the size and how much of the file has been downloaded, but provides no time estimate, a nice feature for future versions.

The bookmark panel is pretty straightforward; I prefer a bookmarks bar, and Vivaldi didn’t let me down. It includes the old-fashioned bookmarks bar, but with the twist of allowing users to position it at the top or bottom of the browser window.

Command Line and Keyboard Shortcuts

The Quick Commands feature allows you to access Vivaldi functions using written commands. Although I'm not interested in using this command line driven interface, it could be handy for users who don't wish to ever take their fingers off the keyboard.

Keyboard shortcuts, on the other hand, are more up my alley, and Vivaldi has almost all of its menu items assigned to keyboard shortcuts. You can reassign shortcuts as you need to, and even create new shortcuts for those few menu items that lack any premade shortcuts.

Additional navigation features include the ability to use mouse and trackpad gestures to perform basic browser functions, such as opening a new tab, moving backwards or forwards, and closing tabs.

Performance

Vivaldi is built on the Blink version of WebKit, the same browser engine used by Google’s Chrome, as well as Opera. WebKit is also used by Safari, but not the Blink fork. As expected, Vivaldi performs quite well. I didn’t perform any benchmarks during my review, but Vivaldi certain seems as snappy as Chrome or Safari, though with a very slight delay in the start of rendering. I imagine this may either be because it's the 1.0x release of the browser, which I would expect to be concentrating on stability over speed, or it’s just been a day of heavy traffic on our local connection. Without breaking out my benchmarking tools I can’t really say.

But I can tell you I was pleasantly surprised by the performance for a 1.0 release.

Update

Vivaldi has seen a few updates since the 1.0 release I originally looked at and I can tell you the improvements to the browser are coming along nicely. Earlier I mentioned a delay before Vivaldi starts rendering a web page, with later additions of the app the hesitation appears to be gone and rendering occurring as soon as the web server makes the page available to the browser.

I also took a look at Vivaldi's ability to import bookmarks. Most of us have a large collection of favorite sites and it is only natural that we would like those sites available in a new browser. The browsers import function worked well but is basic in nature. Sure it moved over all my bookmarks, but it plops them down into a folder labeled Imported From... From there I have to manually drag the bookmarks around to get them to appear similar to how they originally appeared in Safari (the source web browser).

I find this a general problem with many browsers and was hoping Vivaldi would have had a better solution. At this point in time Vivaldi is just following what other browsers do, so I thought I would throw out a suggestion. Instead of only having a single Bookmark bar, why not have the import function create a new Bookmark bar. I could then select which set of bookmarks I want to have populate the Bookmarks bar, or I could have multiple Bookmark bars open if I felt the need.

Final Thoughts

Is another browser really needed for the Mac?

I have to say yes, and that Vivaldi may very well be that browser. While Safari, Chrome, and Firefox are all trying to streamline the interface, remove features, and move the desktop browser to being a background task, just as it is in most mobile devices, Vivaldi appears to be up front in saying the desktop is not the same as a mobile device, and there is a place for a browser geared toward power users.

So, if you think the trend in browser development is to oversimplify, then Vivaldi may be just the browser to try out.

Vivaldi is free.

See other software choices from Tom's Mac Software Picks.

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