Google’s Chrome is the best web browser for my needs. Apple’s MacBooks are the best computers for my needs. So why is the combination of the two such a wretched and chronically compromised situation? Almost every advice column on how to improve MacBook battery life begins with the suggestion to avoid using Chrome in favor of Apple’s more efficient Safari browser. The idea that Chrome is a big and profligate battery drain on MacBooks has existed almost as long as the browser has been available, and most benchmarks reiterate it by showing Chrome’s gluttonous consumption of system resources for seemingly basic tasks.
I guess I hoped that by 2015 things would be different.
While reviewing the new MacBook Pro with Retina display, I ran the usual Verge battery test on Apple’s new machine. With the screen set to 65 percent brightness, it cycles through a series of websites until the laptop’s battery gives out. The native Safari made the new Retina machine look good: 13 hours and 18 minutes. Google’s Chrome, on the other hand, forced the laptop to tap out at 9 hours and 45 minutes.
Safari lasts three and a half hours longer than Chrome
If I’m taking off on a trip from London, then Safari would be with me all the way to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taipei, or Seoul. Chrome would require a pit stop to recharge somewhere over the Indian subcontinent. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is insane. It’s the same exact computer. The battery, the processor, the memory — nothing changes but the web browser and the MacBook’s endurance is suddenly scythed down by a whopping three and a half hours.
It’s not just the distance you can go with Chrome that’s an issue. The speed and quality of the ride are also compromised. The widely used SunSpider browser benchmark clocks the MacBook Pro in at 203ms when using Chrome. Safari scores 30 percent better with a time of 144ms. Same machine, very different outcomes. You’d think YouTube would be a spot where Google collects an easy win, but that’s been another cause of distress: the new 4K 60fps videos that YouTube now supports are playable on the MacBook, but only — you guessed it — when using Safari and not Chrome. Google’s own browser chokes while playing back video from Google’s own video service.
Years of complaints, but little improvement
Apple and Google must both bear a portion of the blame for this ongoing disparity. The MacBook maker has a vested interest in promoting Safari as the most efficient, fluid, and pleasing web experience on its platform. Safari will always have the advantage of being optimized for the latest OS X release ahead of any other browser, which means its lead in efficiency will never be completely eradicated. But three and a half hours? That’s the sort of gap that Google should be able to close — if it makes optimization its priority.
There’s a certain sense of futility to the words I’m typing. They’re going into a Google Doc nestled within one of many Chrome tabs on a Mac. I live my life in Chrome and in Google apps. The release of Safari 8 made me curious enough to try and switch camps, but Safari’s tab management is atrocious, including the absence of a shortcut to recover more than my last closed tab. It’s the little things that keep me hooked to Chrome, like not having to install any translation extensions or log into Google services once I’m signed into the browser. But if I’m not willing to change, why would Google?
Verge Video: Reviewing the new MacBook