The best new browser 👀
Arc gives the Web a fresh look
Most Web browsers look the same. So I've been delighted to discover Arc recently, a new browser that feels fresh. No tabs up top. No bookmark bar. Just a clean view of the site you're visiting. And lots of useful features, noted below. It’s in closed beta; join a waitlist to gain access. After using it for a couple of weeks, it’s become my favorite way to access the Web. Read on for what I find most useful, and some caveats.
Why Arc is a great new browser
It's cleaner and less cluttered
Arc has a neater side drawer to show active links. You just tap it closed — or use a keyboard shortcut — to focus on a site full screen.
Split view lets you see multiple sites at once
You can open up to four side-by-side browser windows. I often open a reference doc while editing something online. Or I open my calendar while responding to an email. Two windows is usually enough. If you don’t use Arc you can set that up with window-managing software like Divvy, but it's nicely native to Arc. It's particularly useful when using the built-in notes and easel feature. 👇
Notes and Easel
Arc's notepad lets you take notes within the browser. I used it to type this outline about its features. You can also sketch out ideas or annotate images like this with Arc's built-in Easel. These work well in combination with split view, because you can note things without leaving your browser, then easily share those notes and annotations with a link.
Fortunately, you can open a split view with whatever Web-based notes tool you prefer. I usually prefer to take notes in Roam. An alternative is to use the Quick Note feature on your Mac with Apple Notes. If you have macOS Monterey 12, just press Function-Q or drag your mouse to the bottom right-hand corner of your screen and you can start a note from anywhere on your computer.
Spaces and folders
Rather than relying on bookmarks, Arc has you pin favored sites onto a side drawer. You can drop them into folders. Or you can group sites into completely separate spaces, if you want to separate work from home, for example. I have distinct spaces for a few of my projects.
You can open up a mini-version of Arc to quickly look something up by hitting Command-Option-N from anywhere on your computer. It’s handy if you’re working in another app but need to Google something without switching contexts.
You can scroll over icons for the apps you use most to get a quick preview of what’s in them. For example, without opening up your Google calendar, scroll over its icon to see upcoming meetings. Or get a sneak peek at Gmail messages.
Scroll and watch
Videos stay open while you look at another site. That’s useful if you’re watching an informational video and want to see notes while the video continues playing.
Cycle through tabs
Press Control-Tab to cycle through tabs, along the lines of how you can scrub through applications on your computer with Command-Tab. These keyboard shortcuts are great if you’re jumping back and forth between sites.
Automatic tab clean-up
Like a digital Roomba, Arc closes up tabs you haven't used for a while. The default is auto-cleanup every 12 hours, but you can set it to happen monthly instead. You can check the archive for a view of everything that's been auto-closed or that you manually shut. You can also quickly clear a bunch of tabs that you’re done using.
Overall, a fresh browser design that I like
Given that a browser is basically a window into the Web, its design may not seem like a big deal. But after using Arc for a couple of weeks, I appreciate a lot of the subtle ways in which it works better for me than Chrome.
No bookmarklets yet
Arc doesn't yet support bookmarklets, those little browser buttons you press to clip things from the Web. I use Web clippers from Notion, Coda, Airtable, Eagle and Evernote, for example, to save Web content. Arc doesn’t yet support that. Arc also isn’t yet fully integrated with 1Password. It does work with Chrome extensions like Save to Instapaper.
Mac-only, for now
No Windows version yet, though it’s in the works. Mac users have to wait for an invite.
Arc’s free for now, but the company may charge business users for future features, according to Austin Carr’s Bloomberg story. (I haven’t found value yet in the advanced Boost feature, which lets you customize a site’s styling— to change its color on your screen, replace its content, or to inject your own content).
Minor set-up friction
You have to wait to start using Arc, then you'll encounter a brief set-up period. Google Meet and other apps that use your Web camera and microphone require you to confirm permissions on a new browser. Your saved passwords from a prior browser should flow in nicely, assuming you allow Arc to import those.
Apple’s Safari, Mozilla’s Firefox and Microsoft’s Edge are three of the most popular existing alternatives to Google’s Chrome browser. Each adopts a nearly identical interface, though, so they feel interchangeable. If you do use Chrome, I wrote about the best Chrome add-ons.
Vivaldi is growing in popularity. It can block ads and tracking software, and includes built-in tools for calendar and email.
Brave and Opera are also widely-praised options. They emphasize privacy and security, but I found their designs clunkier than Arc and encountered friction when I originally tried switching to them from Chrome.