Brave Browser VS Firefox Focus on iOS
NOTE: This post is deprecated. Please use the Privacy Browser Comparison Tool to easily compare privacy browsers.
The Brave browser and Firefox Focus are both privacy browsers with millions of active users across the globe.
Both browsers also retain enough functionality to keep up with the "ease-of-use" and convenience factor of more mainstream browsers such as Safari and Google Chrome.
Today, we are going to explore the differences and similarities between the Brave browser and Mozilla's Firefox Focus.
Each one brings a little different flavor to the table when it comes to data privacy and security.
Which one is a better pick overall? Which one is a better pick for users like you? Can either Brave or Firefox Focus replace the iOS default browser, Safari?
Wait, are you lost on what a "privacy browser" is? We cover what you need to know in another post.
What is Brave Browser?
I already covered a bit of what the Brave browser is in a couple of previous posts, but I'll sum it up here.
The Brave browser got its start in 2016. It started as a project created by former Mozilla Firefox developer Brendan Eich.
Brave is free and open source.
On its website, Brave touts that it gives "unmatched speed, security, and privacy by blocking traackers." Brave claims to allow users to "take back control" (from ad companies).
The Brave browser runs on the Chromium engine.
Now, this is the same engine that Google Chrome runs on, which may leave some concerned (rightfully so). However, it's important to realize that Brave has many security features that Chrome doesn't.
It also lacks a lot of the Chrome features that make Chrome even more vulnerable to data leaking and hacks.
Additionally, Brave's core security and privacy features are available right out of the box - without having to install browser extensions.
What is Firefox Focus?
Like I did Brave, I touched on both Firefox and Firefox Focus in a few previous posts.
As I've already said, our main focus here will specifically be Firefox Focus (pun intended), instead of the original Firefox browser.
Just like Brave, Firefox Focus is free and open-source. It runs on Gecko - a browser engine developed by Mozilla itself.
Firefox Focus is the hyper-privacy concerned relative of the "regular" Firefox.
You can only download and install Firefox Focus on iOS and Android devices; there's no desktop version available.
Firefox Focus originally got its start in late 2015 as a simple tracker blocker on iOS devices. It then developed into a more minimalistic web browser around 2016.
On a dedicated page on Mozilla's website, Firefox Focus claims that it will let you "take private browsing to a whole new level."
Note that the Brave browser is available across all platforms, which include macOS, Windows, Linux builds, iOS, and Android.
Firefox Focus is only available on iOS and Android.
Note: Firefox Focus might not be available for download in certain countries.
The total download size for the Brave browser is about 102MB whereas the download size for Firefox Focus is approximately 23MB.
Setting everything up
We're going to be downloading both browsers from the app store, evaluating the initial set-up process, and forming our first impressions here.
It took a minute for Brave to download and install. This can probably be attributed to its file size.
Good news is that there wasn't a ton of setup involved for it.
As a plus, the animations on the initial launch of the app were pretty cute. Unfortunately, I couldn't capture them in the screenshots below.
Though I will say, I do wish the initial launch screens went into a little more detail about the initial privacy settings before jumping straight to opting-in to the BAT reward system (more on this a little later).
You also have the option of skipping everything.
Here are the setup screens in order:
As you can see, first Brave asks you to set your default search engine, then it tells you about its "shields," then you opt-in or out from the reward system, and then you're good to go!
The download and the install for Firefox Focus was insanely quick, even on my iPhone 8.
There was minimal set-up involved before I could use the browser. On the first opening of the app, there was only a couple of screens that told me a bit about what Firefox Focus does and how to use it.
Here they are:
You're pretty much done after viewing these short screens or skipping them.
There's not much to do, or even read, here. You can see that you can even skip these altogether if you choose.
Talk about a quick set-up, huh?
In fact, it was the app equivalent of "Grab & Go." You download the browser and let it install. When you open it, you just type the URL that you want to visit.
That's pretty much it - there's not much more to it than that unless you go into the settings.
We'll get more into the settings for everything a little later.
Brave VS Firefox Focus showdown
Let's compare both browsers on their privacy and security options in depth now.
Even just for privacy, Brave has a ton of flexibility and customizability.
In general, it blocks pop-ups right out the gate. It also blocks ad tracking and known phishing and malware related scripts as another default.
What's pretty cool is that Brave also forces HTTPS on the sites you visit!
What's HTTPS? In short, HTTPS is a lot more secure than just standard HTTP. HTTPS ensures the integrity of data by encrypting the messages sent back and forth from your browser to the server.
With the "HTTPS Everywhere" setting enabled, Brave only uses the HTTPS version of a website without you having to do anything extra - or even pay attention.
Brave also has the options for you to block web scripts and to enable fingerprinting protection. These are both disabled by default.
As a small side, I recommend enabling fingerprint protection because it stops third-party sites from nonconsenually creating very detailed user profiles with data harvested from your device(s).
You can also choose to block all cookies.
You can also tell Brave to always use "Private Browsing."
These two additional privacy settings are disabled by default.
Intense anti-Googlers (I made that up... I think) might bawk at the fact that Brave chooses Google as the default search engine for new tabs.
Thankfully, it doesn't send data to the engines for search autocompletion automatically - it's disabled as a default.
Your options for search engines in Brave are: Bing, DuckDuckGo, Google, Qwant, and StartPage.
You have the option for setting different search engines for different instances. For instance, you can set Google as the engine for a new standard tab, and StartPage as the engine for a private tab.
Additionally, you can also select which search engines to use for a "quick-search."
There doesn't seem to be an option for adding your own search engine into the mix. It's kind of unclear if this is in the works by the developers.
Brave's private browsing feature isn't different from any other browser's. Do note that Brave by itself does more for privacy in the first place than the more mainstream browsers, however.
What I really do appreciate is that Brave does a good job of explaining the limitations of its private browsing, which a lot of other browsers fail to do sufficiently enough in my book.
But what's the biggest bummer is that there is no Tor integration with Brave's private browsing mode; privacy browsing with Tor is only available on the desktop version of Brave.
As mentioned above, you can force private browsing for all sessions in the settings.
The main feature of Firefox Focus is that it wipes all data after you quit the browser.
This means every session is the same fresh start you get after clearing every byte of data (for example: website cookies and saved passwords) from a regular browser, such as Safari.
This complete data wipe is also something you can't enable or disable from within its settings. The browser is purposefully coded to not store any of your browsing data between sessions.
With that said, Firefox Focus's default privacy settings are robust. It blocks ad, analytics, and social trackers from the get-go. You have the option of blocking content trackers as well, but this comes disabled as the default.
Without messing with any of the defaults, you have protection against most of the trackers that follow you around the web and build "shadow profiles" based off your activity.
Not bad at all!
Keep in mind this doesn't necessarily mean that website ads themselves get blocked - just the trackers that may come from those display ads.
Firefox Focus gives you options for which search engine you want it to use by default.
The default options are: Amazon, DuckDuckGo, Google, Twitter, and Wikipedia. You do have the option to add a search engine of your choosing.
We recommend using DuckDuckGo to maintain the utmost privacy while searching. Google has a knack for collecting some information even when you block most of their trackers.
Unfortunately, Google is a good search engine, so I can understand if you continue to use it.
Besides, I opted for Google in this screenshot because sometimes deals with the devil can't be helped, right?
When you navigate back to the general settings page, under "Search," you can also find one more setting: "Get Search Suggestions."
"Get Search Suggestions" is disabled from the jump. When enabled, it sends the data you type into the address bar to the search engine chosen as your default.
There's no option for "private browsing" in Firefox Focus. Sounds crazy, but it actually makes sense.
Remember when I said it doesn't save any of your data between sessions? It's always in that "private browsing" mode!
Brave is updated regularly. Brave Software (the company behind the Brave browser) seems pretty on top of updating it regularly. They revise and improve features, fix bugs, and patch security holes regularly.
As I mentioned earlier, Brave is built on the Chromium engine.
The Chromium engine is prone to a lot of security exploits since it is technically the most used browser engine today.
Brave appears to do a good job of mitigating base Chromium issues with enhanced features and regular software updates.
Naturally, the more advanced privacy settings add to increased security when enabled.
Locking the app
Brave gives you the option to lock the app. This makes it required to use either TouchID/FaceID or a specific passcode to open and use it.
This could prove especially useful because it stops anyone using your device from accessing Firefox Focus at their own whim.
Just like Brave, Firefox Focus is updated regularly.
Mozilla is pretty good about releasing patches for known security vulnerabilities and fixes for bugs in a timely manner.
The Gecko engine that it's built on is robust against direct exploits and security holes.
Not that they don't exist, but they tend to not be as pervasive as they can be on Chromium based browsers.
Locking the app
Firefox Focus is also pretty cool in that it gives you the option (disabled by default) to lock the application when it's either in the background or completely closed.
To unlock it for usage you can use Touch ID or FaceID. It functions pretty much the same as it does in Brave.
Other blocking features
On the main Settings page, under "Privacy," you have the option to block web fonts (disabled by default).
When you block web fonts, it stops Focus from downloading fonts used on a website to your iOS device.
This can make websites load faster. On the flip side, enabling this setting can also cause those same websites to look a little wonky on your screen. Use at your own discretion.
HTTPS Everywhere Again, I find it cool that Brave can force the HTTPS (more secure) version of just about any site. It's a neat blend of convenience and security.
It's also unique that it's built directly into the browser. You can usually only get this functionality by installing extensions; which is not possible in the iOS environment.
Brave Shield With the "Brave Shield" you can easily whitelist websites that you trust. Whitelisting a website means that you let some things like ad trackers go ahead and do their tracking thing.
Reward System What's probably the most unique feature about this browser is its built-in reward system.
What exactly is the rewards system?
Brave Rewards lets you anonymously support the sites you visit. With Brave Rewards, your browser tallies the attention you spend on the sites you visit and divides up a monthly BAT contribution among sites based on your attention.Brave FAQ page
BAT is the cryptocurrency Brave uses for its reward system. BAT stands for Basic Attention Token.
In addition to the above, you can convert your fiat ("real" money) into BAT and deposit it straight to the wallet via Brave.
Brave also gives you the option to easily earn BAT by viewing "Accepted Ads" while you're using it.
Participating in Brave's reward system is completely voluntary.
Syncing Brave can sync between devices. This comes in handy if you often find yourself switching between different devices on the regular.
Safari Integration Firefox Focus's content-blocking features can be carried over to Safari. It works pretty well, but you can't see exactly what tracker (or how many exactly) was blocked by Focus.
Unfortunately, due to Apple's closed design of the iOS environment, Firefox Focus can't integrate into other browsers you may use.
To integrate Firefox Focus's blocking features with Safari, you have to go into your iPhone settings app, and select Safari. You'll find it under "Content Blockers."
Siri Shortcuts With Focus, you can enable Siri shortcuts to erase all data when Firefox Focus is still running in the background.
You can also set up a Siri shortcut to make Focus open a specified URL.
It goes without saying that neither browser is perfect. Both Brave and Focus have their specific cons.
I highlight each browser's biggest annoyances here.
The rewards system can be buggy
The biggest complaint I have found is that you can only earn BAT from viewing ads if you're in a supported region. If your region isn't supported, the browser doesn't always tell you that you're in an unsupported region; you just won't be served any ads to earn BAT!
What's more is, though it hasn't happened to me during my use of Brave, I've heard plenty of stories where an update wiped out accumulated BAT tokens or a wallet transfer magically disappeared.
Fortunately, it seems that the developers are receptive to BAT feedback on social media channels like Twitter and Reddit.
Settings can be confusing
The different settings can be a bit all over the place when you first take a look at the main settings screen.
It's kind of like when you change cable providers and have to memorize the new channel guide. So, roughly speaking, it's actually easy enough to get accustomed to finding what you need.
However, my biggest gripe is that Brave doesn't do well in explaining what these settings do within the app. Like at all.
Many other apps will give you a quick one sentence blurb on what a setting does. Brave doesn't do that with any of its setting toggles, unfortunately.
Since Brave gave its tracker blockers the monicker "shields," I expected a little more of an explanation of what these shields do, even if just a blurb under the toggle itself.
Most of the time you have to Google just to find out what these settings change.
I can imagine that can be frustrating for some users.
Lack of Tor integration
I said this before and I will say it again: there is no Tor integration when private browsing with Brave on an iOS device.
Which is a shame because the integration of Tor on the desktop version really does kick Brave's private browsing into another level. Instead of only protecting your device from local prying eyes (for example, your snooping little brother) you can expand some of that privacy to your network.
Additionally, private browsing with Tor hides your true IP address from websites you visit.
So yes, it's a real let down that the iOS version doesn't have it.
Mobile devices are more popular than ever; because of this popularity, there has been an increase in both malware and really invasive trackers targeting mobile devices. Tor integration could prove exceptionally useful on iOS especially, yet it's not available.
When I did some research, I found that it is a possibility that the developers will add it to mobile in a future update. There isn't a clear time horizon for when we can expect that update at the moment, however.
I guess all I can do is hold my breath.
NO whitelisting feature
When it comes to making exceptions for websites in Focus, well, you can't. There's no whitelisting feature.
Focus functions on an "all or nothing" approach with its tracker blocking mechanics.
Essentially, if you want to disable ad tracker blocking for a specific website, you'll have to temporarily disable blocking entirely.
Additionally, and most importantly, you'll have to make sure that you remember to re-enable blocking once you're done! Else you'll find Focus not blocking on sites where you really need it.
Naturally, this can get irritating if you attempt to use Firefox Focus as your main browser.
You'll find yourself constantly enabling and disabling the blocking features when browsing between websites you absolutely trust and those that you're not too familiar with.
NO tab management
Focus lacks tab management.
This means that you can't open a new tab within the browser.
Even if you follow a link that would otherwise open in a new tab on a browser like Safari or even regular Firefox, it will only open on the "same" tab in Focus. You can only use the "back" and "forward" arrows to "manage" what you have "open."
If you like having multiple tabs open or enjoy the freedom of switching between tabs a lot, then this could be a potential deal breaker for you.
There's no workaround for the lack of tab management either. Your only option would be to use Safari with Firefox Focus integrated.
It's unclear if the Mozilla team intends to add tab management to Focus at all, but for the time being we can assume that it won't be a feature we can reasonably expect any time soon.
Comparison Table Summary
|Block ad trackers
|Social trackers blocking||partially|
|Web font blocking||must be enabled|
|Script blocking||must be enabled||must be enabled|
|Private browsing||must be enabled||
|Syncing between devices|
|Custom search engines||set list only|
Which browser is "better" depends on you as the user.
Brave has tons more functionality. It's presented as a more full featured browser.
For example, Brave has more traditional browser functionality such as saving login information (I suggest using a password manager for this) and saving bookmarks.
Firefox Focus is a minimal browser. It doesn't have these "common" features.
Overall, if you are looking for a total replacement for Safari, Brave might be your best bet. It retains standard browser functionality while emphasing your data privacy on the net.
If you're looking for a blazing fast, no frills, minimal browser to use in combination with a browser like Safari, Firefox Focus takes the cake - especially with its Safari integration.
Honestly, there's no reason not to download both browsers on your mobile device!
As always, stay safe out there!