The latest version of Apple's web browser, Safari 4, is now in public beta stage. An attractive yet resource-light browser, its most eye-catching feature is undoubtedly the Top Sites screen. Displaying large thumbnails of your most visited sites - you can adjust the number it shows - is a useful addition, and serves as a good starting point for web browsing.
The Top Sites are not live screenshots, but are regularly updated and, should a web site have new content, a small star appears in the top right-corner. During testing, we noticed a couple of problems where certain sites showed garbled text instead of a preview, or took well over a minute to load, but this is a beta release and it's something that should be ironed out.
Safari 4 also features an innovative way to view your browsing history, bookmarks and more. Using a slider, you can flick through pages in the same way as Cover Flow in iTunes and the latest iPods. It looks fancy, but it's much more than just a gimmick - actually seeing the web pages you've visited is a much better way to navigate than simply looking at a list of titles as in Internet Explorer.
Much like in Google's Chrome, the tabs for individual browser windows have shifted to the top, above the address bar. In these days of small-screen netbooks, this makes perfect sense as it allows more space for the site you're actually viewing. The only real downside to having the tabs right at the top is that it's a little too easy to accidentally close one when you're simply trying to drag the Safari 4 window to a new location on the desktop.
Overall, we're impressed with Safari 4. It showcases some of Apple's more design-led features, but also manages to rival the speed of Chrome. We wouldn't recommend deployment over a corporate network until it's out of beta, though, and no date has yet been set for the final version.