The new Arc browser will literally transform how you use the web

It’s not often that a new browser comes along promising to transform the way you access the web, but that’s exactly what Arc offers. Now available to anyone on macOS and iOS, with a Windows version due before the end of 2023, the program brings with it a slew of features that will help you browse differently.

For a start, tabs live on the left by default rather than at the top, and are automatically archived after a customizable period of time. You can keep different browsing activities separate with Profiles and Spaces, you can collect stuff from the web in Notes and Easels, and you can even change the look of sites as you browse.

Arc’s ultimate aim is to provide a more intuitive, more focused window to the web—and by exploring how these various features and settings work, you’ll be able to get a feel for whether or not Arc is the right browser for you. 

Getting started with Arc

You’ll get a guided tour of Arc when you first launch it. David Nield for Popular Science

Once you download Arc for macOS and install it on your system, it’ll ask you to sign up for a free Arc account. This will mainly be used to sync browsing data across devices and file bug reports, and you can’t use the browser without one. Once you’ve supplied a name, email, and password, the initial setup process will start.

Setup involves importing data such as your browsing history, stored passwords, and bookmarks from another browser on your system (Chrome, Edge, Safari, Firefox, and Opera are all supported)—click on any of the browsers listed to see the data that will be transferred across. Select a browser and then click Next to do the import, or click Do this later if you’d rather start fresh with Arc.

Arc will then ask you to pick a color that it’ll use as its main accent color, so you’ll have a browser that’s tailored to your tastes right from the beginning. The next stage is picking out web apps that you often have open, such as Gmail or Notion—Arc will ask you to sign into these apps, and will put links to them front and center once you finish setup.

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For the penultimate step of the setup process, you can choose whether or not to activate Arc’s built-in ad blocker. The choice is yours, but bear in mind that many websites (this one included) rely on advertising revenue to run. Finally, you’ll get your Arc card: A simple image with your name and a graphic that you can use to show off your support for Arc on social media and elsewhere.

Using Arc

When you get into Arc, the first area to be aware of is the sidebar on the left. It’s home to your favorites (which look like app shortcut icons), pinned tabs just below, and unpinned tabs beneath that (under the line). As mentioned above, unpinned tabs are automatically archived after 12 hours by default, but you can change this by going to Arc > Settings > General.

You can view archived tabs via Archive > View Archive, and you can turn an unpinned tab into a pinned one by dragging it up above the sidebar line or pressing Cmd+D. You can also drag tabs back down to unpin them, and reorder them by clicking and dragging within both the pinned and unpinned sections. To visit a new site, enter its URL in the box in the top left corner, then hit Enter and it’ll pop up in a new tab.

An Arc browser window, showing the tabs on the left-hand side of the screen.
In Arc, your tabs live on the left. David Nield for Popular Science

That box is also good for running searches, and you can set your default search engine via Arc > Settings > General. Just to the right of the box you’ll see options for copying the current URL, sharing it via another app, taking a screenshot, and applying a boost—boosts let you change the colors and fonts on a page, so you can give any site a custom look. There’s also a “zap” button for removing elements of a webpage, such as menu bars or widgets.

If you’ve got several people using Arc on the same computer, you can set up profiles for each person via File > New Profile. Profiles have their own separate sets of browsing data (such as history and favorites), so you can also use them to keep various parts of your browsing life independent—you might have one profile for work and one profile for leisure.

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Then there are Spaces, which are like profiles within profiles. Again, you could have separate ones for your job, vacation planning, hobbies, side hustle, or whatever you like. Favorites stay constant across Spaces, but pinned tabs and unpinned tabs change, and each Space can have its own color theme. To make a new Space, choose Spaces > New Space. Your Spaces are listed at the foot of the sidebar for easy switching, and can be managed via Spaces > Edit Spaces.

Spaces in the Arc browser.
Use Spaces to keep browsing sessions separate in Arc. David Nield for Popular Science

To help you keep track of everything you find on the web, Arc offers Notes and Easels—you can create either by clicking on the plus button at the bottom of the sidebar. Notes are just as they sound, collections of text, links, and images that you can use to record ideas and thoughts. Easels are a bit more creative, combining scribbles and shapes with text, images, and screenshots you’ve grabbed from the web.

Also of note is the Cmd+T keyboard shortcut, which works a bit like Spotlight does on macOS. Hit this shortcut in Arc, and a box will pop up: You can type in a search, the URL of a website you want to visit, the title of a tab that’s already open, a command (such as “pin tab”), or a place within Arc you want to go to (such as “settings”). It’s a one-stop shop for getting anywhere in Arc.

The Arc browser search box, which you can activate via the Cmd+T shortcut.
You can use the search box to navigate the web or Arc itself. David Nield for Popular Science

As you can see, Arc is packed with features, many of them not available in other browsers, and there are more that we don’t have the space to explore here, like Split View for multitasking (View > Add Split View) and the stripped-down, Little Arc mini version of Arc (File > Open Little Arc). It’s worth at least giving Arc a try, to see if it offers enough to dislodge your current browser from its default position.