Microsoft's Edge aspires to be the browser for the modern Web, the board on which users surf the Internet within Windows 10. Here we take a tour of its key features and user experience.

Like Windows 10, Edge aims to make life simple. The interface is basic, urging you to pay more attention to the Web content it displays than the UI itself. And the settings provide a number of simple toggles to turn features on and off.

Edge also hides a number of its best features. Our favorite is Cortana, who steps in and provides additional context when you ask. But other aspects – Reading View, for example – also can enhance your experience as you browse the Web, and you can save articles to a Reading List for later.

Believe it or not, you have a choice of two browsers inside Windows 10: the legacy Internet Explorer 11 as well as Microsoft Edge. Given that you're probably familiar with IE11, we've chosen to focus on the new, more modern browser.

How to use Windows 10's Edge browser

First, you'll need to launch Edge. Some of you may prefer to find the "edgy E" icon in the Start menu, others in the list of all apps. But if you look down at the bottom of the screen, chances are that you'll find the small "e" icon. Click it.

Once you launch Edge, you'll see a broad, gray window (above), most likely full of small snippets of content from Microsoft's topical content aggregators, the MSN apps. Microsoft makes an effort to make the homepage something like Cortana or your Start menu, with some rotating news pieces, the weather, and maybe even some sports scores. Note the small "Customize" link to the upper right. That opens up a really bare-bones page where you can highlight one or more of six topics to highlight on the homepage. If you were expecting subtopics or specialized interests, they weren't there at press time.

When you launch a new tab, you might also see some small, square icons containing frequently-visited sites. At top, you'll see the search box.

By default, Edge uses the Bing search engine to search, which we've found to be the equal to Google in most regards. Remember, you can either type a Web address directly into the search box, or else enter a search term or two that Bing can hunt down.

The bold decision that Edge made was to swap your home screen for its own; by default, Microsoft chooses what you look at. (There's not even a homepage icon unless you choose to add one.) You can choose your own home page, though – we'll get to that in just a bit.

While you probably know your way around a modern browser by now, here's the quick guide to navigating Edge: To the upper left are back- and forward-arrows, followed by the loop icon to reload a page. Once you add a home icon, it will appear next. The search/address bar is in the middle of the screen. And to the top right are the icons we'll be exploring in a bit: Reading View, Favorites, the Hub (Reading List), Web Notes, Share, and finally the Settings icon.

Navigating with the browser is pretty intuitive. Type a Web address into the search box, navigate forward and back with the arrows, and add favorites by clicking the Favorite (star) icon. If you want to open a new tab, click the + sign in the header bar or type Ctrl+T.

Surfing privately via an InPrivate window requires you to click the ellipsis menu in the upper right corner, then launch the InPrivate session via drop-down option. InPrivate won't hide your activity from your employer or your ISP, however, as they can track your activity at the network level. But your browsing won't leave a record on your PC.

The two things you'll probably want to do immediately are set up a homepage, and import any saved bookmarks.

Unfortunately, adding a homepage requires an unexpectedly deep dive into the Settings menu, of all places. See that ellipsis (...) menu to the upper right? Click it, scroll down to the Settings, and then all the way down, again, to the "View advanced settings" button. At the very top of that page, you'll see a toggle to "show the home button." Make sure that's enabled, and then add a homepage, such as (ahem) digitalartsonline.co.uk.

In the Settings menu, you may have seen a toggle to switch between the "light" and "dark" theme. You may not be a fan of the light theme; I'm not. Swap it to the dark theme for a bit more panache.

Importing favorites requires you to enter the Settings menu yet again, but just the first page. You'll probably want the Favorites bar turned on, and then click "Import Favorites from another browser."

This is where it gets a bit tricky. If you're exporting favorites from Internet Explorer 11 from another PC, enter the Favorites tab, click the drop-down menu at the top, wade through the menus, and then export the file to C:\Users\YOURNAME\Documents\bookmark.htm. Copy it to the Windows 10 PC and try importing the favorites file. If that doesn't work, import the favorites to IE11, then use Edge to copy the favorites over automatically from that browser. 

If you've traditionally worked in Chrome, it's much simpler. Download Chrome onto your PC, which will automatically sync your bookmarks. Then switch to Edge, and import the favorites from there. If you want to rearrange your Favorites, though, you'll have to keep reading.

One other note: at press time, Edge lacks support for any and all extensions: ad blockers, LastPass password management, and the like. They're due out this autumn (or slightly later), when Edge will gain many more customisation options.

Edge browser – Cortana

Microsoft's digital assistant, Cortana, is built into Edge, but she's also the one option that's not explicitly displayed. And for right now, she serves a very distinct purpose: providing context and further information. Let's say that you've rented the Pixar movie Ratatouille,  and you quite reasonably wondered what in the world ratatouille is. In Edge, all you need to do is highlight the word, right-click, and scroll down to "open with Cortana." A small vertical sidebar will appear, sliding in from the right. In it you should find much more information about what this French dish actually is.

For now, those are the limits of Cortana's expertise. I haven't noticed any particular integration with the "main" Cortana of Windows 10. In other words, it doesn't appear that searching for a French dish will encourage Cortana to direct you to nearby French restaurants.

Edge browser – Reading View

I like Reading View, both as a writer and a user. The premise is simple: Reading View strips out all the cruft around an article – all the extraneous ads, navigation bars, everything. But it does so after it loads the page. This allows sites like PCWorld to receive revenue, but still allows you to enjoy a pure reading experience. It's a simple, workable compromise.

We've already discussed how to import Favorites above. To save a tab to your list of Favorites, just click the Favorite (star) icon. You can save it in a new folder, or an existing folder. You also have the option of saving an article to the Reading List, which is essentially a temporary bookmark of a story you want to read, but not keep forever. 

Edge browser – The Hub

But wait! you cry. Shouldn't I be able to organise my Favorites in... Favorites? Nope! For that, you'll need to move next door to the Hub.

The Hub is broken down into four submenus: the Favorites, the Reading List, History, and Downloads. The latter two don't need much explanation.

The Hub > Favorites menu is where you actually organize your Favorites. You can move folders up and down, drag bookmarks (or Favorites) back and forth, and generally reorganize things to your heart's content. If you move items back and forth in the Favorites Bar folder, you'll see those items dynamically adjust in the Favorites Bar itself. No, there's no auto-alphabetizing, and you can't drag folders into folders to create subfolders.

Edge browser – Web Notes

For me, Web Notes are Edge's most controversial feature. Microsoft has intimated that Web Notes should be regarded as something amazing, and yet they're actually rather mundane. But that doesn't mean they're not useful. 

Web Notes allow you to "mark up" a webpage, scribbling notes and other digital graffiti on top of it. What Web Notes doesn't do, unfortunately, is leave the webpage "live." Instead, it's essentially a beefed-up version of the Snipping Tool: It takes a snapshot of the static page, then drops down a header with shortcuts to a digital pen, highlighter, and eraser. You can also add a typed note and even clip a bit of it. When you're done, you can either save the page as an image file to OneNote, to your Favorites, or to the Reading List.

Why would you want to do this? One of the examples that Microsoft developers have used is Edge's ability to create your own personalized recipe file: hunt down a recipe for blueberry scones, for example, then mark it up with your own tweaks and comments. Then, you can save it to your Reading list or to your own archive. Granted, you can do this with any browser in the world, Microsoft Paint, and a bit of grunt work. But, to be fair, Microsoft's goal is to make this kind of activity easier than it normally would be.

At press time, I noticed one bug that Microsoft hasn't thought through: Yes, you can leave a text comment attached to a Web page, but there's no apparent way to open it in OneNote – you'll merely see the an indicator that the note was left, but not the actual text. But OneNote notes as well as marked-up Web pages in Reading List will also take you back to the (original, unedited) Web page.

If you'd like, you can also share the original Web page using the Share icon and an app like Mail. It simply copies the URL into the body of the text.

Edge browser settings

Microsoft's made a conscious effort to simplify the Settings menu in Windows 10, and that carries over into Edge. To access them, you'll need to click on that ellipsis menu at the far right-hand corner once again.

Note that there are a few options besides just the Settings: print, Pin to Start, and Open with Internet Explorer are the most interesting. It's doubtful you'll ever have to use the latter option. However, if for some reason Edge refuses to open a webpage, IE may save your bacon.

There really isn't that much to the Settings, so I'd recommend trying out all the options: tweaking Reading View, deciding which page to open a new tab with, and so on. Note that the Advanced Settings hides a couple of very interesting options: the ability to block popups, turn off Adobe Flash for security's sake, manage passwords, and so on. Note that Edge's lack of extensions does not allows plugins like LastPass to be used.

Edge remains somewhat unfinished; we'd expect further customisation options and plug-in support in the coming months. That should allow users to further tweak Edge, personalise it, and make it their own.