Chrome for Android

You might have noticed that the Google Chrome team has released the long awaited build for Android. It's still a beta version, but it's a pretty big deal. It's built for Ice Cream Sandwich only (we're playing with getting it on Honeycomb devices, but no joy yet), so that narrows down the potential user base a good bit. It's also a beta build, which means there are some features missing and some bugs. Luckily, the good outweighs the bad this time around.

We're going to walk through this bad boy in three parts -- design, performance and tips and tricks. It's good to remember that technically Chrome for Android is still in beta. But it could well serve as your day-to-day browser, with a couple caveats.

Hit the break and have a look.

The video walkthrough


Youtube link for mobile viewing

Design

Chrome for Android on smartphones

Chrome

If you're a fan of Chrome for the desktop, you'll love Chrome for Android. The same feature set is there, just laid out in a different way. It's a fully tabbed browser, with two ways to access the tabs you have open. If you press the small button in the upper right you'll see the open tabs screen. A really cool option is is that you can tilt your phone to scroll your open tabs. Tilt back to scroll down, tilt forward to scroll up. If this isn't your cup of tea, you can shut this off in the settings. You also can flick the tabs away to close them from this screen.  The other method to flip through running tabs is to simply slid the screen left or right. Gesture-based browsing has never looked so good. In addition, new transition effects and other eye-candy make it very slick.

Chrome  Chrome

You'll be using those tabs a lot. Chrome has a built-in feature to sync the tabs you have open in Chrome on your desktop. Next time you need to step away from your desk for a minute but still keep track of what you've got going on in your browser, you'll have it on your Android phone. 

Chrome

Chrome for Android tablets

Chrome on a tablet

There's Chrome running on an Ice Cream Sandwich-updated tablet. Looks a whole lot like Chrome on a desktop, doesn't it? The sexy tab flipping has given way to a more traditional, well, tabbed interface. The menu items are in the Action Bar (where they should be), but the Action Bar itself sits below the tabs. Stylish, really. Looks and feels nearly exactly like desktop Chrome.

Handy options

There are more, but maybe not as sexy, options as well. Incognito mode is handy for those times you don't want a history kept of sites you've visited. And of course you've got full access to all your Bookmarks, which you can set to be synced with your Google account. 

Chrome  Chrome

Chrome

Digging into the settings, we see a couple new things in the mix. Bandwidth management allows you to preload web pages based on your connection or turn the feature off completely. What it does is check the links on the page you're viewing, and get things ready in case you click one of them. It makes for fast browsing, but uses more data. Nice to see it as an option -- we love options. In the Developer tools settings, you can turn off the tilt scrolling we talked about above, as well as set things up for USB debugging. This will let mobile web developers debug (find and fix errors) on their desktop computer. If you're more curious about this, there's also a link to learn more and set it all up. The normal privacy and content settings are there as well, making this one of the best browsers for Android yet.

Chrome  Chrome

Chrome

Performance 

Chrome for Android is fast. Very fast. It uses the same Webkit rendering engine as the stock browser, but with Google's magic thrown in, just like the desktop version of Chrome. It's not perfect, and you'll find a few spots where it struggles (the HTML 5 canvas element comes to mind), but overall it's a really fast and pleasant experience. Because we know everyone loves numbers, here are a couple for you to peek at:

Chrome  Chrome

SunSpider checks in at 1904.4ms (smaller is better). For reference, my laptop running Win7 and Chrome stable scored 304.1ms. And the Acid3 test? Perfect, as you can see.

Chrome

Chrome Beta isn't the lightest app on your system resources. All said and done, it eats about 44MB of RAM while running, and in 45 minutes it used 0.3 percent of the battery. Not bad when dealing with new superphones and tablets, but you might not be happy running a custom ICS ROM on an older device.

Chrome tips and tricks

Tab Sync

Chrome

This one is so cool we gave it it's own post. Read it here.

Chrome to Mobile

Chrome

It's sort of like Chrome to Phone, but it allows you to select which connected device to send a page to. Let me explain. You'll need an extension on your desktop Chrome browser, you can grab it right here. Installing it will walk you through a short setup, then you're ready to roll. Then next time you visit a web page that will work with Chrome to Mobile, you'll see an icon in your desktop address bar.

Chrome

Click it, and you'll see a list of Android devices running Chrome. Pick one, and the page gets sent to the device. You can open in any browser on your system through the normal Android intent dialog. This tip comes courtesy of JR Raphael. Thanks, JR!

Chrome

Link zooming

Chrome  Chrome

Links too close together to accurately click just one? You're covered. Press in the general area and you'll get a magnified window with a bigger, and easier to click, set of the same links.

The wrap-up

Chrome Beta for Android is slick indeed. It's not perfect by any means, but in all honesty it's pretty close. There are a couple things worth mentioning here, though. Adobe Flash is never going to work on Chrome for Android. Adobe has shifted directions, and the web is shifting away as well. If you have to have Flash, you'll have to use a different browser to get it. You also can't set your user agent string to get served the desktop version of a webpage. no about:debug, or Chrome://flags -- it's not going to work. This could be something we see in later builds, or it could be intentional -- desktop pages on the desktop, mobile pages on mobile sounds like a Google idea.

Finally, there's the open-source issue. Chrome isn't open-source, and probably never will be. The Chromium project is the open-source version of the desktop browser, not the Chrome we're used to. As of now, this is a non-issue. Nobody from Google has come forward and said this is set to replace the stock AOSP browser, and until they do it's just Internet noise. 

 

Reader comments

Chrome Beta for Android walkthrough

37 Comments

Maybe I'm over looking it, but I can't find anyway to force "desktop" view. Since using Chrome on my Xoom it's rare when I come across a site that loads it's mobile version and doesn't have a go to "desktop" option, but it does happen.

same here! the first time I saw the link zoom, I was blown away. such a simple idea, yet not implemented until 2012!

Agreed, this is amazing. I don't know how many times I have clicked on the wrong thing just because of spacing/finger size.

This feature alone has kept me going back to Chrome over Dolphin

There's desktop view... you just have to request it from the page as the automatic request for desktop view is not yet implemented. It's beta.. get over it.

No text reflow... yes there is. You just haven't figured out how to use it.

No quick controls... not needed with this interface. Get over it.

No Flash... Quit living in the past.

I like it alot but why is it using so much ram?

I had the same tabs open open on dolphin and chrome using =120mb and dolphin=

Any reason?

It's designed to use as much ram as possible when it can. If free ram isn't available, it doesn't use it. Every modern computing platform uses this method, and it works well. Why have all that ram if you're not going to use it?

I like that they've made Chrome available for Android, but it's totally disappointing that they didn't make it available for Gingerbread devices. I understand the reasons, but judging by the fact that most people won't get an opportunity to use this for a better part of the year (if ever), it's a disappointment.

I hear ya, I was happy to see this and loaded it up immediately. Went to load it on my wife's phone and noticed it wasn't available. I think its an actual technical limitation why it can't be loaded on GB. I think I read somewhere it requires the hardware acceleration that is included in ICS. Dont know if that was true or not, but if so, makes sense why GB won't see it. Aside from that, its awesome, and although flash doesnt work, flash never really "worked" well on mobile anyways.

Great walkthrough. For now, I'll stick with stock browser as it is really good in its own right. Though many of these features are awesome and I'm looking forward to the day Chrome becomes the stock browser with its added benefits and hopefully taking somethings in stock now (I'm looking at you quick controls).

Great article! I like the speed of this browser and the tab synic'ing but playing "Russian Roulette" with desktop and mobile views on my Xoom is not for me.

Will definitely be following this for an update but until then, looks like it's back to Dolphin.

Bitch bitch... Man sounds like a bunch of babies in here. Its a BETA PEOPLE... BETA... Meaning.. not REALLY ready for public consumption. Honestly ANYONE familiar with the google way of things knows this is how they work: Release a fairly stable but mostly featureless product... make sure that works.. then add in all the goodies. GIVE'EM a BREAK HERE!!

Honestly, this is one of the best 1st release beta products i have seen from the goog in a while!

And for all you saying it doesn't have this or that or this.. have you even TRIED it?? Cause its pretty awesome.

Yes, and Gmail was in beta for about a decade. I think the problem is that, with Google, people tend to discount the Beta tag because they leave their stuff in Beta for so long. It's the boy crying wolf...now that they have something that actually is a beta, with all the inherent faults, people expect more.

Not a fan of desktop Chrome (hate the UI), so mobile has little to no interest for me either. Also don’t care for any syncing ability between mobile and desktop, just want a browser to view web pages. I’ll do my own syncing as I see fit. It doesn't help either that it doesn't support Flash (fail!). As such, the stock android browser does the job.

What I do find interesting is that Chrome mobile isn't available on earlier versions of Android than ICS. It reminds me a lot of Microsoft's IE9 not being compatible with older versions of Windows, primarily Windows XP which is still to this day widely used, myself included. Although truthfully, it didn't matter as IE8 does the job quite nicely yet and I really didn't care for the UI changes of IE9. But I digress, points being it’s disappointing to see Google going down a similar road as Microsoft by either limiting what plug-in options are available or what OS versions the app will work on. :(

There's only one bug I noticed with Google Chrome for Android: The app freezes sometimes.

Try opening 99 tabs guys. It's tiring but seeing the cute smiley face on the top right is worth it haha. While on the tabs view flip the pages five times and you should see an embossed Google Chrome icon behind them. Pretty cool.

the app looks amazing but on my nexus s it takes a good 30 seconds to start up. very annoying. also it brings my phone to a crawl while trying to load even one page :/

Everybody yelling BETA BETA BETA...Just remember, GMail was in beta for years. Beta is no excuse for lack of simple features found in other browsers...including their own. They included gimmick features, like tilt to scroll tabs, but left out full page view, desktop view, quick controls, and text wrap? Beta, my ass.

You can still view desktop versions of pages. The auto request just isn't htere. Quick controls... whoopdy doo, the interface is designed in a manner that quick controls are not needed. And yes there is text wrapping, you just don't know how to make it happen.

Love desktop chrome, easily the best browser in my opinion and I'd love to use this on my handset and tablet but unfortunately a few sites I use on a regular basis use Flash and aren't going to be changing any time soon, namely the only live freeview TV streaming site in the UK which on my transformer has become pretty essential.

Also the quick thumb controls are superb and at the moment aren't implemented into chrome beta, they may be in the future but I find them so useful I wouldn't want to lose them for now. Along with the lack of desktop view which I do find a bit odd as with the size of the screens available to me I don't want to be forced into using mobile sites.

I do realise this is a beta and these things (apart from flash obviously, just gotta hope the sites catch up at some point) may be sorted in the final build but if they aren't I'll find it impossible to switch to it unfortunately despite the benefits.

I like it, it has promise to be the best browser out there. I'm a fan of Chrome on my desktop too though.

Only one site I've visited switched to the mobile view, the rest I've been too open the desktop version. And I know one of them for sure has a mobile version (but it's horrible).

Typing to post stuff seems to work ok... odd thing once you enter a certain amount of text the font gets bigger. There seems to be something that scales font on certain web parts (seen it in blogs mostly).

Looking forward to seeing what future updates bring!

I like that some of the chrome shortcuts work, being a web developer the remote debugging is nice and also before the url you can type view-source: and it will bring up the source of the page (not sure if this worked in default browser)