Chrome Beta for Android impressions: Even in beta, it’s our favorite new browser

Chrome Beta for Android - Start Screen

Eventually Google’s Chrome Web browser had to come to Android. In my heart of hearts, I knew it would happen, but I never thought it would take so long. Senior Googlers have been quoted as far back as 2008, hinting that Chrome would come to Android. Today, it finally made the jump. This morning, Google released the first beta of Chrome for Android on all devices running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich). Since I happen to own just about the only Android 4.0 device on the market, the Galaxy Nexus, I downloaded the beta app from the Android Market and gave it a whirl. If you happen to have a device running ICS, you should be able to find Chrome Beta in the Market as well.

My hands-on impressions of the new browser are below.

Layout and tabbed browsing

Though most mobile browsers are trying really hard to get rid of any menus or items on the screen, the Chrome ‘omnibox’ combined Search and Address bar does not leave the screen at any time. It has a search box in it, a Refresh button, a tabs button, and that familiar elipsis button that indicates there are more options. In that menu, you can open new tabs, get to Bookmarks, and toy around with Settings. The new layout works pretty well. Oddly, the mobile browser that looks most like Chrome is Dolphin HD. The Dolphin team loved Chrome for PC so much that it completely copied almost everything about its appearance, right down to the way tabs look. 

chrome-beta-tabs-and-settings

Tabs in Chrome Beta are a bit different from the PC. Moving between open tabs is one of the best parts about the new UI. You can swipe from the side of any page to auto-move to the next open tab (this is a useful feature commonly found in WebOS and the BlackBerry PlayBook). Hitting the tabs button brings up a full menu of open pages. These are displayed in a stacked view that you can push up or down, as if grabbing pieces of paper inside a folder. If you swipe a page to the left or right, it is discarded off the screen. New tabs also have recently visited pages and links to Bookmarks and synced tabs from your PC (this feature did not work for me).

Incognito tabs

chrome-beta-incognito-windowsIncognito windows are here from the PC as well. These are private tabs that don’t save cookies or your search history. They’re pretty great if you’re looking up embarrassing stuff, though please keep in mind that even if Google isn’t recording your searches and browsing history your service provider is, whether that’s a phone company or cable company or whomever. Like Patrick Stewart, your ISP has seen it all; it’s seen everything. There is no true privacy unless you go to extremes.

In any case, Incognito tabs are still useful and can be opened just as easily as a regular tab. To access them, you go to the tabs page and swipe from the right. The Incognito tabs are colored dark blue and bundled together, but slightly separated from standard tabs so that you don’t flip through them unless you would like to do so.

It’s fast

The first thing I noticed about the new Chrome browser was it’s speed. While it could be my imagination, the browser seems to open faster and render pages much speedier than any other mobile browser, and today I’ve tested most of them: Dolphin, Firefox, Skyfire, Opera Mobile, and the default Android browser. Though it’s only in beta, Chrome already breezes past most of the competition. It starts up quicker and loads pages much faster.

Page rendering improved

Attempting to browse the Web on a phone has never been easy because it was originally designed for much larger screens. Each of the major Android mobile browsers attempt to help mobile users read text better on full Websites. Some of them load pages already zoomed in (Skyfire), while others attempt to wrap text so that it’s easier to read when you zoom in on a Web page. Chrome does modify text, but does so in a more elegant manner than most, simply upping the size of the text in every view, making it easier to read articles on a Web page from a zoomed out point of view and much easier once you zoom in with a double tap or pinch-to-zoom gesture. Zooming has a much smoother animation and flow to it as well. Did we mention that you can also search within a page to find a specific word or phrase? If you’re a journalist or blogger, you’ll love this feature — if you don’t already know about it. Try hitting CTRL+F in your PC browser. It’s awesome.  

chrome-beta-rendering-and-find-text

Signing in with your Google account

Privacy worriers, you don’t have to log in with your Google account, but you now have the option. Doing so will let you sync your bookmarks and even active tabs between your PC and mobile phone or tablet. I couldn’t get the phone to sync up my open tabs, but I did immediately see a benefit from logging in to my account. The mobile Chrome now knows all of my autofill data, my saved passwords, and my search history, allowing it to know that when I start typing “Digital,” I’m probably going to finish that with “Trends.”

Better all around

After using the Chrome Beta for just a couple hours, I don’t think I’ll be switching to any other browser anytime soon. There are some good alternatives for Android, but the Chrome team has spent a lot of time optimizing this new browser for Android 4.0 and it shows. It allows me to easily multitask, it connects up to my PC browser, and it loads pages quickly and accurately. This browser may be in beta, but it’s already more polished than most of its competitors. 

Video impressions

Below is a video run through of the new browser.

Mobile

Updating to Apple’s iOS 12 will make your iPhone a whole lot smarter

iOS 12, the latest version of Apple’s iOS, is officially here. We took it for a spin to check out its new noteworthy features, and if it truly changes our smartphone habits for the better.
Computing

Your ‘Do Not Track’ tool might be helping websites track you, study says

New research from the "Do Not Track" features embedded in popular browsers are being ignored, opening up the possibility of consumers having their information targeted by specific ads based on their web histories and cookies. 
Product Review

Google Pixelbook review

Do you want the best Chromebook money can buy? Our Google Pixelbook review examines the operating system’s new flagship, which includes 2-in-1 versatility, an active stylus, and Google Assistant.
Gaming

Can Chrome replace your game console? Google’s Project Stream argues it can

Google's Project Stream wants to bring console gaming directly to your Chrome browser by streaming it over the internet. The beta holds much promise but also has room for improvement.
Mobile

Pocket transforms articles into podcasts with an assist from Amazon

Read-it-later app Pocket is adding an option to turn articles into easily navigable podcasts with its new app redesign for iOS and Android. The feature relies on Amazon's voice-to-text service Polly.
Mobile

Here’s our guide on how to get ‘Fortnite’ on your Android device

'Fortnite: Battle Royale' is one of the biggest games in the world right now, and it's finally on Android, even if getting set up is a bit long-winded. Here's how to play 'Fortnite: Battle Royale' on an Android device.
Product Review

Hotter than a Dot? Google's Home Mini outsmarts, doesn't outperform Amazon rival

With voice match and improved artificial intelligence capabilities, the $49 Google Home Mini is a voice assistant that seamlessly puts the Google platform on the tip of your tongue.
Computing

How to recover Google contacts

If you accidentally deleted an important person from your Google Contacts, they might not be lost forever. Recovering them is a fairly easy process -- as long as you do it quickly. Here's how.
Deals

Save up to $1,000 with the best smartphone deals for October 2018

Need a better phone but don't want to spend a fortune? It's never a bad time to score a new smartphone and save some cash. We rounded up the best smartphone deals available that can save you as much as $1,000.
Mobile

Got gadgets galore? Keep them charged up with the 10 best USB-C cables

If you weren't already aware, USB-C is quickly becoming mainstream. That's why we've rounded up some of the better USB-C cables on the market, whether you're looking to charge or sync your smartphone.
Computing

Tired of choosing between Windows and Mac? Check out these Chromebooks instead

We've compiled a list of the best Chromebooks -- laptops that combine great battery life, comfortable keyboards, and the performance it takes to run Google's lightweight Chrome OS. From Samsung to Acer, these are the Chromebooks that really…
Mobile

OnePlus charges into U.K. carrier stores, leaving online-only start in the past

OnePlus's next phone, the OnePlus 6T, will be more widely available than any OnePlus phone before it, as the company has announced major deals with retailers in the U.K. The device launches on October 30.
Mobile

The Palm has been revived, and it wants to help you limit your smartphone usage

A reboot of the classic Palm is finally here and it's tiny. It syncs to your phone and acts as a secondary device -- with a feature to help you disconnect from technology. At $350, the Palm will be available exclusively through Verizon.
Product Review

The all-new Palm wants to be many things, but it’s really just a tiny smartphone

The all-new Palm is here, and it’s tinier than ever. Exclusive to Verizon, it syncs to your primary smartphone and acts as a secondary device -- with features to help you disconnect from technology. But at $350, is it worth the high price…