Google’s Chrome for Android is an .apk file edition of Google Chrome released for the Android system. If speed is your holy grail, Chrome is your mobile browser. With Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, Google finally replaced the stock Android browser with its very own Chrome for Android (free). Chrome first hit Google Play as a beta app, but now the full release brings an even slicker user interface, faster performance both in real life and in benchmarks, and mobile-only features like voice search and scrolling navigation.
If you’re a desktop Chrome user, you’re probably already familiar with Chrome’s other flagship features, such as Incognito browsing, autofilling, and the unified search/address bar (called omnibox). That’s all in mobile Chrome too.
What Chrome lacks is video-loving Flash. The stock Android browser supported the plug-in, but I guess Google is putting the final nail in Flash’s coffin—unsurprising, given Adobe’s abandonment of Android support last December. If you’re hell-bent on using Flash, then check out Firefox for Android (free) or Dolphin HD (free, 4.5 stars and an Editors’ Choice), both excellent browsers that let you customize gestures, support Flash, and download numerous plug-ins. But for fast, simple browsing, Chrome can’t be beat.
Some Basic Functions:
- Synchronization with desktop Chrome to provide the same bookmarks and view the same browser tabs
- Page pre-rendering
- Hardware acceleration
- Many of the latest HTML5 features to the Android platform, almost all of the Web Platform’s features: GPU-accelerated canvas, including CSS 3D Transforms, CSS animations, SVG, WebSocket (including binary messages), Dedicated Workers; it has overflow scroll support, strong HTML5 video support, and new capabilities such as IndexedDB, WebWorkers, Application Cache and the File APIs, date and time pickers, parts of the Media Capture API.Also supports mobile oriented features such as Device Orientation and Geolocation.
- Tabs can be switched with a swipe gesture
- Link Preview allows zooming in on (multiple) links so as to ensure clicking on the right one
- Font Boosting is used when text on the website is too small to be read properly. It uses an algorithm to increase font sizes when necessary, aiming to make the text readable regardless of the zoom level
- Remote debugging
- No support for Safe Browsing
- Chrome apps and extensions are not supported
- Does not support Adobe Flash and will not do so in the future
- Does not support Native Client
- Part of the browser layer has been implemented in Java, communicating with the rest of the Chromium and WebKit code through Java Native Bindings
How Chrome Makes Searching Faster
To make the most of Chrome’s intelligent, fast searching, sign into your Google account when you browse. Chrome syncs pretty much every keystroke you enter into Chrome on a desktop or another mobile device, as long as you’ve signed into your Chrome account. For instance, even if you quit Chrome on one device you can open Chrome on another and see your last synced tabs, bookmarks, and browsing history. However, this is a one-way street only—desktop to mobile. Chrome now accepts voice input, too. Simply tap the mic symbol next to the omnibox and speak clearly, slowly, and preferably in a quiet place.
A lot of browsers do the tab thing, but Chrome does it best. A single tap on the tab icon next to your omnibox opens up a new tab—in Chrome beta, it took two taps. You can open a seemingly infinite number of tabs and swipe the left or right edges to move from one to the next, though I found this gesture inconsistent.
A Browser for the Privileged
Sadly Chrome is only available to devices with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and above (that’s still a paltry six percent of you Android users, according to Google)
- Pros : Fast. Streamlined interface. Easy navigation. Voice search. Excellent tab implementation. Quickly syncs between all platforms and devices.
- Cons : Requires Android 4.0 and higher. No Flash. No plug-ins. No support yet for Safe Browsing or sandboxed applications.
- Bottom Line : Chrome first full release on Android is a speed demon of a browser, combining a minimalist interface with advanced HTML 5 support.
Phone Interface :
Like many other Google apps, Chrome for Android has both a phone and tablet interface. They are very similar in function, though the tablet version looks nearly identical to its desktop counterpart. For now, though, let’s take a closer look at the phone version.
If you use Chrome on the desktop, then you should feel right at home as soon as you open Chrome on your mobile. Many of the same familiar features have been brought to the mobile interface, including quick access to your most visited web pages, bookmark sync, and, my personal favorite feature (for now), access to open instances on other devices.
That’s right – if you’re on your desktop/laptop and want to get away from the desk for a while, you can access all of your open tabs directly on your mobile device. No need for Chrome to Phone or the like, simple open the new tab page and tap the rightmost icon at the bottom.
Another neat feature is the ability to zoom in specific text on the screen. However, this one appears to be a bit temperamental, as the only site I could get it to work with is Reddit.
Under the hood, Chrome offers the norm for a browser, along with a couple of interesting additions. One said section is Bandwidth management, though there is only one option under this category for the time being: preload webpages. Like its desktop brethren, Chrome can pre-load pages for faster load up times. In order to conserve bandwidth while on a mobile network, this set to happen on Wi-Fi only by default.
Devs can have a bit a fun with Chrome for Android as well, as it offers a small section of developer tools. Like the Bandwidth management section, dev tools isn’t packing a whole lot at the moment, but it is where you’ll find the option to disable the tilt scrolling feature that I mentioned earlier. This section also allows devs to debug web pages via USB.
Otherwise, you’ll just find all the standard features in the settings menu: autofill options, password saving, privacy settings, etc.
So, what do I think of Chrome for Android’s initial iteration? I love it. It will likely just continue to get better from here, the gap between desktop and mobile will continue to close, and, hopefully, Google will allow us to have full desktop sites whenever we want.
Even though it has already been made clear that Flash on Chrome is not going to happen (officially, anyway), I will continue to hold on to the possibility that it will make its way to Chrome in one form or another (or everyone under the sun rapidly converts to HTML5) so I don’t have to navigate away from the page I’m browsing just to watch an embedded YouTube video.
Otherwise, Chrome for Android is already a great browser, and I look forward to seeing what improvements show up in the future. If you have any questions about Chrome, feel free to drop them in comments and I’ll do my best to answer.