07
Feb
unnamed (1)

Chrome for Android. Those are three words that many Android fans have been patiently waiting to hear for quite a while (aside from speculation and rumor, that is), and it's finally here. I've spent the biggest part of the day playing with the new browser, and it's already the default browser on both my Transformer Prime and Galaxy Nexus. Yeah, it's that good.

Before we take a closer look, though, I want you to keep in mind that it's wearing the beta tag, so it is a bit buggy. There are quirks, missing features, and simple oversights. What we're really looking at here is potential. I have no doubt that this will be the best browser for Android; in fact, I believe this will eventually render all other browsers obsolete.

Screenshot_2012-02-07-16-12-27

For the time being, Chrome for Android is available exclusively for ICS devices, but we're hoping that it will be backwards compatible once it goes final. If not, though, users should take comfort in the fact that many modern device will eventually updated to Android 4.0.

With that out of the way, let's dig in.

Phone

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.

Screenshot_2012-02-07-12-34-36 Screenshot_2012-02-07-12-35-33 Screenshot_2012-02-07-13-58-40

Left to right: Most visited, Bookmarks, and Other devices

Once you head off to a website, one thing is unmistakably evident: this thing is fast. Not only is it substantially faster than the stock browser, but web pages are much easier to read in Chrome, as well. Take a look:

Screenshot_2012-02-07-13-07-59 Screenshot_2012-02-07-13-06-44

Left: Chrome; Right: Stock

I was able to read most of the content on the AP homepage without using pinch-to-zoom. The same can't be said for the stock browser - the bulk of the text is completely illegible.

Like most other browsers for Android, Chrome offers tabbed browsing. The big difference here is that Chrome offers a much more intuitive way of navigating through these tabs: by swiping. To quickly switch between tabs, just grab the far edge of the page and swipe left or right. While this is by far the easiest way to navigate through tabs on a mobile device, the feature doesn't always work exactly as it should. Occasionally, I would have to try several times before I was able to successfully switch tabs. However, my phone is in a case that covers up a small portion of the bezel, so it's possible that I just wasn't grabbing the correct area of the screen.

If, for some reason, you're not the swipin' type, then there is also a nifty 'card' view for navigating through open tabs. While in this view, you can tilt your device from front to back and the tabs will fall accordingly. While this may seem like more a eye-candy feature, it could be quite useful if you have several tabs open.

Screenshot_2012-02-07-12-35-56 Screenshot_2012-02-07-12-34-10

Left: Tab cards; Right: Swiping through tabs

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.

Update: As one reader so graciously pointed out, this is actually a zoom mode for areas that are heavy with links, which explains why it works so well on the link-haven that is Reddit. I just gave it a shot on the AP sidebar (where all the devices are listed) and it worked out perfectly. Brilliant!

Screenshot_2012-02-07-13-39-49 Screenshot_2012-02-07-13-40-05 Screenshot_2012-02-07-13-40-20

Perhaps the Chrome for Android team is full of Redditors?

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.

Screenshot_2012-02-07-12-36-13 Screenshot_2012-02-07-12-36-30 Screenshot_2012-02-07-12-37-30

Screenshot_2012-02-07-12-36-54 Screenshot_2012-02-07-12-37-43 Screenshot_2012-02-07-12-37-04

Tablets

Since we've already covered the meat-and-potatoes of the app itself in the phone section, this part will be focused on appearance.

As I mentioned earlier, Chrome for Android on ICS tablets looks nearly identical to the desktop version. It's actually quick nice to see that familiar interface on the screen of my tablet.

Screenshot_2012-02-07-12-41-53

All of the settings are the exact same as the phone version, but the menu is laid out in a much more tablet-friendly interface.

Screenshot_2012-02-07-12-44-07

Otherwise, it's basically just like the phone version. In this case, that's not a bad thing.

What's Missing

At the very beginning of this piece, I mentioned that Chrome for Android is in its beta stages, which inherently means that some things are missing. One of those missing features also happens to be one of the most annoying to many users: lack of UA string modification. Yeah - yet another Google browser that is forever stuck in mobile mode. One the phone, this is tolerable. On the tablet, it's unacceptable. At the current time, I couldn't find any way to modify this, either. Chrome doesn't have an about:debug menu, Chrome://flags doesn't do anything, and after digging through every option in Chrome://chrome-urls/, I still couldn't find an easy way to mod the UA string. On the bright side, most websites have a way to manually request the desktop version, so you're only one tap away from viewing a full site. Still, the option should be available for users.

Oh, one more thing: Flash. Adobe has already made it clear that it wants to wash its hands of Flash on Android, and it's not making an exceptions because of a new (badass) browser. In fact, an official statement has already been made:

Adobe is no longer developing Flash Player for mobile browsers, and thus Chrome for Android Beta does not support Flash content. Flash Player continues to be supported within the current Android browser.

So, if you can't live without flash content (I'm looking at you, Facebook gamers), then you'll probably want to keep a backup browser around just for that.

Conclusion

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.

Cameron Summerson
Cameron is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, musician, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at AP, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, plucking away on the 6-string, spinning on the streets, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on repeat.

  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/116930094233210246792/posts Chris Bailey

    I'm pretty sure you meant "lack of UA string modification"

    • Cameron Summerson

      Hit refresh. ;)

  • Zachary Jacob Zblewski

    "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."

    That feature isn't for zooming in on "specific text", it's for zooming in on a section of a page with multiple links near each other. That's why it works so well on Reddit. It makes it easier to click the link you really want instead of the ones around it.

    Try any other page with a cluster of links and the feature should work there as well.

    • Cameron Summerson

      That actually makes perfect sense. When I tried it on the AP sidebar it did the same thing.

      Thanks!

    • Gruntled

      Whee is the setting for that zoom on links feature? I couldn't seem to find it.

      • Cameron Summerson

        There isn't a setting. It should just happen.

        • Gruntled

          Oh OK I went to the reddit page for example like in the review and I didn't see a way to zoom in on the certain links, if I pinch zoom it zooms in on the whole page.. Or am I doing it wrong?

        • zookee

          Yeah.. well how to make it happen??

        • Cameron Summerson

          Just tap on the area and it will zoom in automatically.

  • perks

    I've been testing it for the last couple of hours, it seems very good even more if you think it's only a beta version

    For me there are 4 improvements that should be made, user agent, flash support, gestures and the last one it really uses a lot of memory

    • Lucian Armasu

      I think people need to get over Flash support. It will never happen. Adobe is giving up on mobile altogether. Why would Google support it just one more generation? Doesn't make any sense.

      • Franky

        Perhaps the fact that millions of webpages still offer flash content (a lot even depend upon it!) would have something to do with it? And also the fact, that html5 up to now still isn't a real alternative in key aspects?

        Saying flash is dead because Adobe won't develope it further for mobile devices (and only those!) is what makes no sense. IMHO, that is.

    • http://verb0ze.net verboze

      Death to flash on mobile and even on desktop! Developers and designers need to move HTML5, and vendors need to help the trend by providing and promoting robust tools that can facilitate HTML5 development. Ok, my opinion is biased because I've been using flash blockers for years now, and have not missed flash one bit. On the Mac, flash is such a resource hog. On mobile, only thing worth using flash for imho is video, and most of it is now encoded in formats the browser can directly play. So yeah, I for one welcome the death of flash. Also, can someone kill silverlight, and other bloatware browser plugins? Thanks.

  • Hoggdoc

    What is Adobe thinking, no more flash support for Android browsers. One would think they would be happy to provide support just to stick it to Apple for not supporting Flash on IOS. But we are talking about Adobe the most unfriendly to end users of all major software providers.

  • http://couchpotato.byethost7.com Amith

    "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."

    That feature works perfectly for dropdown menus in my website. It's almost impossible to handle them in any other touch browser.

    • Nickb756

      This is probably the worst feature in it. I have to tap on links anywhere from 5-10 times because of it. How is it a good thing? All it does is zoom a tiny little area that you tapped on, meanwhile disabling your ability to actually click on any links!

  • http://twitter.com/thracks Robert

    I would really love the quick controls from the stock ICS browser or, better yet, ICS Browser+.

    • isometric

      Yeah, it's really hard to browse on a large tablet without quick controls. I hope Google gets that done asap.

  • Bloodflame

    posting this reply from Chrome on my Acer Iconia Tab right now. totally loving it, but yes, UA string modification is the total deal breaker for making this my default browser. until then, i'm keeping ICS Browser+ very close by. i'm excited to see where Chrome goes by the time the beta tag is gone :)

  • http://zackboehm.com ZackBoe

    The remote debug tool looks like it will be awesome, cannot wait to try that out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/barbie.doll.keri Keri

    Anyone mind telling me how to Force the Desktop Site on it? Can't seem to find it.

    • http://verb0ze.net verboze

      I think that's the BIG missing feature the article referred to. No User Agent config, so you are stuck with what the site offers based on the default UA :(.

  • carn1x

    At first I was flabbergasted at:

    This app is incompatible with all of your devices.
    PCCW Samsung Galaxy Nexus

    Then I read:

    This item cannot be installed in your device's country.

    I'm in Hong Kong, is there some reason why this wouldn't be available there? Some restriction due to the beta status?

    • nmt1900

      This brings immediately back the memories about DVD region codes and other nonsense restrictions...

    • Ryan S

      The APK has been posted and you can sideload.

  • jumans

    Can't use chrome beta use under proxy, but the official ics browser works under proxy fine

  • Mgamerz

    Crashed on my HP Touchpad a few times. The chrome interface does not seem to go well with a tablet... it looks unnatural. Like there is a lot of black space at the top if I have only one tab open. It should be like the stock browser a bit more, but the tabs should go away when you scroll down (like attached above the page). And then you can somehow get them back. Flash support is gone (sigh..), no user agent, and the lack of the home screen icons like my chrome has kinda sucks. But its a decent foray. They need ot make the off-screen parts fade in like the stock one. It looks terrible when it lags.

  • Arman

    Can anyone answer me this... Will we ever get any add ons for this browser like we can for firefox?

    • Congressbeta

      I'm pretty sure they will do this. Dolphin browser on android and iOS does this...

  • http://twitter.com/geeknik geeknik

    I find the lack of Flash support to be a good thing. Too bad migrating developers from Flash to HTML5 is almost as hard as getting network providers to migrate from IPv4 to IPv6. =)

  • Jon

    Not available in your county - CMHK. Could you guys please upload the apk? Not even with market enabler can I find it (it worked fine to find the music app some months ago, but apparently not any longer).

    EDIT: Nevermind, here it is via XDA: http://db.tt/sLYEFPLC

  • Wr3ck

    Besides what is mentioned it would be nice if this played well with phones that have a hardware keyboard. I like using Menu+C (V or X) for copying and it doesn't seem to keep Shift, or FN depressed just by tapping it once but rather I have to hold the key and the letter I want to press to get it to capitalize or whatever. Currently on Epic 4G running CM9 Alpha 2

  • Mark G

    After playing with it for a few hours, I won't be sticking with it, and returning to Opera Mobile.

    Why? For the same reasons I dislike Chrome on the desktop and prefer Opera...

  • carn1x

    Oh!!! Those Reasons!! Of course :)

  • wizard

    Will they make Chrome for Gingerbread?

  • Niggo

    Is there a way to view the browsing history? Would be odd if that's missing.

    • Wr3ck

      I can't seem to find the regular browsing history either. I've only been able to pull up a site by typing it into the omnibar but I do not see a list of my history for mobile

    • Jade_stevens

      Chrome://history/ type this into the search bar and you will see your history as on your pc or laptop

  • http://andronews.ro ics

    It looks nice. Now i need to wait for the galaxy s2's ics update :D

  • Lone McCord

    It is almost ready to be cool. I am disappointed that it is not identifying phone numbers and addresses.. for the quick double-tap call or navigation. Sticking with Chrome to phone and the original android browser until they add those features.

  • CA Carpenter

    I was almost ready to jump on it! Almost.

    Thank you for your review. Now I know that it's not going to be the answer to my default browser on my tablet or my phone.

    I really would love to see it work with flash, or any plug in someone develops to display flash, and the browser string thing doesn't make me happy either.

    Still, I'll keep watching and reading looking for someone to develop flash support for a Chrome browser on Android.

  • http://itline.ir/ Hasan

    It has problem with Persian language :(

  • adam

    It works on nexus s 4g but i think browser since android 2.2 os being smooth on my original droid and on my nexus s on 2.3.0-7. and now android 4.0 os browser is better then chrome beta browser at momentm

  • adam

    Im running android 4.0.4 os FTW

  • Juan G. Ovalles B.

    Not compatible with LG Optimus 2X

  • Freak4Dell

    Doesn't work on my Droid Pro running an alpha ICS ROM. Just shows a white screen. Oh well.

  • Mat

    is there a way to open on your DESKTOP what is open on ur PHONE? am i missing something?

  • ian

    "Developers and designers need to move HTML5"

    To bad the development software for HTML5 is junk vs flash.

  • ian

    DEAR GOOGLE: IF I WANTED TO HAVE A MOBILE DEVICE *TODAY* THAT COULD NOT VIEW FLASH I WOULD HAVE BOUGHT AN IOS DEVICE. PS. I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE.

    • Congressbeta

      Idiot. Nobody uses flash anymore....

      And it's not googles fault you piece of turd!

  • atonement

    I'm eager to know whether this app makes it possible to play a piece of music on YouTube on one tab and keep the sound go on while surfing the web on (an)other tab(s). Does anyone have the answer?
    So far only Opera for Mobile has this feature; any browser other than OfM lacks it which makes browsing on my ASUS Transformer quite uncomfortable.

    • Congressbeta

      Are you reading my mind?

  • http://www.androidtravels.com brian

    They must make this available to (at least) honeycomb.. otherwise, what's the point.

  • Ray Schettino

    PLEASE make google chrome work with DROID X2 , and THANK YOU.