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Google introduced Chrome custom tabs five years ago, and most apps use them these days. Instead of creating their own custom browsers, developers can just hand over websites to a Chrome tab without the added bulk of a regular browser interface. The advantage is that devs don't have to spend resources on creating their own webview implementations and that users can quickly open these custom tabs in proper Chrome without reloading or losing their scroll position. It's a great system. But Google wouldn't be Google if it stuck with a great system (looking at you, YouTube Music). The company began experimenting with a custom browser for its Google Search app around six weeks ago, and it's now rolling out to more people. While it looks snazzy, it comes with more downsides than upsides.
Until this week, the change was live for only a few people using the latest Google app beta. If you get it, you'll immediately notice the different loading animation when you tap a link. Instead of the fine blue line between the top bar and the website content, the whole top bar's background becomes the loading animation. There's also a Google logo in place of the URL before it's fully loaded, and the website's title is nowhere to be seen.
Left: Custom tab variant. Middle: New custom browser. Right: New loading animation.
Other than that, the new browser looks and behaves almost like the custom tab of old does, including dark mode support. There's an x button to close it on the left of the top bar, a bookmark shortcut to add what you see to your Google collection, a share option, and an overflow menu. The differences become apparent again when we peek into that menu. Instead of entries to copy the link, view collections and recents, find in page, add to home screen, access to the desktop site, or even translate and open in Chrome, you're only greeted by four options: Refresh, Open in browser, Settings, and Send feedback.
Granted, Google will probably add more features later on, but let's look at it this way: Why would you build a brand-new browser when you have a functional alternative that receives automatic updates since it's part of a product another team at your company is actively maintaining anyway?
Left: Chrome custom tab menu. Middle: Google's new browser menu. Right: No reload gesture (yet).
While the new in-app browser looks flashy and beautiful, it adds more problems than it solves. Cookies (i.e., logins), your history, and bookmarks probably won't be synced with Chrome. It's also questionable how well Chrome's password manager will work. When you tap the three-button menu to open a link in your browser, the site reloads completely, as opposed to the custom tab implementation that retains your current scrolling position.
At least it's possible to deactivate the custom in-app browser in Google's settings, but as far as we can tell, you're stuck with links opening in regular Chrome then, which isn't a perfect replication of the current custom tab situation.
New Browser entry in the Google app's settings.
If you want a chance to try out this new experience, you should get the latest beta of the Google app and see if you're lucky enough to become part of the server-side test that activates it. You can sign up for the pre-release software via the Play Store or just download it from APK Mirror.
Rolling out to more people
We hoped that Google would take its new in-app browser back to the drawing board, but apparently, the company is convinced that we need another custom implementation with its own cookies, logins, downloads, and history. The redesigned browsing experience is rolling out to more people, as tipsters and Redditors report. Google hasn't formally announced the feature yet and there are still a lot of users that don't have it, so it's still in testing.
If you want to turn it off, you need to head to settings in the three-dot overflow menu when you're on a website and toggle off "Open web pages in Google app." You'll be redirected to your default browser whenever you open a search result then.
More options in settings
It looks like Google is pretty confident about the in-app browser as it has added more options to its settings, including cookie management and a Safe Browsing toggle. See our coverage here.