Finally, Chrome Has Come to Android

When it comes to my mobile browser, I’m but a simple man. I don’t use Opera Mini or Dolphin or Firefox. The stock browser is fine for me because I don’t use gestures and Chrome is my primary desktop browser so I wouldn’t benefit from the syncing capabilities of Firefox. In my experience, the stock browser was always the fastest and least intrusive as far as taking up screen real estate. Then Google released Chrome Beta for Android, and all of that changed. Let’s take a look at what Google’s first crack at a mobile version of Chrome is like.


Let’s get this out of the way first: the beta is only available for those of us lucky enough to have Ice Cream Sandwich on our phones; further, it’s only available in certain countries. Finally, there is no Flash support. Keep that in mind as we go forward.

Since I’m being so upfront, I’ll just come out and say that I love this app. Overall it’s fast, very well designed, and ohh the features. Let’s take a look at the features.

The Features

Chrome Beta for Android

Chrome for Android boasts a lot of the features that we know and love from the desktop version: incognito mode, the omnibox (which allows you to search from the address bar), bookmark sync, and more. It also has a couple of sexy new features that I really love.

Webpage Sync

When I heard Firefox Mobile had this feature a while back, it was almost enough to make me go back to using it as my primary browser. However, the mobile experience was less than desirable (read: it crashed. A lot). This is easily my favorite feature of a very stable Chrome.

Browser Sync

The implementation is incredible too. It won’t just take your latest browser session, as I assumed it would. It gets the latest session from each computer you’re logged into. If you’re at work and head home without bookmarking a site you wanted to remember, no matter. You can get it from Chrome mobile. It’s also very accessible. Just push the context menu icon and go to “Other Devices.” I think a nice addition in the future would be two-way sync or a method to move tabs from one device to another (how cool would that be, seriously?).

Developer Tools

One of the reasons I didn’t go to Google Chrome as my primary browser as soon as it launched was that I felt Firefox had better development tools, especially with Web Developer’s Toolbar and Firebug. While I still do go to those (especially to debug javascript) I love Chrome’s developer tools – and now there’s even more reason to. Google has added an awesome little feature into Chrome for Android where you can connect your phone via USB and use Chrome’s developer tools on websites on your phone.

As you can see from the video, it’s not the easiest process in the world to set up since you need to install the Android SDK, but if you’re a developer it’s completely worth the time, especially since there aren’t a whole lot of great tools for mobile development debugging. I’m really excited to start using this.

Other Features

Chrome Beta also includes a number of features that really improve the user experience: things like remembering passwords, auto-completing forms, suggesting URLs, and preloading websites for faster browser.

If you’re worried about bandwidth use, you can make it so Chrome only preloads websites on Wifi. Press the menu button and go to “Settings > Bandwidth management”.

Design

The design of the app is absolutely beautiful. The Recent and Bookmark screens look great, as I said earlier, and the implementation of browser/page sync is wonderful. The way bookmarks are laid out in Chrome Beta is considerably neater than in ICS’s stock browser: it’s a white background, where the icons are cleaner and spaced a lot better. Chrome also nicely organizes your bookmarks into “Desktop Bookmarks,” “Mobile Bookmarks,” and “Other Bookmarks.”

Bookmark Screens

Again, this is much nicer than the stock browser, which does separate them, but using a list implementation where all bookmarks are on the same screen.

There is also a new way to browse tabs that’s… well, it’s awesome.

Tabs in Chrome

To flip through the tabs you can either swipe up and down or tilt your phone (which kept me entertained for a few solid minutes). To close a tab, much like killing an app or removing a notification in ICS, you can swipe right or left.

All in all, I really love using Chrome Beta. Its design is super clean, intuitive, and a huge improvement over the stock Android browser.

Final Thoughts

This is an incredibly solid app, especially for a beta. Chrome Beta for Android introduces some seriously solid features if you’re a Desktop Chrome user, include two incredibly awesome ones: Browser (Page) Sync and Developer Tools. That coupled with the amazing design improvements over the stock browser makes this a great candidate for your default browser. One thing that may keep people from adopting it completely is that it lacks Flash support, but I think that was a reasonable feature to leave out considering Adobe will no longer support mobile Flash and Chrome is known for speed.

On the topic of making it the default browser, I can see Google eventually replacing “Browser,” and making Chrome the stock Android browser. Sound likely?


Summary

Google Chrome, now available for your phone (in beta)

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