Google Chrome Comes to the iPhone — but Can It Compete With Safari?

I use my iPhone to browse the Internet quite a lot, actually. I’ll visit at least four or five webpages per day on average. It’s a great device to use too, because everything works smoothly and there are many websites optimized for mobile devices. But what about an enhanced experience — something that you’re used to on your desktop computer? What about Chrome for iPhone?

Luckily for those of you who use the browser, Google released an iOS version of their famous multi-platform browser on Thursday. It brings everything you loved about the Android version (if you used it) and a few of the great features included in the desktop app to your iPhone. Chrome on the iPhone has the potential to be a great browser, but let’s take a deeper look.

Please remember as you read this that I’m using an iPhone 4S on iOS 6 beta 2 to test Chrome.

Setting It Up

The first time you open Chrome, Google will ask if you want to help make the browser better “by automatically sending usage statistics and crash reports” to them. I checked this box because it’ll help improve the browser in the future and assist in correcting any issues with it.

Signing in with a Google account.

Signing in with a Google account.

Next, you’ll be asked to sign in with your Google account. This isn’t required to use the browser, but I’d recommend it if you already have Chrome on at least one other device because it’ll enable complete syncing of bookmarks, open tabs and omnibox data from other devices that you use the browser on. If you don’t want to sign in, you can just press the Skip button to be transported into the main Chrome interface.

Step 1 in the tour of Chrome.

Step 1 in the tour of Chrome.

Chrome will now ask you if you’d like to take a tour of the browser, also presenting you with two animated bubbles that tell you what those areas of the browser will let you do; they’re for the search and tabs functions, if you’re curious. If you opt-in to the tour, Google will give you five quick tips on using the basic features of the browser.

Tabs

One of the biggest features in Chrome is tabs – they’re way better than mobile Safari’s. I personally love the way they function, allowing you to navigate through what you have open like a hand of cards. You can swipe one right or left – up or down if you’re in landscape mode – to close it and easily open a new one with the big New Tab button in the top left corner. There is also a little “x” beside each tab, but I’m not sure why it’s even there since I’ve found it far easier to just flick one away.

AppStorm and Google open in Chrome.

AppStorm and Google open in Chrome.

When in a webpage, just swipe from the side of the screen to open the next or previous tab. I’ve found this to be really nice for quick navigation throughout the browser.

Flicking away a tab is like webOS cards.

Flicking away a tab is like webOS cards.

A special function that Chrome has is the incognito tab, which will hide anything you browse from your history and doesn’t store any data on your device at all. When you do open one of these tabs, it becomes separate from the others in another stack of cards. You can open as many as you’d like, keeping them in their own space on the tab switching screen.

If you use Chrome on any other devices, just make a new tab and tap to the sync folder icon to see what you have open in the other instances. This is extremely useful if you want to go from the desk to the couch and vice versa.

Searching and Inputting Addresses

Chrome uses the famous omnibox to unify search and URL input, much like OS X 10.8’s Safari 6.0. It works just as well on the iPhone as it does on the desktop, but there are some extra features for the mobile version. First, Google has added quick buttons above the standard keyboard for addresses, including the colon, period, dash, virgule, and .com. All but the last one are great – I’d really like to see functionality for holding down the .com button to get others like .org and .net, just like Safari’s keyboard has.

A few suggestions.

A few suggestions.

When you type something into the omnibox, Google will give you search suggestions and even bookmarks that contain that term. Sadly, the suggestions seem to be limited to four or five and it doesn’t actually have a nice list like Safari’s search does. I’m not sure if this is a bug or just something Google didn’t mean to include, but it’s a bit disappointing.

There’s one other way to search in Chrome: with your voice. You can either use Siri dictation or tap the microphone in the actual text field to bring up Google’s voice search. They both work fairly well, but I found Google to be more accurate than Siri, so maybe you should try it out as an alternative to searching with Siri dictation.

Speed

I honestly didn’t notice much of a difference in speed when comparing Chrome to Safari in iOS 6. This may be because the latter uses the Nitro JavaScript engine and the former does not, but there are other factors as well. One weird thing, for instance, is that the browser actually seems to lag quite a bit when I have only that app and one tab within it open. I was browsing iPhone.AppStorm using Chrome and not only does it take more than twenty seconds to load, but it also shows significant sluggishness when scrolling and zooming in/out.

It’s funny because this website isn’t even that heavy compared to ones such as The Verge, which, when I requested the desktop site, took forever to load and slowed down the entire browser with large amounts of lag and overall terrible performance. If I try the same website (yes, the full desktop version) in Safari, there is minimal lag at best, but the load time is even longer than Chrome, which is a bit strange since every other website I tested out loaded faster in Safari.

(Please note that JavaScript-heavy pages will take longer to load in Chrome than in Safari because of the Nitro engine that Apple’s browser uses.)

General Browsing

Chrome works well as an alternative browser to Safari, but there are some annoying things like the always-present top bar that just doesn’t need to be there. On an iPhone especially, the bar should disappear completely – at least in landscape mode – when browsing to allow for a immersive experience. Safari does this and I’m really not sure why Google didn’t add the functionality to Chrome because it takes away from the overall experience.

There are some annoying little features like the lack of a forward button unless you go back, the fact that the reload button is under the menu, and other little things. Find in page works much better than Safari’s and I found myself actually using it for once. I’d really like to see some additional features like file downloading capabilities though because that feature is included in other alternative iOS browsers and it’s a nice thing to have.

Stick With Safari Unless You Want Something Different

I really liked using Google Chrome on my iPhone and it brought a very nice, unified experience. However, it’s just not as powerful as Safari is and it seems a bit naive as well. That’s all understandable since it just came out, but I’m not really sure if it’s worthy of being a replacement for Safari.

Chrome could be an alternative and it is very slick in places – it’s just not all the way there just yet. But hey, it’s free so give it a try and let us know what you think!


Summary

Browse fast with Chrome, now available on your iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Sign in to sync your personalized Chrome experience from your computer, and bring it with you anywhere you go.

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  • zhai

    I quite like Chrome on iOS, yes there will always be a few things that need to get looked at for updates and some that you can’t do anything about because Apple hates 3rd party apps, ie. You can’t set it to the default web browser. I think with people might really start to push apple to do this more android like feature now that there is a descent web browser alterative.

    Personally I’ve made the jump to Chrome on my iPhone and iPad, for the fact that I can take my bookmarks between my PC, iPhone and iPad which is something I had been wanting to do. The UI is almost perfect and I have only seen a small lag on websites loading but nothing to get me up in arms about. Only need to be able to set it as the default so links will open in it, but for now I’ll stay with copy/paste

    • http://www.urldirecto.com Luis

      I have the same problem with the bookmarks of Firefox. I´m going to try in my phone and compare with Chrome.

  • Nicolas

    Don’t forget that “Chrome To Mobile” now supports iOS Chrome. Pretty nifty little way to send bookmarks to your device without syncing a particular bookmark you want to continue reading on your iWhatever:
    https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/idknbmbdnapjicclomlijcgfpikmndhd

    Also, for the jailbroken:
    http://lifehacker.com/5923114/chromizer-adds-pull-to-refresh-full-screen-viewing-and-new-tab-switching-to-ios-chrome

  • luky

    “annoying little features like the lack of a forward button unless you go back”

    Why is a forward button needed if there is nowhere for it to go it? That would just make it redundant and completely unnecessary.

    • http://papermail.me Jacob Penderworth

      Good point, but it’s not the least bit “redundant”, just unnecessary.

  • http://www.theorange.co Jon

    I think its a solid app… definitely slower that safari, but not so bad that it is unusable.

  • http://www.kdweb.co.uk Nic Cohen

    It’s alright, does what it is supposed to do but it is certainly slower!

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