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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!