Google Chrome is the world’s most popular web browser, with more than 300 million users, and lots of those people want the chance to use the same browser on their phones as they do on the desktop.
Up until a few weeks ago, the only way to do this was to have a powerful Nexus Android phone and install a “beta” version of the Chrome app. That was great, if you happened to own one of those phones, and didn’t mind experimenting with something not quite approved for release.
Chrome was finally released for Android on June 27, followed by iOS the day afterwards, when it instantly shot to the top of the download charts. The question is, does using Chrome make a difference? Will it be a five-minute wonder, and end in everyone returning to the standard browser? Let’s find out.
Let’s start with its most natural home, Android. We’ve given it a try on Samsung’s new Galaxy S3 smartphone, and compared it to the standard browser and the newly released Firefox app.
All three are fast, but Chrome and Firefox are noticeably better at rendering images and certainly more feature-packed. Chrome however, falls down by often opening the mobile site, where Firefox always went for the regular version. On a device like the S3, this was annoying, as mobile versions look silly on the phone’s massive screen.
Things picked up for Chrome once you start playing with the settings though, as when you log into your Google account, your Chrome bookmarks from the desktop are automatically synced across. It’s possible with Firefox, but only if you use the Firefox Sync add-on.
Chrome looks brilliant on the S3’s screen, and the design is very attractive. The UI’s clever too, as unwanted tabs are swiped off the screen, and easily scrolled through on a separate page. It’s fast, easily learned and enjoyable to use.
Another handy feature is voice search. Tap the microphone in the search bar and speak your destination or search term. The results are sometimes inconsistent — it often searched for rather than visited a spoken URL — but overall it did well at recognising what was said.
Finally, Incognito mode has been included, so you can cover your tracks if you’re looking at sites you’d rather no-one else knew about. Like ordering a present for your loved one. Honest.
Over on iOS, there are some subtle differences. You can still sync with your Google account, use the Incognito mode and enjoy the swish interface, but it’s not the same “engine” underneath, as due to Apple’s App Store rules, it’s the same as Safari.
Now, swiping through pages on Android is a sometimes laborious task, and Chrome is no different, with scrolling feeling a bit sticky. Zipping through on the iPhone, however, is a much smoother experience, and Chrome operates better for it. The response times are almost identical to Safari though, and as Safari syncs bookmarks with iTunes too, it’s questionable just how many will prefer to use Chrome over it.
Chrome on the iPhone doesn’t have Google’s voice search, but Siri on the iPhone 4S performs the same function, so it’s no great loss.
Chrome for iOS is universal for the iPhone and the iPad, and it performs really well on Apple’s tablet. There’s a tiny bit more room due to the smaller header, and the interface is much quicker to use than Safari. Even if you don’t bother using it on the iPhone, it’s a true alternative for everyday use on the iPad.
Both are free to download from their respective application stores, so there’s no reason not to give them a try, particularly if you own an iPad. Otherwise, consider Chrome a decent alternative to Safari on the iPhone, especially if you use it on the desktop, but it’s an essential for Android.