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Google Chrome for iOS Hands-On: Your New Browser?

by Brandon Russell | June 28, 2012June 28, 2012 4:45 pm PDT

google-chrome-for-ios-take-a-tour-tabsGoogle’s seminal browser has just crossed into iOS borders. The search giant announced Chrome’s imminent arrival on Thursday — along with the fact that it surpassed 310 million active users — so naturally we wanted to put it through its paces. What do you know? There it is in the iTunes Store as a free 12.8 MB download. Will this replace Safari on your iPhone or iPad?

Worth noting: Technically speaking, Chrome is at a disadvantage on iOS from the get-go. Apps that use a browser function in Apple’s playground don’t get the luxury of using the same Javascipt engine, dubbed Nitro, that Safari does. Nitro relies on just-in-time (JIT) compiling, which basically makes Safari the fastest browser on iOS. Chrome, and other competitors, are stuck with an older variant of Nitro, a pre version, if you will.

Still, if you’ve ever used Chrome before, you’ll immediately notice how fast it is. We tested the browser on an iPhone, and it loaded up websites without incident. In fact, it seemed just slightly behind Safari. Best of all, it includes a unified URL bar — just as it does on the desktop (and Android) — for quick searching, so navigating the Web is a cinch. Though, one thing we noticed, is that scrolling is pretty choppy, but not so bad that it gets annoying.

Upon first launch, we were guided through the obligatory set up steps, concluding with an option to sign in to Chrome. Choosing to sign in brings your open tabs, bookmarks and omnibus data from the desktop to your phone or tablet. “Your Chrome, on all your devices,” the prompt says. The process was painless, and worked without a hitch.

google-chrome-for-ios-search-settingsNavigating the browser is simple. Beside the URL/search bar is a three-line icon that lets you open a new tab/new incognito tab, bookmarks, email, settings, etc. Next to that is an icon that indicates how many tabs you currently have open, and pressing on it will display all your pages (unlimited tabs!) in an easy to digest card style. If you want to close one, simple swipe it away or press on the the little gray x in that particular card window.

The main screen shows your Most Visited sites, and you can scroll down to see what you’ve recently closed. At the bottom of the screen are icons that let you quickly access your bookmarks and your “other devices,” which just means the computers, phones of tablets you’ve signed into Chrome.

And since your phone is touch dominated, you can swipe between the “Most Visited, Bookmarks and Other Devices” pages, but it’s not always the most fluid experience. The reason being is if you have multiple tabs open, getting the correct swipe right takes getting used to. You basically have to swipe from the very edge of the screen (just like on Android) to go between open tabs; short swipes navigates you through the main screen’s three HUBs (or, duh, you can just touch their icons).

google-chrome-for-ios-speak-now-syncOne really cool feature Chrome for iOS has over Safari is voice search, which you can access via the small microphone button in the URL bar. We asked it to find TechnoBuffalo.com, and it did so without a problem.

This was just a short trip through Chrome on our iPhone. So far, it seems fast, intuitive, and offers a great alternative to Safari. Unfortunately, one big issue Chrome will need to overcome is that it can’t be set as iOS’s default browser. That means opening links in Messages or Mail will automatically open up in Safari.

However, for the big time Chrome faithful, that’s a mere blip in what is otherwise a fantastic mobile browser. Google has obviously put a lot of thought into porting the Chrome experience over to iOS. We just wish it could be set as the default browser, which unfortunately is solely under Apple’s control at the moment.


Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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