This one puzzles me a bit. Safari on iPhone made perfect sense. iOS is a stripped-down version of OS X, and Apple’s own Safari is the default browser. Easy enough. Android, on the other hand, isn’t so easy. Google has Chrome, a cross-platform browser, but it also has two operating systems; the aforementioned Android, and Chrome, a Linux distro based on cloud computing within the Chrome browser itself.
I always assumed that Android came with a generic “Browser” to avoid brand confusion. Chrome on Android would create a paradox resulting in the universe collapsing in on itself, right? Well, apparently not. Last week, Google released Chrome Beta (of course) for Android. As of now, it’s only available for devices running Ice Cream Sandwich, but luckily I’m packing an Asus Transformer Prime running 4.0.3, and a Galaxy S II running Cyanogenmod 9. Being the early adopter that I am, I loaded it up on both and took it for a spin.
Now, before I get into the details about Chrome, let me clear a few things up. I like using stock programs whenever possible. When I had my iPhone and iPad, it was always Safari. On Android, I’ve played around with Dolphin and Opera, but always found myself back at the stock browser (be it stock Android, or the MIUI browser, easily the best mobile browser I’ve ever used). It was always the best combination of speed and ease of use, and it matched the Android interface. That’s important to me. I am a designer, after all. So, where I normally approach a new browser with some apprehension, I was excited for Chrome. After all, it’s a Google app, so it should fit right in.
My initial impressions were not good. After loading it on the Galaxy S II, and opening a few tabs, it immediately crashed. Not just “take you back to the home screen crash”, but “your phone is locked up crash”. I force closed it and tried again with only a couple of tabs, and got about two minutes of browsing out of it before another crash. I found the tab interface to be pretty slick, and better than the stock browser, and pages loaded quickly, although scrolling was stuttered and weird. The interface looks more like the Mac version of chrome, but that’s ok, it has to distance itself from the stock browser somehow. All in all, it seems like a fine alternative once Google stops it from freezing up my phone every 35 seconds.
The experience on the Prime was much better. Here, it looks just like the desktop version, rounded tabs in all. Pages load quickly, browsing is smooth, and I didn’t experience any crashes. One problem, however, is that websites seem to think it’s a phone browser instead of a tablet. The stock ICS browser has the same problem, which is why I switched to a modified version called ICS Browser + that’s free in the Android Market. This version allows you to tweak the user agents, and iPad seems to be the best one. It announces itself as a tablet, which either gives you the desktop view, or a tablet view for sites that have one. That may seem like a minor gripe, but it’s what will keep me from using Chrome on my tablet.
As far as features go, Chrome separates itself from its stock counterpart with “two” new features, and I say “two” because it’s really just “one”. Chrome brings with it the highly touted feature of desktop bookmark syncing. You sign in with your Google account, and your bookmarks are synced straight to your phone. Amazing! What a miraculous, ground-breaking feature that’s already present in the stock browser. Why everyone seems to be acting like this isn’t the case is beyond me, but all I have to do is bring up my stock browser to see the tabs right there. The other feature, which is actually new, is the tabs from your desktop syncing with Chrome on your mobile. That’s actually pretty cool, but isn’t enough of a game changer for me to switch. Chrome to phone is a little more cumbersome, but gets the job done if I need it, which I rarely do.
So, it would seem that Google has taken the first step toward merging both the Chrome and Android brands, and no doubt will include Chrome as the stock browser in Android in the future. If so, that means I’ll most likely be using Chrome to do my mobile browsing, and I’m fine with that. As long as it loads fast, renders well, and gives me the option to at least request desktop sites, that’s really all I need. For now, I’ll stick with what I have. Even after Google cleans things up and irons out the bugs, there just isn’t enough incentive to make me switch.