Google Chrome Beta Review...

Wed, Sep. 10 2008

I asked the new guy, Jim Bail, to check it out and here's what he thinks:

General Impressions

I personally like to keep my browser as minimal as possible, so I immediately liked the no frills look of Chrome. All you get are tabs, an address bar, basic page navigation buttons and access to a fairly limited set of options/preferences via a couple of unobtrusive buttons on the upper right. If you cringe when you try to check your email on the relatives computer and have to contend with 75 different toolbars and widgets, you'll probably like Chrome. There are even some nice subtle details like the ability to make a tab it's own window by simply dragging it off the tabs bar, or reversing the process to make a separate window a tab. The tabs also have a nice smooth motion and snap-to effect when you move them around that gives a responsive feel. Overall, Chrome looks polished without resorting to a Vista-esque shiny button extravaganza, and all of the important controls are in natural, easy to use places. The one exception is bookmarks. If you don't have the bookmarks toolbar enabled, there doesn't appear to be any way to access them via the regular menus.

In terms of rendering pages, I didn't come across anything unusual. Like Safari, Chrome is based on Webkit, so there shouldn't be any big surprises in terms of standards compliance and things of that sort. Speed wise, I'd say it holds up well with the rest of the major browsers. I'm not one to notice if one browser takes an extra half second to load a page compared to another, so in that regard I thought it was fine.

Interesting/Useful Features

- Google search integrated with address bar. Whereas Firefox 3 attempts to autofill based on your browsing history and bookmarks, Chrome offers the additional option of a google search. So for example, if you type "ny" you get the options to search google for ny times and nyu. I believe these hints are based on common searches by the public as opposed to your individual search history (since I've never searched for NYU on my testing machine)

- The search/address bar will also look at your history and search terms as you're typing. So again, if you type "ny" you get the option to see the most recent 3 pages from your browsing history that contain the term "ny"

- You can define multiple pages to open on startup, so for example you can have webmail, news and whatever else you want in their own tabs when you fire up the browser.

- Homepage defaults to a series of links/screenshots of your most visited sites based on your history.

- Built in task manager lets you see how pages and plugins are using your system resources. If you get a site that's causing problems, this will help identify the culprit without having to close everything down.

Things I'd Like To See

- User created/added extensions like Firefox. They can be incredibly useful.- Developer tools: There are some basic code inspection/debugging tools built in, but it would be nice to have something more robust along the lines of Firebug or the Web Developer extensions available for Firefox.- Ability to customize address bar: I'm sure this will be added, but right now you can't do things like add a Home button.- Full tree view of bookmarks so you can expand more than one folder at a time

The Final Verdict

I'd say Chrome gets a thumbs up. It's definitely not for the feature fanatics out there in it's present state, but I'm sure the basic option/preference sets that people are used to in other browsers will eventually get filled in. If they add a more extensive set of developer tools, I might be tempted to switch from Firefox, but for now there are a handful of must have extensions that I'm not willing to forgo just for the sake of a nicer looking UI and more sophisticated address bar functionality. In a nutshell, it's a good start and I appreciate the fact that Google focused on the core functionality of their browser and didn't get hung up trying to include all kinds of bells and whistles. By and large, I like the way they've thought through common browser tasks and come up with some novel and efficient approaches to getting the basics done. Definitely worth keeping an eye on, to see how it continues to develop.

If you're looking for more Chrome, check out the comic here

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