Google released Chrome beta for Android yesterday, which marks the first step to unify their desktop and mobile browsers. Only Android 4.0 devices are supported though, but its already clear that all new Android 4.0 phones will be shipped with Chrome on board in the not too distant feature. Having two completely different browser products never made much sense, not only from a customer perspective or development view but because its in Google’s interest to combine mobile and desktop experience whenever possible. It just makes it easier to collect universal data which can be used to optimize services and offer even more personalized ads. And on the other hand this is also a small step towards the long-term Chrome OS strategy, where the browser is the only thing you need on your device as everything else is stored in the cloud.
When opening Chrome for the first time you will be asked to accept the general usage terms and select a Google account which should be used for the different sync features.
You have two main functions available at the start screen. Either opening a new tab or providing an URL/search term. A new tab will show an overview of your recently opened pages by default, and you can also easily navigate to your bookmarks by touching the star icon at the bottom. But the coolest feature is accessed via the folder icon with two arrows, which lets you access open pages from your desktop Chrome browser. So you can basically surf using Chrome for desktop and sync any tab directly with your mobile phone using the Chrome exchange functionality.
Overall performance is very good, as web pages seem to render a tad faster than on the stock ICS browser. The biggest difference is the smoother scrolling even on heavy pages, where the stock ICS browser would show some serious stutter occasionally.
Text reflow is missing in this beta build. To me this is one of the most important features on mobile browsers as you can zoom into text, which will automatically be adjusted to the screen width by adding line breaks at the edges of the screen. I really hope that Google will add this soon as text reflow was always supported by the stock Android browser and really helped to make browsing the internet much more comfortable.
Instead you have an option to set text size as you can see on the following two screenshots. Page layout will be altered quite a bit if you choose a big text size, therefore I prefer the smaller sizes which may be harder to read but at least keep the page design intact.
By swiping from the left or right edge of the screen you can quickly switch between tabs. The general tabs overview looks a lot like a card stack now which reminds me of webOS. Tabs can be closed by swiping them away and you can move the stack up and down in order to view more content of a specific tab. Everything moves perfectly fluid here, which makes it very easy and comfortable to navigate between open tabs.
Chrome beta for Android is a solid first effort, I really like the smooth scrolling and Chrome sync features, but there is still some way to go until it can fully replace the current stock browser. You don’t have textflow, flash support, desktop view and other features that many Android users have become accustomed to in the recent years. Furthermore there are some stability issues, which shouldn’t come as a surprise as this is a beta build. Google already stated that Chrome will become the stock browser in the future so i think we will see some rapid development in the coming weeks with this app, so if Google manages to combine all the features of the current ICS stock browser and Chrome for Android we are in for a truly impressive mobile browsing experience.