Chrome 27: Talk to me

Chrome 27: Talk to me

Summary: Google's latest Web browser, Chrome 27, enables you to say, as well as type, your queries. Alas, its first version doesn't work that well.


While my computer still refuses to brew me a cup of Earl Grey when I talk to it, Google has made it possible to speak to its new Chrome Web browser, Chrome 27.

Voice-recognition sounds like a great idea, but Google Chrome's first version of it is only half-baked.

It sounds like a great idea. When it works, it really is quite wonderful. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that often for me.

I tested Chrome 27 on a Gateway DX4710 running Windows 7 SP1. This PC is powered by a 2.5-GHz Intel Core 2 Quad processor and has 6GBs of RAM and an Intel GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) 3100 for graphics. It's hooked to the Internet via a Netgear Gigabit Ethernet switch, which, in turn, is hooked up to a 100Mbps (Megabit per second) cable Internet connection.

I also tried the new Web browser with Linux Mint 16 on my Dell XPS 8300. This desktop uses a 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor. It also has 8GBs of RAM, and an AMD/ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphic card.

On both systems I found Chrome voice-recognition (VR) to be hit and miss. The more common a term—Linux, Windows, iPad—the more likely it was to work successfully. When it came to less common words—HIPPA, Ubuntu, Foley--its guesses almost seemed random. Sometimes, as when it struggled with my uncommon last name, the results were more comical than practical. 

I also found that the servers backing Chrome VR were often overloaded. There were several times when the VR function stated that it was unable to continue because the PC wasn't connected to the Internet... even as multiple Chrome tabs were continuing to update their contents. In short, at this point, Chrome's VR is more of a nifty trick than a handy utility.

This new version of Chrome also includes multiple security fixes. It also now comes with the latest Adobe Flash player, 11.7, embedded within the browser. Like it or not, Adobe Flash is still far from dead.

Google has also tuned up its Chrome Instant, an optional search speed-up feature. The company claims that these changes will improve Chrome's ability to work out exactly what you're searching for as quickly as possible. From my purely subjective viewpoint this did appear to work.

The search giant also claimed that Chrome loads pages 5 percent faster. This is done by "preloading images sooner, more aggressive use of idle network time, dynamically changing resource priorities, reprioritization of pre-loaded resources, and reduced bandwidth contention among images." To my eye, this appeared to speed up load times on graphics heavy pages.

The real test of any Web browser in 2013 is how well it does on the standard Web-browser benchmarks. So, on my Windows 7 system, I set Chrome up against the latest versions of Internet Explorer 10 and Firefox 21. Here, as usual when it comes to Web browser benchmarks, Chrome did quite well.

For the first round, I ran the three browsers on SunSpider JavaScript 1.0, the latest version of the old Apple Webkit JavaScript benchmark. While it's not as well-regarded as it once was, it's still the best known Web browser benchmark. On SunSpider, where lower results are better, IE, with a score of 232.5-milliseconds beat Chrome and Firefox handily with a score of 232.5-milliseconds (ms) to Firefox's 303.9-ms and Chrome's 521.1-ms.

When it came to Google's own new JavaScript benchmark, Octane, which is based on Google's earlier V8 test suite, Chrome, unsurprisingly, beat the pants off its competition. On this test, where higher is better, Chrome won with a score of 10,177 to Firefox's 8,392, and IE's 3,758.

Moving along, I then tested Chrome and company on benchmark company FutureMark's vendor-neutral Peacekeeper. Like the other benchmarks, this test measures JavaScript performance, but it also evaluates HTML5 performance. Many regard it as the best browser benchmark. On Peacekeeper, where higher is better, Chrome took first with a score of 2,453 to Firefox's 1,798, and IE's last place 1,514.

In Kraken, which is Mozilla/Firefox's benchmark, lower scores are better. Oddly enough, Chrome won here too. It took the blue ribbon with 2,922.3-ms over Firefox's 3,367.9-ms, and IE's dreadful 9,413.8-ms.

Last, but not least, I tested the trio on RoboHornet. This is an alpha Web browser benchmark. It's designed by developers for developers to find the "pain points" in Web browsers. In this test, higher scores are better. Chrome won by a nose over IE with a score of 108.14 to IE's 104.44. Firefox came in last with 79.15.

The bottom line is that Chrome, which is available on all operating systems, is still the fastest Web browser around. However, its newest, biggest, feature, VR still isn't ready for prime-time.

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Topics: Browser, Google, Networking, Web development

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  • Too bad

    it only seems to work on Google. I use Bing about 95% of the time.
    • It is okay

      If you Bing 95% of the time Microsoft won't like you use Chrome anyway. Kinda like scanning a phone book page into your smart phone to dial a number. Chrome is designed for Google search and VR will only work well with a logged in Google account. Privacy warning, VR needs to capture your voice and search results to improve, the android version is a learning system (though I don't think the Chrome desktop version is tied in to that information yet). This is nature of good voice recognition it has to learn it's user. We as human being do this from birth. Depending on region and dialect voice recognition is hard even for humans.
  • From the article: "Chrome, which is available on all operating systems"

    Chrome is not available on all operating systems as it includes proprietary components (most notably the Flash Player and PDF Reader plug-ins). Examples of operating systems for which Chrome is not available include the BSDs: FreeBSD, PC-BSD, OpenBSD.

    That said, I believe that some FreeBSD users have successfully installed Windows Chrome on FreeBSD using Wine. It might also be possible to install Linux Chrome using FreeBSD's Linux compatibility layer. Either way, though, Chrome will not be running natively on FreeBSD.

    That said. Google's pure open-source browser, Chromium, is available on all operating systems as the complete source code is available for compilation (and modification if so desired) by package maintainers and individual users. Thus, users of FreeBSD, PC-BSD and OpenBSD can choose to install and run Chromium on their systems.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Talk to me indeed!

    My experience exactly. 1) it works sometimes; intermittently; clearly system in overload. 2) very poor word recognition. recognizes words you don't need to search for. So much for the hype.
    • Its not Google, its your mic

      Every time I search with voice, it nails it head-on. Maybe misses one or two words in a long sentence every once in a while. It also nailed all the words mentioned as "random guesses" in the article, excluding his name. Try a better mic, Google's voice recognition is top-notch (just like on Android, it leads the field in mobile voice recognition right now, in my opinion).
  • Don't

    see the big deal. Voice commands have been part of Windows for years.
    • ...and of Google search

      Hasn't the author seen the little microphone icon next to the search box? It's been there a long time...

      I only used it sporadically though, after the novelty value wore off it was mostly just a pain...
      • It speaks back now1

        The difference is, Google Voice Search speaks back queries using the Knowledge Graph now. IIRC, it also speaks conversationally (i.e. how tall is Barrack Obama, then "what about his wife?"). I think that feature might not be fully-baked yet, though.
  • Probably . . .

    "The search giant also claimed that Chrome loads pages 5 percent faster. This is done by 'preloading images sooner, more aggressive use of idle network time, dynamically changing resource priorities, reprioritization of pre-loaded resources, and reduced bandwidth contention among images.'"

    Probably tweaking their SPDY protocol, among other things.

    "The bottom line is that Chrome, which is available on all operating systems, is still the fastest Web browser around."

    Browser "speed" often boils down to network conditions, not the design of the browser: Very few people actually have speed problems due to browser design.
    • Actually...

      Chrome used to use WebKit's scheduler, and now uses its own, with minor tweaks. This is presumably responsible for the change. Tweaks to SPDY would only affect a couple sites (Google, Twitter, Facebook - big sites, but there just aren't that many that support SPDY yet).
  • have to be in

    I typically start my searches from the address bar. To use 'Talk to Me' I first have to open a window to If Google is serious about this Chrome enhancement, it should also be available right from the address bar.
    Jim Johnson
  • I might be switching off Chrome after 5 years...

    I recently got into 3D and Firefox is the only browser that allows you to stream HTML5 3D Video.

    Also the Unreal Engine running under WebGL was just released and guess what: It's Firefox only as well.

    I am pleasantly surprised to see this kind of innovation and early adoption coming from Mozilla. Honestly, I thought Firefox's browser share would fizzle out over the next few years, but I am seriously considering switching off Chrome.

    Who gives a rat's arse if one browserloads javascript .1 seconds faster, it's all about functionality and compatibility.
  • new version crashes repeatedly

    In spite of deleting the profile folder (Google's suggested fix) I was never able to get the latest version of Chrome to stay open for more than 3 minutes. Sometimes it would crash immediately, sometimes not. I went back to Firefox and enjoy much speedier browsing; the rest of the applications work more quickly as well!
  • more crap

    I'd be happy if they'd just fix all the bugs and stop adding more crap before its even stable.
    I run a 6 core amd with 16gb of ram and chrome does regular crash and burns all the time. Quiet often it won't load or render ZDnet pages and I have to open them in Firefox. Sadly I find myself having to use IE sometimes because FF and Chrome don't always behave very well. These rapid release cycles are more like non-stop beta testing then they are stable releases.
    Maybe fixing all the bugs before adding yet more layers of bugs would be better then whats going on now.
    Home Grown IT
  • Chrome keeps slipping on OS X

    Over the last few versions, Chrome has been slipping on OS X but still rates above Safari and Firefox on the Peacekeeper test:

    Safari 6.0.4: 3283 (4/7)
    Firefox 21: 2409 (5/7)
    Chrome 27: 3694 (6/7)

    Chrome has been dropping about 100 points with each version since 23.

    Though a little outdated, I also use the Flash Benchmark '08. With Flash still so prevalent on the net, it's also a good indicator of multimedia throughput. PepperFlash consistently scores lower than Adobe's 11.7 plug-in. Just anecdotally, streaming CNN on all 3 browsers, there's a visible difference in that the scrolling news will hiccup and jump in Chrome but is nice and smooth in Safari and Firefox. On Youtube, it seems Chrome will buffer more data before the player starts but then it plays smoother than the other two. Probably Google's trick to optimize it's own service.

    Safari 6.0.4: 17702 45Fps average
    Firefox 21: 17296 42Fps
    Chrome 27: 16337 34Fps

    Chrome also runs hot driving my CPU temp over 215F and the fans at high speed, especially with full screen HD video, WebGL, and HTML5. Running the HTML5 Fish Bowl, Particle Acceleration, or the WebGL Aquarium, my Macbook Air will cook. Just regular browsing with a few tabs and a streaming radio station in a separate window, Chrome will easily eat 1Gb ram and hover about 175F. Safari and Firefox rarely get over 600Mb and stay at a cooler 145F.

    In regular browsing, Chrome feels faster at rendering but choppy at scrolling large graphic intense pages, is the best example. I have noticed that pages will appear to snap on the screen but some elements wont work right away, especially JavaScript elements and drop menus. Safari and Firefox don't 'snap' but once an element appears on screen, it works.

    Chrome's multi-process architecture also seems inefficient. It may be more stable but locking up 100Mb for each empty tab/window, and using more total threads than the others, is counter-intuitive to me. Add to that it's 32 bit and won't work with Java. That's a big strike against a supposed 'modern' browser.

    Mid 2012 MBA, 1.8GHz i5, 4Gb RAM, Intel 4000
    Michael Linneer
    • Chrome IS a RAM hog

      I've experienced multiple GBs of RAM being used by Chrome while browsing before - it is a RAM and system resource hog. However, I'm pretty sure that's why they created Blink, to remove excess code and 'trim the fat', so to speak. Millions of lines of code are to be removed, IIRC.

      Also, the integration across platforms is tight - that's one reason I love it. Auto-login using your Google account to various sites (I hate that ZDnet doesn't support that yet), tab syncing across devices, etc. That's what keeps me coming back.
    • If you want RAM hogging

      look at how much RAM your "SafariWebkitContent" Process is using.

      Mine is currently about 1.2GB.
      Michael Alan Goff
  • 10 microseconds faster or reliability, efficiency and practicality?

    I switched back to Firefox a few months ago and probably will not use chrome again. basically the toll it takes on the computer is not really worth the tiny performance bump. And with multiple tabs open it crashes way too often even on an i7 system. Firefox 22 and even IE10 is more pleasant to use than Chrome in my experience. (Also the updates makes a constantly growing mess of folders which could take-up a few gigabytes of HDD space and files go all over the system drive like cancer)
  • Umm...Chrome Voice Search works fine for me

    I tried every one of the voice queries stated in the article that were apparently "random guesses"; it nailed all of them except for HIPPA and his last name (which you have to give Google a break on, it IS a compound word AND a name). I dare you to try names with Siri or any other voice assistant like that, it would miss a LOT of what Google gets.

    It is also very accurate, I've done some basic math and measurement conversions using the voice and it speaks back answers accurately and quickly.

    My best guess: YOUR MICROPHONE is low quality. I have a dedicated webcam with integrated mic (Logitech) - Google picks up my voice even when I speak quietly, and it is still accurate.
    • EDIT:

      Google Voice Search just got HIPPA on my second try, when I raised my voice slightly and spoke more clearly. Can't edit my post :-\ so I'm posting again.