Chrome 27: Talk to me

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.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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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