Chrome beta for Android review: Fast and furious

Google has done a good job with the Chrome browser on mobile platforms. The beta version rivals the desktop experience on Android and is lightning fast, which is shown on video.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor
Chrome ZDNet
Chrome beta for Android -- All images credit: James Kendrick/ZDNet

I am a strong supporter of the Chrome browser experience and use it on every platform and device I use. The Android version of Chrome is a good browser, and the beta version expands on that and is a superb mobile browser on Android.

Chrome for Android does a great job providing a desktop browsing experience with significant improvements. It is fully touch optimized and Google's attention to detail make using it on Android a good experience. It handles full web sites with ease, turning the mobile device into a portable desktop web browsing system. 

Chrome NYT

What sets it apart from the mobile browser field is the little touch optimizations that Google has incorporated into the app. The standard touch gestures are fully supported, e.g. pinch/zoom and double tap to expand a column. The way the top menu bar slides off the screen when scrolling down the page, and how nudging the page up brings it back, are completely natural on a mobile device.

Google made sure that Chrome for Android handles any size device, and flipping it between portrait and landscape orientation works very well on all of them. The most complicated, busy web sites can be viewed nicely even on phones.

As good as Chrome for Android has become, Google has a beta version of the browser where new features are tested. I recently installed it on both my Galaxy Note 2 phone and Note 8.0 tablet, and it is fantastic.

Chrome Techmeme

Super speed

The Chrome beta for Android has been out for a while but I held off installing it as there were serious known issues for both my devices. That's the risk of using beta software and you should use betas with caution. Fortunately, Google addressed the known issues with my phone and tablet in a major update earlier this month so I installed it on both a few days ago.

Not only have I experienced no issues with the current Chrome beta for Android, it is the fastest mobile browser I have ever used. Web pages load rapidly, rivaling and in some cases surpassing Chrome on the desktop. Simple web sites can load in a second, and sites that even load slowly on the desktop appear in just a few seconds.

This speed is largely attributable to two advanced settings in Chrome beta. One, which is available in the standard version of Chrome for Android, preloads web pages to speed things up. When you load a web page, Chrome searches for links on the page to sites that you might want to visit and loads them in the background. This happens with no noticeable impact on the browsing speed for the currently active web page. With pages loaded in the background, when you hit a link the new page often loads immediately. This has a tremendous impact on browsing.

The Chrome beta for Android also has a new setting that plays a big role in not only speeding up browsing, and can reduce your bandwidth on cellular connections. Located under the menu Settings | Advanced | Bandwidth Management | Reduce Data Usage, this can be activated by turning on the toggle switch at the top of the page.

Phone tabs
Tabs on a phone

According to the Chrome help, this setting causes web pages to be compressed by Google's servers before appearing on the local device so that pages load using less bandwidth. The purpose is to reduce data charges on mobile devices. From Google's help page:

The browser uses Google's servers to condense image file sizes and perform other optimizations to reduce bandwith consumed by the page. When you use this feature, Chrome also encrypts your browsing session and uses safe browsing technology to protect you from malware and phishing attacks. If you browse to a known malware or phishing site Chrome will warn you before you enter the site.

If this sounds like the Amazon Kindle Silk browser feature, it's because it works the same way. Some may be concerned about web pages being rendered on Google's servers but I have no problem with that. It's not like our online activities are really private anyway. It is something to think about before activating the feature.

With the setting enabled to reduce bandwitch usage, Chrome beta monitors the savings in bandwidth thanks to the compression. Mine currently reads a 17 percent reduction, even though I've been on wi-fi the entire time since installing the beta. Of course, this is Google's reporting so take that with a grain of salt.

What has surprised me is how this setting speeds up web browsing. I have tested disabling/enabling it a lot and it's clear to me that the data reduction has a noticeable impact on loading web pages. So far doing the compression on Google's servers does not impact browsing on the local device in any noticeable way. It's a marked improvement and I suggest giving it a try if you run the Chrome beta for Android.

There are a number of features in Chrome beta that are not in the standard version. Most notable are new tilt controls and the support for WebGL. You can find complete information from the Chromium web site.

You can install Chrome beta from Android from the Google Play Store. Note that it doesn't replace regular Chrome if installed on your device, allowing you to try it and get rid of the beta if you have problems. Again, this is beta software and while stable on my devices you may have problems.

I am impressed with the page loading speed of Chrome beta for Android. This is impossible to convey properly in an article like this, so this short video below demonstrates how fast web pages load in the beta.

See also:

Editorial standards