Review: Google Chrome

Google’s new open-source Web browser, while light on options, packs a decent punch if you're looking for something fairly basic. The newest toy from Google is a mix of OS and browser, as you can create static desktop links to Gmail, Google Docs, Reader, Picasa, and more. While Chrome perhaps isn’t the best looking browser available, its sleek and simple design gives provides an easy interface for exploring the Web.

When installing Chrome, you are prompted to import bookmarks and settings. This test was completed on a system where Firefox is the default browser, and Google’s Chrome imported all the bookmarks with no trouble. Once imported, the bookmarks appear in Chrome’s bookmark bar. If you used the Bookmarks Toolbar in Firefox, that will remain as expected when imported into the Chrome browser.

The folder “Other bookmarks,” which is located on the Chrome bookmark bar, contains the rest of your bookmarks. However, the import appeared to have re-structured some of their order, i.e. folders that were placed at the top of the bookmarks list in Firefox were shifted to the bottom in Chrome (it takes some getting used to, but not it's that big of a deal).

Chrome is notably fast. For example, there was no drag on page loads, and testing the browser took about 50MB of Ram (there were five instances of chrome.exe running and one instance of GoogleUpdate.exe). Flash, Shockwave, and Java all ran smoothly and required no additions for the end user to install.

For those who are curious, Chrome scores a 76/100 on the Acid test, so there is a bit of room to grow here.

Now for the fun stuff. Google’s Chrome includes "Gears," which means you can download desktop icons for several Google apps. During this test, Gmail, Reader, and Picasa were downloaded and launched from the desktop. As expected, if already signed in to Google, they launched and started instantly.

The URL bar in Chrome will remind some users of Opera. When you start to type into Chrome’s URL bar you will see a list of addresses and links that were manually entered by the user, as well as other search suggestions, the top previously visited pages, and more. This can take some users by surprise, but is quite handy.

When you open a new tab in Chrome, you'll see a nice thumbnail-style visual display of the most visited pages as well as the option to issue a search and click on recent bookmarks. The search engine options include Google (default), Live, Yahoo and Ask, and you can add others including Wikipedia to the list (right click in the URL bar to edit the search options).

Security earned a special place in Chrome thanks to the use of "Sandboxing". Chrome runs each tab in its own sandbox, which is supposed to aid in preventing the installation of Malware (what happens to one tab will not affect the others). One thing that stood out was the use of Internet Properties from Internet Explorer when setting some options in the Chrome browser. This tie to Windows will serve end users well, offering yet another layer of policy and control.

There is also the "Incognito" window. This works like InPrivate from Internet Explorer 8. When launched, the user is advised that: “Pages you view in this window won't appear in your browser history or search history, and they won't leave other traces, like cookies, on your computer after you close the incognito window. Any files you download or bookmarks you create will be preserved, however.” Sessions logged into before Incognito are lost, so expect that. Otherwise this is just another layer of security.

Another interesting aspect in Google’s Chrome is that it uses some of the same keyboard shortcuts as Firefox, so power users will be familiar with those commands (use ALT+Home for example, to launch the home page on a new tab). Oddly, you have to enable an option before the "Home" button appears on the browser bar. 

Checkout the "About" credits in Chrome and you can see why there are so many familiar options:

"Official Build 1583 Mozilla/5.0, AppleWebKit/525.13 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/0.2.149.27 Safari/525.13."

Now, there are some issues with the rendering and display. On sites where the font was smaller (New York Times, for example) there were some issues with reading the main page. Compared to IE7 or FF3, Chrome can have issues with some Web fonts. Some of these issues can be resolved after tweaking a few options but, for the most part, what you see is what you get.

While seemingly super fast, there are few customization options available at the present time, so don’t expect to get much in the way of “neat-o” features like several million add-ons or custom-built toolbars.

Will Google Chrome shape the way Web browsers are developed and designed? It is too early to tell, but Google has certainly come up with something appealing and unique. Will Chrome replace Internet Explorer or Firefox? Perhaps not in its present form, and not for a very long time. 

Overall, Chrome is a killer little application to have and offers a nice break from tradition when surfing the Web. While there's plenty of room to for growth and improvement, the first beta release is impressive. 

Yet, if Google really wants to compete in the browsing arena with the likes of Mozilla, Microsoft, and Apple it has its work cut out.

Click here to watch a video TTH recorded while testing Chrome, showing off some of the various menus and features on offer.

If there is something specific you'd like to see recorded, let us know via the comments section below.

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