Google Chrome for iOS Review: Impressions One Week Later

The epic battle between Apple and Google continues, as the latter released its Chrome browser in the App Store last week. Which will emerge victorious in the battle for iOS browser supremacy? Our review will attempt to answer this question, after testing and using Chrome for the past week.

Upon launching the application for the first time and surpassing the obligatory “take a tour of the app” intro, the first thing I noticed is the impressive interface. The layout and feel of the app is very cool, almost futuristic. If this is Google’s attempt to make Chrome seem like the “next gen” browser, then they definitely nailed it.

The tabbed browsing interface is slick. Clicking the tab icon in the upper-right displays all open tabs in a filing cabinet type of style. This is referred to as the “tab switch” mode. From here you are to able flip through the open tabs as one would do when sorting through a filing cabinet.

Google Chrome Tabbed Browsing

Now on to my favourite feature – the ability to cycle between tabs using gestures. Using your finger, swipe to the right and left to cycle through the open tabs. To close a tab, swipe while in tab switch mode. These motions feel very fluid and natural. This functionality is definitely something Safari needs to adopt (errr I mean, “borrow”.)

Just like its desktop counterpart, Chrome for iOS also uses the address bar for both URL entry and search functionality, a feature that I’m a big fan of. Google refers to this as “Omnibox.” As you type into this box, Chrome will attempt to make some “highly relevant” suggestions on what you may be trying to type.

These suggestions are based on your bookmarks, search history, and “very probable” search results. This just makes so much more sense than Safari’s method of having two different boxes for these.

Google Chrome Omnibox

Chrome also goes “to the cloud”. Sign in with your Google account, and you’ll be able to sync your bookmarks, Omnibox data, and currently-open tabs, with Chrome on your other devices.

While this is a nifty feature, bookmark-syncing is something Safari already has (via iCloud,) and the syncing of tabs seems to solve a problem that doesn’t necessarily exist. I’m not sure why this is a useful feature?

Don’t want your friends to find out you’re a closet Glee fan? Go Incognito! Chrome makes it easy to create incognito tabs, which means your browser and search history isn’t tracked while you surf.

Google Chrome Incognito

We’ve discussed the main pros of Chrome, now on to some cons.

According to this performance test conducted by MacLife, Safari tests much better in most of the major categories for speed. Google blames this on “platform specific technical specifications”. Sounds like an excuse to me!

So is Chrome really a viable replacement for Safari? The short answer is no, even despite all the slick features. The main reason being that iOS doesn’t allow any non-Safari browser to be the system default. Meaning all links opened from other apps – Mail, Twitter, etc. – will always still open in Safari. This lack of native OS support really hurts Chrome. (UPDATE: Unless your phone is jailbroken, of course. There is a Cydia tweak that allows you to change the default browser.)

Despite these cons, Chrome is the best secondary browser alternative to Safari, much to Apple’s chagrin. Some of the notable features may indeed be enough for some users to warrant the switch.

Will you be a Chrome iOS user?

[via MacLifeThe Chromium Projects]

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of iPhoneinCanada.ca. Follow me on Twitter, and @iPhoneinCanada, and on Google+.

  • Bishbulb

    Apple’s sandboxing rules prevent Chrome on iOS from using the Nitro javascript engine, so that would legitimately explain the “platform specific technical specifications”.

  • Kyle

    “platform specific technical specifications” isn’t just an excuse, it’s a real limitation of UIWebView. It doesn’t get access to the same JavaScript engine as native Safari and Apple’s App Store rules won’t let Google include their own.

    Here’s an old (but I believe still applicable) article detailing this:
    http://daringfireball.net/2011/03/nitro_ios_43

  • draz

    I’ve switched to Chrome and am using BrowserChooser Cydia app to make it my default.

    So far no issues, I love it

  • Meatplow

    A well written article point rabit (I mean, avid) iPhone users in the right direction. Google apps on the iPhone are great, but without default iOS integration it will always be an app that is more forced than seamless.

  • sunny

    The system default browser can be set using a Cydia
    app called “BrowserChooser” (http://www.iphoneincanada.ca/jailbreak/browserchooser-cydia-tweak-lets-you-set-a-default-browser-in-ios/)
    This solved the major issue and allowed me to set chrome as the system default browser. I then
    moved the safari browser into my unused folder along with the other useless iOS
    system apps that I can’t get rid of.

  • I use ChromePortable at work (PC, no admin rights), Chrome at home (PC,full install), and now Chrome iOs. The syncing between devices is reaaally handy personally and it’s great to be able to see what things I was viewing on different machines.

  • Mike McCormick

    That makes sense. Thanks for the clarification! This fact further elaborates my point that due to native OS compatibility issues, Chrome (or any other browser) will never be able to completely replace Safari. That is unless Apple loosens on this policy. (Not likely!)

  • Mike McCormick

    Well of course, jailbreaking cures all right!? 🙂  I didn’t write my review from the perspective of a jailbroken phone, but your point is well taken. That certainly bypasses my major beef with the browser and how it integrates with iOS.

  • which is exactly why i’m going to switch my 4S for a Galaxy Nexus soon. I’ve loved my 3G, 4, and now 4S but things like not being able to choose my default browser are just p*ssing me off. Atomic Web Browser is by far the best browser in iOS. Its best feature is full screen browsing. When i use the web on a small display, i need every pixel i can get. why waste such valuable space with an address bar when you aren’t using it. there are dozens of other features that make atomic the best.

  • markman80

    Good review but I’m very surprised by 2 points from the article. 1.) “…
    The main reason being that iOS doesn’t allow any non-Safari browser to be the system default. …” A work around for this, Chromizer, was mentioned on this site 4 das ago
    http://www.iphoneincanada.ca/jailbreak/chromizer-add-pull-to-refresh-and-full-screen-to-chrome-for-ios/

    2.) “Google blames this on “platform specific technical specifications”. Sounds like an excuse to me! As Bishbulb said, its a limitation imposed by Apple, not an issue on their part.

  • excaliburca

    Already am… much better than Mobile Safari, epically the ability to have Chrome force a website to pull the full version rather than the mobile version of the site.

  • Mike McCormick

    Hey Mark – thanks for the comment. I’ve addressed both these things in replies to earlier comments. I’ve also updated the article to elude to jailbreaking as a solution. Keep in mind though that the majority of iPhone users do not have jailbroken

  • Mike McCormick

    Thanks for the comment! Of course you are assuming that everyone has a jailbroken phone and that is certainly not the case. The majority of iPhone users do not.

  • Another cool extension is Chrome to Mobile, send any link from Google Chrome on your PC to Chrome for iPhone or iPad (it lets you choose which one) Extension is made by Google https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/idknbmbdnapjicclomlijcgfpikmndhd

  • Meatplow

    For me, a browser won’t break me away from the iPhone. The integration and overall user experience is superior to all other devices (IMO) simply because of iOS. Android certainly has some very cool features, but having used a Galaxy already, it just feels line there’s something missing over the iPhone.

  • Isn’t that just kinda the same thing as being able to sync open tabs across multiple platforms?

  • For example my Aunt has an iPhone, do you really think she’d even know what jail breaking is!?

  • Ben I agree that Atomic is cool, but I still prefer Chrome. I dunno, pixel space not that important to me. What sites are you viewing that require the full screen? Most websites are optimized for mobile anyways.

    But, I suppose if this is a very important feature for you, then I can see your point.

  • Agree, nothing beats the overall “feel” of an iPhone!

  • I stand corrected. Was just trying to be tongue-in-cheek in the article. At the end of the day though, it is what it is. Safari is faster, end of story.

  • kmlmzhr

    Install Chromizer. Problem solved