Chrome for Android: What I love, what I don't.

I feel I would be neglecting my duty as an Android fanboy if I didn't mention that Google released a beta of Chrome for Android yesterday. The app comes with a major caveat: it's for Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich) only. That means only a small fraction of Android users will get to check it out for now.

In my case I have an Android 4 phone but my tablet is still running Honeycomb so I couldn't do a full review of the app or even a proper hands-on. Instead I'm going to point you at JR Raphael's excellent hands-on over at Computerworld. He does a great job running through the new features on both phone and tablet formats.

I did want to share a few of my thoughts though; aspects of the app that I liked and didn't like. I'm generally a Dolphin user on Android and so that's what I'm comparing Chrome for Android to.

Let's start with the good stuff. When I went to hit the Gmail site in Chrome for Android, the browser offered to fill in my username and password for me. The phone had this info from me being logged into my account already, so why not make things easier for the user? It was a little thing but one I really appreciated since my Google password is a bear to type on a mobile keyboard.

The other thing I really, really liked was how the sync worked between desktop Chrome and mobile Chrome. I expected bookmarks to sync, but I didn't expect to find my open tabs to sync. This is wonderful for me. I'm always online. In the morning I'm on the web, in Chrome, right up until the last second before I have to leave for work, and invariably I have a few tabs open that I haven't gotten to yet. In the past I'd have to send these pages to ReadItLater or a similar service so I could pick up the content on my phone during a coffee break at the office. No more. Now I can just open Chrome on my phone and there are those tabs, ready and waiting for me. I love it!

Now the bad news. I get that real estate is precious on the phone but I miss having a bookmark bar on the mobile browser. Why? Because there are some services I use (such as InstaPaper) that use a bookmarklet (a bookmark that's just a piece of javascript). In Chrome for Android bookmarks take over a tab so you can't access bookmarklets. For many services you can use Android's "Share" feature to do the same thing as a bookmarklet would, but not always.

Next up: Dolphin supports a number of plug-ins and Firefox for Android supports a few, but Chrome for Android doesn't seem to have any kind of extension or plug-in support at this point. Maybe that'll come later but I'd love something like Evernote's Clearly on a mobile browser.

It's also worth mentioning that Chrome for Android doesn't support Flash and probably never will. I'm not a fan of Flash but I do still need to use it from time to time and I'll have to switch back to Dolphin for those times. Also my understanding is that since Chrome for Android uses hardware acceleration, which is only available in Android 4, there's very little chance of it being brought to older versions of Android. Look at it this way: the app will be out of beta by the time all our devices get upgraded to ICS!

There's a lot more to like about Chrome for Android but again I'll refer you to the Computerworld piece linked above since Raphael did such a thorough job of covering the new features.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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