Chrome extensions review: The top 10 Chrome add-ons you'll love

By , ITworld |  Internet, Chrome, chrome extensions

With Chrome and the Facebook Photo Zoom extension, you can see those Facebook pictures close-up without clicking through to a new page.

The Firefox browser gets a lot of press for its extension set, since its 5,276 extensions represents a vibrant open source ecosystem, dwarfing the 825 extensions written for Internet Explorer.

But it might surprise you to learn that another browser completely blows Firefox away in terms of extension count: Google's Chrome browser has 12,005 extensions. That's over 125 percent more extensions than Firefox, a fact often overlooked by Web users. This may in part be because Chrome still has a relatively small user base, but that's certainly changing.

With such a huge field of Chrome extensions, there's a compelling need to identify the best of the bunch. This is exactly what this review will provide: the top 10 Chrome extensions, selected based on a weighted formula of ratings, number of reviews, and total number of downloads as of February 14, 2011. Our own review of each extension will be given as well.

AdBlock and AdBlock Plus for Chrome
It must be noted for the record that these two extensions are not related in any way. AdBlock Plus for Chrome is a port of the AdBlock Plus for Firefox extension, while AdBlock is a built-from-scratch ad blocker built specifically for Chrome. Yes, we were confused, too. What's not confusing is how both of these apps work: very well. Both extensions blocked all of the ads our test pages, and reinstated ads with just a simple menu click. Of the two, AdBlock "feels" more Chrome-y, since its icon is incorporated directly into the interface, with AdBlock Plus' icon shoved into the URL bar. That's a minor cosmetic difference, and for performance, either extension will do the job as, er, advertised.

The Google Dictionary extension provides pop-up definitions and links to Wikipedia pages.

Docs PDF/PowerPoint Viewer
If you have Chrome 9, then the functionality of this extension may soon be superseded. In the meantime, it's nice to be able to preview PDF files and PowerPoint presentations whenever you run across them on the Internet. Sure, looking at these sorts of files on the Web is nothing new, but we were impressed by the speed with which these documents were loaded. There wasn't a lag time while waiting for a helper app to get started. Just click, and -- boom! -- the document was previewed on the screen. A pretty impressive extension, even considering its simple functionality. The extension can read Word and PowerPoint documents, PDFs, and TIF files. You can also turn off the preview tool when visiting sites like sites.google.com or office.live.com, where such functionality is duplicated.

Downloads. One of the things about Chrome that users either love or hate is the very streamlined look and feel of the browser. The bare-minimum interface works in terms of efficiency, but only to a point: if you want to do any thing a little out of the ordinary, you have to work through a not-entirely-intuitive menu structure. One such task is accessing the Downloads window; with the Downloads extension, that's something you can avoid. Downloads has one task: display a downloads icon in the Chrome interface that, when clicked, opens the Downloads window. That's all it does, but when you want a fast track to managing downloads in Chrome, this is a must-have extension.

Facebook Photo Zoom.
If you use Facebook for any amount of time, you need to get this app. The capability to expand any image in Facebook, be it photo or status image, is really very useful, because you don't have to click on the images to see them in a more viewable size. We were impressed by the speed of the previews, which popped up with hardly any lag-time. If anything, the extension works a little too well: it got a bit annoying to have every image file on the page pop open a preview window as we moused along. Hint: Ctrl+Shift+Z will toggle Facebook Photo Zoom off and on while in Facebook.

Google Dictionary.
Most Internet users find that that they need the definition of new terms on an almost daily basis. News and technology changes so fast that it's hard to keep up with all of the new additions to the language sometimes. This is why an extension like Google Dictionary can be so useful. Once installed, double-clicking on any word or phrase will pull up a small tooltip with the complete definition of the word. With 11 languages supported, Google Dictionary is a good enough extension just for word definitions. But we were pleased to note that clicking on some phrases (like place names) will bring up the Wikipedia entry about that phrase. This was a nice surprise, and puts this extension up in the top 10.

Google Mail Checker lets you know when you've got new GMail.

Google Mail Checker. Google Mail Checker pretty much does what it says on the label, displaying the number of unread e-mails in your Google Mail account. Clicking on the Google Mail Checker icon brings up your inbox. It would be nice if it could be pointed to Gmail's Priority Inbox, which would be more useful for power messagers. Still, it's fast and easily configurable, so it gets the job done. (Another extension, Google Mail Checker Plus, can also preview messages in a pop-up window; but that extensions is unstable, and we weren't able to properly test it.)

Google Translate. If you want the official Google Translate extension for Chrome, look no further. Kicked off by an icon in the Chrome interface, Google Translate will auto-detect the language of a page and translate all the text on it in frame. Because the entire page is translated, some of the contextual translations actually come across better, which is nice. The drawback for this tool is that only whole pages can be translated, not passages, so if you're looking for a word translator, this is not the add-on to use.

IE Tab.
It's hard to believe that there are still Web sites out there that only work with Internet Explorer, but it's true. Outlook Web Access and Office Live are two such examples. Chrome users can access these sites and more with IE Tab, which launches a contained IE browser instance within Chrome. It's a little clunky, since there's a separate IE URL bar and tools slapped in under the Chrome interface, but for the most part it works pretty well. Of course, since it's running IE, then this extension will only work on a Windows platform. At that point, you may wonder why you wouldn't just start IE, but we all know how scary that can be.

With Webpage Screenshot, you can edit images right in the browser.

Webpage Screenshot.
This extension was the most unique and surprising of the top Chrome extensions we reviewed. You might think it's no big deal to grab a screenshot of a Web page (and you'd be right), but that's not all this extension does. After the screenshot is grabbed, you can edit the image with basic drawing and image management tools, right inside Chrome. It's no Photoshop or GIMP, but for quick grabs and edits, this is a great tool to use, because it's a lot faster to implement. Web designers in particular will like this extension, since it's a perfect tool to check a design, make notes on the image, and send it to colleagues.

Xmarks Bookmark Sync. The basic function of this wildly popular extension is simple: all of your bookmarks, passwords, and even open tabs can be synchronized across multiple machines and multiple browsers -- yes, even Firefox and IE, if you need to use those browsers. For a subscription fee, you can even get bookmark synchronization on the Android and iOS platforms, which is very useful. If you use multiple machines, definitely download and install this extension.

As the list of Chrome extensions continues to grow, this list of the best 10 Chrome extensions is bound to change over time, and you may have your own extensions that you think should be on this list. Send them in, and we'll keep our eye out for the new Top 10 Chrome extensions.

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