Yesterday Google announced a beta version of Chrome for Android. As Chrome fans on the PC, we were keen to test it so we grabbed a copy. The beta software is compatible only with Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) so we're testing it on the Galaxy Nexus.
Perhaps the question that sprang to our minds when we first heard there was a version of Google Chrome for Android was, "Why hasn't this been there since the start?". Chrome is our web browser of choice on a real computer, it's by far the nicest, most stable web browser available - especially on Windows - and has none of the atrocious memory problems that still plague Firefox, and none of the quirks of Internet Explorer.
We also love the fact that bookmarks, passwords and usernames can all be synced across computers, and as multi-machine users, that's crucial for us. This feature, thankfully, has arrived on the new beta version of Chrome for Android. So bookmarks on your PC are easily accessible on the phone.
But Chrome for Android goes further than that. As with the desktop version, your most-visited sites are shown on your start page. But here, on the Android version, you can also see which tabs you have open on your PC running Chrome. That is incredibly helpful, and means you can pick up reading where you left off when you're out and about.
Stylistically, Chrome for Android is beautiful. The simplicity is obvious, as it is on the desktop client. There's a URL bar at the top, an indication of the number of tabs open, which doubles as a button to access your other "tabs". There is also the Android stacked dots indicator, to show there are menu options tucked away, should you want them.
There's an incognito tab option in this extra menu. This allows you to surf without your history being logged and prohibits third-party sites from storing cookies or tracking you. It's very handy on the desktop - we use it for uploading video to one Google account, while looking at email on another account our normal browser window. It's often called "porn mode" for its amnesia over sites you've visited.
Tabs are the most impressive, graphically. When you select the button, all open tabs slide out in a stack - in portrait mode. You can select the one you want by tapping it. If you'd rather, you can switch between tabs by swiping across the screen, this allows you to swoop, like an eagle, between all of your open pages.
Flash isn't supported, but thanks to Apple's bullish refusal to work with Adobe's product, many sites offer HTML 5 video anyway, which does work. We noticed that streaming video worked brilliantly on The Guardian but embedded YouTube videos seemed more problematic. While on The Guardian, we were able to maximise the video window, YouTube clips embedded on third-party sites did not.
From a speed point-of-view, it seems pointless to compare beta software to the fully-fledged browsers available on Android. The stock browser is very good too, so performance-wise it was always going to be tricky to beat. That said, Chrome is very fast, it's certainly nearly as capable as the stock browser, and the extra features mean it's well worth downloading, if you have an Ice Cream Sandwich device.