Google Chrome is one of the most popular browsers out there and probably the app of choice for quite a few of our readers. It came as somewhat of a surprise when Chrome for iOS was announced on day two of Google I/O, in between demonstrations of extreme sports.
Taking on Safari in it’s own territory is a bold move from Google, although it signifies the company’s commitment to other platforms than it’s own and will likely put a smile on some die-hard Chrome users’ faces. In this review, we’re going to take Chrome for iPad out for a spin and provide some thoughts on how it stacks up to the native Safari.
The Chrome UI
Something to note about Chrome for iPad is that it is not simply Chrome on the iPad, or at least not in the sense you might think. The app uses a part of the iOS SDK called UIWebView, which means the app is essentially rendering identically to Safari instead of using any Chrome-exclusive engines or technologies (we’ll discuss this later in the article).
That fact pretty much means the main difference between Safari and Chrome is the UI, with the latter adopting a similar design to it’s desktop counterpart. Across the top are your tabs and below that is the iconic Chrome Omnibar, which allows you to search or visit a URL with a single field. This is something that many people have been quick to praise and identify as an advantage over Safari, but whether that hype is just is really up to personal preference. It doesn’t bother me that much, and isn’t necessarily a reason i’d instantly recommend the app over the Apple alternative.
You can also search Google by voice with the microphone icon. This uses Google’s own voice software and not iOS’s native dictation feature (as far as I can tell), which has, for me at least, resulted in fewer correct searches. If you tap into the Omnibar, you can still use the native dictation feature, however.
The button at the right of the dictation icon allows you to open tabs (including Incognito ones), view your bookmarks, email a page, find a specific phrase in the loaded page, easily request the desktop site and adjust settings, in addition to accessing help.
By signing into your Google account and enabling syncing, you can sync data between various instances of Chrome across platforms. This means you can access the tabs you have open on Chrome on desktop (or any other platform for that matter) with ease, in a similar fashion to iCloud tabs, a feature coming to Safari with iOS 6 later this year. This works both to and from Chrome for iPad.
You will also be able to sync Omnibar data and bookmarks between devices.
The feature works great and it’s immediate availability is definitely a reason to consider using Chrome over Safari. In the words we regularly use to praise Apple’s software, “it just works.”
As we already discussed, there’s nothing too special about the loading and presenting of pages in Chrome for iPad; it’s pretty much a skinned version of Safari.
For now, we can only hope that Apple decides to integrate the technologies it uses to enchant speed in Safari with UIWebView. This isn’t a problem that is exclusive to Chrome though, as all browsers in the App Store suffer from the same limitation of the iOS SDK.
If you’re a Chrome user, already using the browser elsewhere, the iPad app is something i’d highly recommend checking out. The syncing features are really top notch, and something that Safari lacks right now. If you are looking for this kind of browsing experience, with almost seamless switching between browsers, I would still personally switch to Chrome and endure the slower speed.
However, if you don’t use Chrome already, then it’s all up to whether you can tolerate a slightly slower experience. The Chrome UI is, in my opinion, superior to Safari’s, feeling much more like a desktop app without the pretty heavy UI in Safari. I really quite like it. Yet, the slow speeds will make you want to return to Safari, which isn’t a bad idea considering similar syncing features are due, which will put it more on par with Chrome.
When weighing up the pros and cons, it all comes down to the fact that Safari is faster, but Chrome looks nicer. If you’re willing to accept the limitations then Chrome is a definite choice — but no one will blame you if you fancy sticking to Safari.