Google Chrome for Mac: first look review

Just when you thought there were already too many OS X browsers - Safari, Firefox, OmniWeb, Camino, iCab, and Opera, to name but a few - one more enters the fray: the beta version of Google’s browser, Chrome for Mac.

So what does Chrome for Mac bring to the browsing experience, and are there any features that might make you consider switching from your primary browser?

First, before you consider switching, realise that Chrome is very much a beta release on the Mac. As covered earlier, Chrome for Mac is missing many features found on its more-advanced Windows counterpart, including major items such as a bookmarks manager and support for extensions along with less-obvious features like multi-touch gesture support, 64-bit compatibility, and support for Google Gears and standalone browser applications, like those you can create using Fluid.

Beneath these stated omissions, digging into Chrome’s preferences reveals additional not-quite-there-yet features. You can’t view your cookies (though you can change your cookie acceptance settings), change auto-opening settings, change fonts and language defaults, or manage your SSL certificates. All of these things are coming, but they didn’t make it in time for the beta.

There’s also a grayed-out button for importing settings for other browsers, so you might think that’s not functional, either. This feature actually works; you just have to access it through the Chrome -> Import Settings and Bookmarks menu item, not through the button in Chrome’s preferences. At present, Chrome can import history and bookmarks from Safari; you can import the same from Firefox, plus cookies, saved passwords, and search engines.

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The interface

So with all that’s missing what is there that might compel you to take a look at Chrome for Mac? The first thing I visually noticed is the tabs-on-top (almost) layout, along with just one input box, which Google calls the OmniBox.

If you type a URL in the OmniBox, Chrome opens that site. If you want to search the Web, just type your search query in the URL box, and Chrome will send that query to Google. (At present, there’s no way to set the default search engine, although that ability exists in the Windows version, so it’s probably coming in a future Mac release.)

Although I wasn’t a fan of Safari’s tabs-on-top experiment, I like the Chrome implementation - the tabs aren’t completely on top; a small window border lies above the tabs, so you can drag the window around via the top edge. This combination allows for maximum screen real estate for the browser window while still allowing easy movement of the Chrome window.

Tabs on top, plus a window border.

As you’d expect, tabs are quite flexible; they can be dragged around the tab bar, off to form a new tab, or you can merge windows by dragging one window onto another’s tab bar. Each tab includes its own loading progress and close indicators. Tabs resise as you add more, and the algorithm works well - I was able to recognise tabs even with over 15 open in a not overly wide window.

While Chrome lacks a bookmarks manager, you can bookmark a site by either dragging it to the bookmarks bar, or clicking the star next to the URL.Once saved, you can remove a bookmarked site by first loading it, then clicking the star again.

Bookmarks bar sites are marked with favicons.

One thing I really like about Chrome is that when you add a bookmark to the Bookmarks Bar, it uses the site’s favicon in the bar, with no accompanying text. I can fit a ton of sites on the bookmarks bar, and they’re all easily distinguished.

If you prefer to see text, too, you can add it by Control-clicking on a site in the bookmarks bar and choosing Edit from the contextual menu.

NEXT: Google Chrome for Mac speed


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