Google Chrome for iPhone hands-on

Today's Google I/O keynote was, as expected, all about the Chrome. Easily one of the biggest among the company's laundry list of announcements surrounding the browser-turned-operating-system has to be its arrival on iOS, bringing the functionality that an ever-growing number of users have come to know and love to the iPhone and iPad. The list includes, perhaps most notably, its cross-device syncing, ensuring that you can pick up where you left off on the desktop version of the program, taking your pages and tabs with you on the go. So, is Google's fancy mobile browser enough to get us off mobile Safari altogether? Check out some impressions of the iPhone version of the app after the break.

Chrome for iOS handson

Once you've downloaded and fired up the browser, you'll have to agree to the terms of service. With the legal work out of the way, Google, the ever-helpful, non-evil-doing company that it is, offers up a handy, multi-step tutorial, highlighting some key features of the browser. Those include some elements that will no doubt prove familiar to desktop Chrome users, like the address / search bar at top. With all the tabs closed, you get a white page, with the toolbar at top, featuring a back button (and a forward one, as well, once you've actually loaded up some pages), the address bar, a menu button and a button for toggling tabs. Clicking the menu button brings up a whole slew of options, letting you open a new tab (in regular or Incognito private browsing mode), access your bookmarks, view other devices synced to your account, open settings and get some help.

Along the bottom, you can toggle between views, including the most visited pages, bookmarks and synced content on other devices. You can flip between these options either by clicking the buttons or swiping across. The most visited option looks a fair bit like a shrunken version of its desktop counterpart, with thumbnails of six pages that you, quite frankly, are probably visiting more than you should. Clicking any one of these will open that page in the main tab. The bookmarks view, handily, breaks your starred pages up by devices, moving mobile and desktop into different folders -- a handy distinction.

As far as the synced view goes -- we had a bit of trouble, initially. In spite of entering our password correctly several times, we just couldn't sign in, finally restarting our iPhone out of frustration (and to save ourselves from tossing the thing out an open window). Much to our surprise, we were all signed in when we launched the app again after the restart, with a frowny-faced folder image and a note telling us that the app "didn't shut down correctly." We could have told it that. From this error page, you can either relaunch the last opened page on this device or click open your last-synced pages. Naturally, we opted for the last synced, having gone through the trouble of syncing the device in the first place.

Chrome for iOS handson

Navigation, too, looks a lot like its desktop counterpart, with the toolbar appearing in the default mode -- we kind of wish it would automatically disappear by default, so we could make the most of the iPhone's relatively limited screen real estate while browsing. Using the toolbar, you can either enter a URL directly or search for something, using that engine that Google's so famous for. Like the desktop, the bar features predictive text to help you out with your inquiries. To switch between tabs, you can give the window a swipe or click the tab button in the toolbar (which lets you know how many of the "unlimited" tabs you have open). The aforementioned option will line up the tabs in a vertical row. From here you can click the X in the corner of the window to close out of a tab. There's also a large New Tab button at the top -- hitting that will bring up the white background default page.

Navigation is quite brisk and loading pages is snappy, with a little blue progress bar zipping across at the tap as the page renders. Not surprisingly, the app plays quite nicely with official Google pages, like, where it offers up a scrollable list of services from the company. On the iPhone, the browser naturally defaults to the mobile versions of applicable sites (such as this one), but you can switch that in settings by clicking Request Desktop Settings. From there you can also share the selected page via email and do a search on the given page.

Chrome for iOS handson

Chrome's arrival on iOS comes, thankfully, jam-packed with features. Performance, too, is quite good, aside from a few hiccups, which are to be expected from a brand new app. If you use Chrome on the desktop, syncing is a pretty killer feature. Even if you haven't made the switch over, Google's browser still offers a pretty compelling version to wean yourself off of Safari.