Chrome 5 reviewed

Nathan Alderman
27 June, 2010
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AAA

Chrome 5

Google, www.google.com.au/chrome

Pros 

Good performance; fast; easy to use; beautiful interface; useful features

Cons 

Won’t work with all web applications: light on features; accessibility features not yet enabled; minor usability quirks

Free

Reviews

Bug-free and beautifully designed, Google Chrome 5 strives to combine the best of all browser worlds. Like Mozilla’s Firefox, Chrome lets users customise its appearance and functionality. But it may also be the first Mac browser to truly give Safari’s raw power a run for its money.

This chrome comes with a V8

On a 2GHz aluminum MacBook with 2GB RAM, I tested Chrome 5 against its latest competitors: Safari 5, Firefox 3.6.3, and Opera 10.53.

Chrome runs as close as any browser can to the bleeding edge of web standards. Though it uses the same open source WebKit rendering engine as Safari, it doesn’t reliably support the controversial, proprietary CSS3 transformation and animation tricks that Apple’s built into Safari. However, like every browser I tested, it earned a perfect score in a compatibility test for CSS3 selectors, and it joined Safari and Opera with a flawless score of 100 in the Acid3 web standards benchmark. Chrome 5 also supports both Apple’s H.264 codec and Mozilla’s preferred open source Ogg Theora technology for plugin-free HTML5 video, and it beautifully played back HTML5 demo videos from YouTube and Brightcove.

In XHTML and CSS tests, Chrome was surprisingly slower than Safari, despite their shared rendering engine — but the race was close. Safari rendered a local XHTML test page in 0.58 seconds to Chrome’s 0.78 seconds, and a local CSS test page in 33 milliseconds to Chrome’s 51 milliseconds. Note that Chrome still rendered XHTML more than twice as fast as Opera (1.67 seconds) and left Firefox (12.42 seconds — no, that’s not a typo) eating its dust. In CSS, it also beat the pants off Opera (193 milliseconds) and Firefox (342 milliseconds).

But Chrome shines brightest when handling JavaScript. Its V8 engine zipped through the SunSpider Javascript benchmark in 448.6 milliseconds, narrowly beating Opera’s 485.8 milliseconds, and absolutely plastering Firefox’s 1,161.4 milliseconds. However, Safari 5’s time of 376.3 miliseconds in the SunSpider test beat Chrome 5 handily.

Chrome’s focus on JavaScript makes sense; the technology underpins the many web-based tools Google’s pushing as alternatives to conventional software. It’s in Google’s best interest to offer a browser that handles those sites faster than anything else.

A polished experience

Chrome felt pleasantly brisk and responsive in general use, rendering pages and starting up with speeds roughly equivalent to Safari. I also liked Chrome’s appealing interface, with smoothly animated tabs that popped up or down when opened or closed, and slid easily back and forth when reordered.

In several days of consistent use on a variety of sites, Chrome rendered pages spotlessly and didn’t crash once. Google has heavily touted Chrome’s ‘sandboxing’ feature, in which each tab in the browser is its own separate process. If some glitch makes one tab crash, the others can keep running without bringing down the entire browser.

Featurewise, Chrome offers the usual slate of privacy and security features found on most modern browsers, all competently executed. But it lacks additional touches like Firefox’s clever ‘Forget This Site’ option in the browser history. Chrome does ape Firefox with a collection of artistic themes to gussy up your browser window, and an impressive library of user-created extensions.

Like Firefox, Chrome’s handy extensions add useful new features to your web browsing. Invisible Hand compares prices on shopping sites to tell you when you could be saving money elsewhere.

Chrome’s best and most useful feature is its Omnibox. The browser’s location bar also brings up search results from your bookmarks and browser history as you type — and seamlessly doubles as Google search box. It’s an elegantly simple idea, and it works exactly like you’d expect it to.

I also loved the page auditor hidden in Chrome’s developer tools. With one click, Chrome will analyse a given web page, producing a helpful list of ways to optimise its code — a dream come true for web designers.

That said, in several ways Chrome’s usability lags behind Safari’s. In Chrome’s Bookmarks bar, there’s no ‘Open All in Tabs’ option for a folder of sites; you’ll have to counter-intuitively right-click and select that option from a menu. When editing bookmarks, you can’t select multiple bookmarks to drag and drop into a new folder, and you have to right-click and select “edit” to change a bookmark’s URL. And because each tab is its own process, the title of the Web page you’re looking at is often truncated and unreadable within the confines of the tiny tab.

In addition, Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature doesn’t currently support Chrome; attempts to disguise the browser’s user-agent string as Safari or Firefox stubbornly failed. If you love to watch Netflix movies in your web browser, Chrome is not for you.

Web surfers who rely on Mac OS X’s Universal Access features should also avoid Chrome for now. As one user noted, Chrome disables the accessibility features built into WebKit. A Chrome engineer later posted that Google’s working to restore accessibility in future versions.

Your very own code inspector: Tucked away in Chrome 5’s developer tools, the Audit feature tells web designers all the ways their code could be even better.

Australian Macworld’s buying advice

Far faster than Firefox, and more customisable than Safari, Chrome reaches a very happy medium between the two. It’s a great addition to the ranks of Mac browsers, and a clarion call to Apple, Mozilla, and Opera to step up their game.

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