Mobile Web browsing is all about finding what you need quickly and with as little hassle as possible — at least, in theory. In the real world, the experience of surfing sites from your smartphone or tablet is often anything but enjoyable.
From sites that have not-so-friendly mobile interfaces to browser commands that take too many steps to execute, hopping around the World Wide Internuts from a handheld device leaves plenty of room for improvement.
Fear not, though, my fellow finger-tappers: There are things you can do to make your touchscreen surfing a smoother ride. Try these tips and tricks for Google’s Chrome browser for Android, and get ready for a much better mobile browsing experience.
(Note that a few of these tips work on either a phone or a tablet, but not both. I’ve indicated “on a phone” or “on a tablet” when that’s the case.)
1. Search the simple way
Ever find yourself reading a Web page and wanting to learn more about something you see? On a phone, just press and hold your finger to the area of the text in question, then use the sliders that appear to adjust what words are selected.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll see a white bar containing those words and a Google logo at the bottom of your screen. Tap the bar, and you’ll get an overlay window with search results for that very term — right there on the page.
Chrome’s tap-to-search feature lets you get quick info without leaving the page.
You can tap any link in the results to open it as a new tab, slide the window upward to make it bigger, or slide it downward to dismiss it and return to your original full-page view.
2. Take back your right to zoom-a-zoom zoom zoom
For some inexplicable reason, lots of websites prevent you from zooming in on your mobile device. And for a variety of reasons — whether you want to make the text larger or get a closer look at, ahem, something that catches your eye in an image (like, you know, an innocent little birdie) — there are bound to be times when you want to get in close.
Thankfully, Chrome lets you take back control. Head into the app’s settings (by tapping the menu icon in the upper-right corner and selecting “Settings”), then look for the section called “Accessibility” and find the option within it labeled “Force enable zoom.”
Activate that option, and get ready to zoom to your heart’s content — whether the website you’re looking at wants you to or not.
3. Find your favorite way to zoom
Speaking of zooming, you’re probably familiar with the now-standard pinch-and-spread method to zoom out and in on mobile devices. But in Chrome, you’ve got a couple other choices — both of which can be quite useful when you’re using your phone with a single hand.
First, on many devices, you can simply double-tap anywhere on a page to zoom into that specific area and have it take up the full width of your display.
Second, you can double-tap and then leave your finger down — so tap once, lift, tap again, stay down — and then drag downward to zoom in or upward to zoom out. (See the video at the top of the page for a demo.) It sounds a bit strange, but give it a whirl. You’ll be a pro in no time.
(Note that these advanced zooming methods won’t work on all Web pages; generally, if a site is optimized for mobile viewing, you’ll be limited to the regular ol’ pinching action. But more often than not, the need to zoom comes up when a site isn’t optimized for mobile viewing, so these techniques can still come in handy.)
4. Return your tabs to their original home
Most devices with Android 5.0 or higher allow you to view your various browser tabs within the main system Overview list — you know, the app-switching thing that pops up when you press the button next to your Home key. But that Overview list can quickly becomeoverloaded and difficult to manage.
If you’d rather handle your tabs within Chrome itself, as you did in the pre-Lollipop years, all it takes is a simple switch to get things back to that more traditional setup. Provided your device supports the feature, you’ll find the option under the “Merge tabs and apps” line in Chrome’s settings.
5. Master Chrome’s hidden gestures
Feel like saving some time? (Who doesn’t?) Chrome for Android has some hidden gestures that’ll let you take care of common tasks quickly and efficiently. (Note that on devices running Android 5.0 or higher, these gestures work only if you manage your tabs within Chrome, as described in the previous tip. You can see all these gestures in action in the video at the top of the page.)
On a phone, swipe down from the browser’s address bar to see all your open tabs as cards on the screen. Tap on any tab to jump right to it, or swipe sideways to close it.
Swipe downward on Chrome’s menu button, meanwhile, to move right into the menu without ever lifting your finger. Just keep swiping down until you reach the option you want.
And finally, swipe downward from anywhere within the main browser area to reload the currently opened page. (You’ll need to be scrolled all the way to the top of the page in order for it to work.) Once you see a circle with an arrow appear, you can let go, sit back, and relax. Refreshing, isn’t it?
6. Get your tabs in order
If you’re using Chrome on a tablet — and if you manage your tabs within the browser, as described in tip #4 — you can move tabs around into any order you like. Just touch and hold the top of the tab and then slide your finger left or right to place it in a new position.
Chrome has an option for closing all tabs — if you know where to find it.
7. Kill all your tabs in one fell swoop
Make note of this for those times when you’ve got tons of tabs open and want to close ’em all at once: With Chrome on a phone, use the swipe-down gesture we learned in tip #5 to view all your open tabs. (Once again — yup, you guessed it — this’ll work only if you’re managing your tabs within Chrome.)
With all the tabs visible, tap the menu icon in the upper-right corner. There, you’ll see an option to “Close all tabs.”
Sweet sassy molassey, knockin’ out websites has never felt so good.
8. Pick up where you left off
One of Chrome’s most powerful features is one that you might not even know exists: The browser always keeps all of your tabs synced and available across devices — which means you can open up Chrome on your phone or tablet and get to the same tabs you left open on your laptop or desktop computer.
All you’ve gotta do to take advantage of it is tap the small clock icon at the bottom-right of the New Tab screen. Once you do, you’ll see a list of tabs open in Chrome on any other device where you’re signed in — computer, phone, tablet, you name it. You can then tap any of those tabs to pull it up where you are right now.
9. Find that site you surfed to earlier
Maybe it’s not an actively open tab you need but one you had open a while ago — say, a page you were viewing from your laptop last night, before you shut it down and put on your favorite pink footie pajamas.
Well, no problemo: Just like we did in the last tip, tap the clock icon in Chrome’s New Tab screen. See that section called “Recently closed” at the top? Tap the line inside it labeled “Show full history.”
There, you’ll find a full list of pages you’ve had opened on any device where you’ve been signed into Chrome — including both regular computers and other mobile devices. You can browse through the pages chronologically or even search for keywords using the box at the top of the screen.
This might be a good time to remind you about the existence of Chrome’s incognito mode for the type of Web surfing you don’t wish to have kept on record. And don’t forget, you can also always clear your full browsing history from Chrome on any device if the need ever arises. (Don’t worry — I won’t ask for details.)
10. Swim into a wilder channel
You may know about how Chrome offers different release channels for its desktop browser, so you can opt to try out experimental features before the hoi polloi — but did you know you can also opt to be more adventurous with Chrome on your Android device?
It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you like trying out new stuff that’s still being developed, grab Google’s Chrome Beta app. It gets new features and interface changes before they’re ready for prime time (which means they might occasionally be a bit unpolished).
And if you’re feeling really bold, go all in with the Chrome Dev app. It’s described as the “bleeding edge” version of Chrome, with experimental elements that are guaranteed to be “rough around the edges” (careful with those fingers!).
The good news? Unlike their desktop equivalents, the Chrome Android channels exist as separate standalone apps. That means you can install either or both of the advanced channels and run them alongside the regular Chrome app — no major commitments, and no real risk involved.
11. Speed up your mobile browsing
These tips all revolve around the notion of saving time — so how about one that quite literally makes Web pages load faster?
Chrome has a couple of hidden ways to do that. The first is a powerful little feature called Data Saver. When activated, it causes the browser to intelligently reduce the amount of data that gets transferred with each site you visit. It does so by eliminating noncritical page elements like location-detecting code and by giving you lower-resolution versions of some images (which, in my experience, is usually not noticeable from a visual perspective).
You can try it out by opening the “Data Saver” section within Chrome’s settings. Once the feature’s been running for a while, visiting that same section will show you a detailed view of exactly how much data you’ve saved over time.
Chrome’s Data Saver feature can speed up page loading by cutting down on bandwidth use.
The second feature actually uses more data to make your mobile browsing seem swifter. It’s called Instant Pages, and it works by allowing Chrome to predict what page you’re going to visit next and then start preloading it before you get there.
The system looks at things like your browsing history to “bet” on your behavior — so when you start typing something into the address bar, for instance, it might recognize what site you’re likely to be aiming for and then start fetching it before you hit Enter. That way, by the time you get there, the page is already loaded and waiting.
You can find the option under the “Privacy” section of Chrome’s settings; look for the line labeled “Prefetch page resources.” Because of the feature’s background data usage, you might want to set it to function only when you’re on a Wi-Fi connection.
12. Make the Web easier to read
Let’s face it: Some websites don’t exactly make reading pleasant. Whether it’s an annoying layout or a font that hurts your cerebrum, we’ve all come across a page that could be a little easier on the eyes.
Google has a solution in the works: Reader mode, which tries to turn desktop-oriented Web pages into mobile-friendly ones by simplifying the formatting and stripping out extraneous elements such as ads, buttons, navigation bars and related-links boxes. At the moment, it functions most reliably in the Beta or Dev channel (scroll back up to the previous tip if you weren’t paying attention) — so if you want to give it a try, I’d suggest doing it in one of those apps.
And a disclaimer: This feature is really, really still under development — so much that you have to go out of your way to enable it in a scary-sounding section of the browser known as “flags.” The warning at the top of that section says it all:
These experimental features may change, break, or disappear at any time. We make absolutely no guarantees about what may happen if you turn one of these experiments on.
In other words, mess around with this at your own risk — and only if you’re comfortable doing some advanced under-the-hood tinkering.
Still with me? Good. To get started, type chrome:flags into the browser’s address bar, then look for the “Enable Reader Mode Toolbar Icon” setting. (Quick tip: Use the “Find in page” feature in the main Chrome menu to locate it quickly.) Toggle that setting to “Enable.” You should see another setting near it for “Reader mode triggering”; I’ve found the feature works best with that set to “With article structured markup.”
Chrome’s “flags” section holds the keys to unlocking experimental features for advanced users.
Now simply follow the prompt to restart the app. The next time you come across a page where Chrome’s reader mode could help, you’ll see a box at the bottom of the screen offering to make the page mobile-friendly. Tap it, and watch the text transform right in front of your tired eyes.