Five tips to soup up Chrome for Android

chrome experiments
Credit: Derek Walter

Chrome for Android is one of the most capable and powerful browsers around, but some of its best features aren't immediately obvious. If you're a new Android user, or just haven't really bothered to play around with browser settings, you may not know about some simple tricks to make your mobile web experience even better.

Some are hidden and others are in plain sight - you just have to know where to look. Here are a few of our favorite tips for browsing like a pro.

Wave the flags

Just like on the desktop, you can type chrome://flags into the omnibox (what Google calls Chrome's address bar) to get a whole list of tweaks for the browser. There is a reason this page features a lengthy warning and a nuclear hazard symbol: get too crazy and tragedy may ensue. 

chrome flags

Chrome's flags offer experimental bliss - just don't break anything.

So it's best to tackle one flag at a time, perhaps after doing some research about what it does. For example, start off with the "Answers in Suggest" flag. When you enable this, Chrome will from time-to-time answer a question or perform calculations right from the omnibox. 

chrome answers

Get answers in the suggestion bar with this clever trick.

It's hit and miss, but hey, that's what makes it an experimental feature. Try it with various questions or calculations to see what else it can do. As with most Google experiments, it will also probably grow more robust over time.

Speed up browsing

Here is a trick that can speed up Chrome's browsing by giving it extra memory space. The tool, which involves a tad bit of geekery, changes the memory allocation and creates a nice little speed boost. 

chrome speed browsing

Increase Chrome's memory for faster browsing.

To do this, type in the following to the omnibar: chrome://flags/#max-tiles-for-interest-area

Then select 512 from among the choices. Maximizing this number means that Chrome will use more of your phone's memory, thereby producing faster browsing results. If you have an older device, it may be safest to first go with choosing 256 or even 128, then ramping things up later if that works out. But if you have a new phone with 2GB of RAM or more, put it to good use!

Data compression

If you want to save on some mobile data usage then give this one a try. Head into the settings and scroll to the bottom and touch "Bandwidth management." Flip the switch for Reduce data usage to on.

chrome data compression

Make Chrome zippier by compressing data.

This will send data-intensive objects like images through Google's servers, where it will condense them before sending it to your browser. The result: faster loading of web content and less data usage. 

To take this a step further, select "preload webpages" from the previous screen and choose "only on Wi-Fi." With this enabled, Chrome will automatically start downloading content it thinks you will need before you need it. This will actually use more data, but it won't impact your carrier plan if you make sure that "only on Wi-Fi" switch is set.

How to force pinch-to-zoom on any site

Occasionally you will come across one of those annoying sites that forces you to the mobile version or won't let you pinch and zoom to focus in on smaller content.

Time to fix that. Go into the Chrome settings and tap Accessibility. Then select "force enable zoom" and you will be able to pinch and zoom until your heart's content.

chrome force enable zoom

Pinch to zoom anywhere you would like with this setting

Just above this setting is an option to scale text larger or smaller for optimal reading. You can play around with this to find if you would prefer larger text, or want to get more content on the screen by lowering the font sizes.

Save a bookmark to your home screen

Back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and the original iPhone came out (2007) the only kind of app you could put on your home screen was a bookmark for a web site. Years later, that's still a useful feature to have so you can quickly read a favorite site, like Greenbot.

chrome add to home

Add your favorite web site (Greenbot, yes?) to your home screen.

To do this in Chrome, navigate to the web page you want to save and touch the menu button, then select Add to homescreen

You can change the title if needed (you may want to shorten it for better readability) and then tap Add. You then will have a button on your home screen that will launch right to that web page using Chrome.

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