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Tag Archives: web

Alternative Android browsing: Thinking beyond Chrome

Google’s Android apps are by and large top-notch, although the increasing number of them means that average experience may be getting watered down by duds like Google News and Weather. With so many apps only ported to Android as an afterthought (many, like Instagram, have ported over their bottom-icon heavy look), Google’s specialized design is refreshing. Chrome is no exception. While it doesn’t have Dolphin’s speed or customizations or Firefox’s open source character, Chrome is fine, fast, and full of useful options such as bandwidth conservation (which can sometimes make its rendering of Facebook.com perform better than Facebook’s actual Android app).

You’re waiting for a “but,” so here it is: Mobile Web browsing is stuck in the desktop era. There’s still the URL bar and a bunch of tabs stuck weirdly (and inconveniently) in something that looks like a file cabinet – it doesn’t get much more “legacy” than that. Plus, a mobile Web browser is often somewhere you end up, not somewhere you open with intent. You’re sent to Chrome (or Safari or IE) because you click a link and then wait a few seconds for a blank page to fill out.

There’s something jarring about that process. It really becomes apparent when going through Google Search results, clicking on one, seeing it open in Chrome, then having to go back to Search to go through more that may be interesting. The workaround is to just search directly from Chrome, but the UI is less appealing. Ideally, Google would merge Search and Chrome into one runtime.

Until they do, though, there are some good alternatives to Chrome, both in terms of usability, privacy, and innovative design. I’ve rounded up a few of the best ones here.

If you want something with more pizzaz: Dolphin

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Dolphin for Android. Fast, but traditional.

Dolphin is speedy, with excellent HTML5 performance a fluid UI.  It’s also an ecosystem unto itself, with tons of add-ons and color packs. The look and feel is especially good on tablets and big phones, since it has enough real estate to pull off its desktop-like tab design (if you’re into that). Possible drawbacks include its awkward sharing menus (the best way to share to Pocket is to install a supplementary app) and less support for deep linking (i.e., having links redirect to relevant apps rather than websites) than Chrome. Nice quirks include the ability to create and save drawings that stand in for URLs – you could doodle an ‘F’ to go to Facebook, for example.

If you want something that is private and different: DuckDuckGo Search and Stories

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DuckDuckGo is a search engine, news reader, and Web browser built into one.

DuckDuckGo is known mostly as an anti-NSA search engine that doesn’t track its users. It’s more than that, as its mobile app name suggests. On Android, it can serve as a news reader with customizable feeds drawing up on various subreddits and popular Web publications – it’s way better than the card-heavy Google Play Newsstand. It’s also a browser. URLs can be entered into the search box and they’ll go directly to that page if correct. You could do all your browsing from within the DuckDuckGo for Android app. Plus, there’s the option to use Orbot to connect the app to Tor for privacy.

If you want something futuristic: Link Bubble 

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The “HG” bubble can be tapped to open up Link Bubble, which contains some stories clicked from this Google search.

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The Link Bubble interface, inside the bubble. Drag the bubble to different parts of the screen to perform actions. DuckDuckGo home screen widget is in background.

Link Bubble isn’t a replacement for Chrome per se. It’ll still need Chrome or another browser as a fallback, but it’s really a leap beyond almost every other mobile Web experience for Android. Here’s how it works.

When you click a link anywhere, it’ll load in the background and then appear in a small bubble that is drawn over the screen (it lingers until you dismiss it using the notification tray). So say you’re in Google Search and you tap something. It loads in Link Bubble to the side, but you stay inside Google Search, uninterrupted. You can have many bubbles open at once (they’re basically like tabs). Link Bubble has a unique, fun UI for dragging the bubbles to the upper left to save to Pocket, to the upper right to share, and down to close.

Link Bubble is perfect reaction to the disruptive “click, wait for a blank page to load in a Web browser” behavior that characterizes most mobile linking and browsing. It takes some time to get used to, but it becomes a time saver.

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10 Basic Chrome OS “Apps” to Get You Started

Chrome OS has come on big in 2013, thanks to the proliferation of cheap but reliable machines from Samsung and Acer, as well as the meaningless (for now) glitz of the Chromebook Pixel. While some people may easily embrace Chrome OS’s continuous, Web-based model of computing, others may balk at a platform that has no native apps except for a browser and file manager.

Fortunately, Chrome OS still gives us the illusion of having discrete apps that can be docked and clicked to open their own webpages. Here’s a list of some easy-to-use apps to get started

Evernote

Recent hacks aside, Evernote is a reliable tool for storing or creating just about any type of content (text, photos, quotes, videos, screenshots). The Web-based version is fast and lightweight but still highly functional, making it a great counterpart to the native Evernote apps elsewhere.

New York Times

This “app” takes you the Chrome-optimized version of the NYT sight, which is far less-cluttered than its standard page. It also supports Chrome OS’s desktop notification system, which is handy for keeping track of breaking news.

Gmail Offline

Gmail can sometimes be slow, an issue further compounded by limited resources on many Chromebook models. Gmail Offline solves two main issues for Chromebooks: it lets you manage your email more quickly, and it gives your device some real (and rare) offline functionality.

NPR Infinite Player

Infinite, free, customizable listening to NPR stations.

PicMonkey

I’ve actually gotten GIMP to run (albeit painfully slowly) on my ARM Chromebook, but this is a solution much more suited to Chrome OS’s style. It allows for some light photo editing and sharing, with the option to upgrade for more sophisticated features. It also has a handy extension for detecting, capturing and editing images on the current page.

Google Play Music

This one actually comes bundled with Chrome OS. Its Web app is one of the easiest ways to listen to music online, and a must-have in lieu of a fully functional Spotify Web app. You can listen to any of the songs stored in your Google Play Music locker, or songs purchased from the Google Play Store.

TweetDeck

A Web app that runs in a native app-style standalone window, TweetDeck is the best way to use Twitter on Chrome OS. Luckily, it also seems to be getting even greater attention from Twitter now that the iOS, Android, and AIR version of TweetDeck are being retired.

Write Space

My favorite text editor for Chrome OS. White on black, simple, and fast.

IMO Messenger

No native IM apps? No problem! IMO lets you manage all your major IM accounts (AIM, Skype, Jabber, Google Talk) from its Web app.

Pandora

Perhaps a stretch, since this app is just a link to the usual Pandora website, but it’s free music (or paid, higher-quality music, if you have a subscription) nonetheless.

-The ScreenGrab Team

Twitter’s TweetDeck Tweaks a Validation for Chrome and Chrome OS

Quick entry, since the last one is a bit longer.

Twitter has announced that it will abandon the iPhone, Android, and Adobe AIR versions of TweetDeck, a powerhouse Twitter client that it acquired two years ago. It’ll also cease Facebook integration, which I find unsurprising given Facebook’s gradual decline. It’ll maintain the native Mac and PC apps, but it really wants to use its versions for Web and/or Chrome.

The focus on Chrome is interesting. TweetDeck for Chrome has gotten access to some features (like notifications) more quickly than other versions, and its sleek, almost Holo-esque column layout is seemingly made for Chrome’s aesthetic.  On Chrome OS, TweetDeck is indispensable: it maintains its beautiful Web aesthetic while also running in its own application window, a trait reserved almost exclusively for the Chrome OS Files app, which manages your downloads and Google Drive storage. Other than possibly Falcon Pro for Android, it’s the best Twitter experience I’ve had on any platform.

For Twitter power users and Chrome OS fans, there’s something validating about TweetDeck migrating to a largely Web-based existence. For one, it validates Chrome OS’s approach to software, that is, that software can serve most people’s needs by simply running from within a well-designed browser. But Twitter’s move here also demonstrates the subtle divide between mobile and desktop OSes – Twitter’s statement said:

“Over the past few years, we’ve seen a steady trend towards people using TweetDeck on their computers and Twitter on their mobile devices,”

meaning that native remains the way to go for mobile while Web is good enough for desktops. Chrome OS’s subtle blend of a Web Tweetdeck app that runs as in its own window as a pseudo native app really is a perfect distillation of how Chrome OS nimbly straddles the mobile/desktop OS boundary.

In any event, Twitter seems to be emphasizing that it is a platform and not an “app.” It’s been a rough go lately for 3rd-party Twitter apps, thanks to the new API rules that limit those apps to only 100,000 user tokens per version and now this scaling back of TweetDeck. The migration away from app-centric computing bodes well for Chrome OS, although I doubt that the native Twitter apps for iOS/Android are going away anytime soon.

-The ScreenGrab Team