Mobility

4 alternatives to the Chrome browser on Chrome OS

Now that even more Chromebooks support Android apps, Jack Wallen takes a look at the available browsers to see how they stack up against for the default Chrome browser.

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Image: Jack Wallen

This might seem like a question that doesn't even need to be asked. However, now that more and more Chromebooks are gaining the addition of Android apps, it begs the question: Is there a better browser in the Android app store?

After all, some of those browsers do a fine job on Android. "Fine" being the operative word. Of course, anyone that uses Android will tell you that besting Chrome on the platform is a big challenge. There are some browsers on that ecosystem that do offer features that appeal to certain levels of users.

But do they best the native browser? Some come close, but Chrome on the native Android platform is hard to beat.

What happens when you migrate that over to Chrome OS? Does it translate? Do those browsers that have found a modicum of popularity on Android make the migration to Chrome OS? I installed a few of the more popular titles on my Chrome Pixel 2 to find out. Let's see how they stack up.

Firefox

I enjoy Firefox on the desktop platform. On Android it does stand up fairly well against Chrome. Firefox has always rendered well (and with competitive speed) and never feels unstable. The only thing keeping me from using Firefox as my daily Android driver is that it doesn't sync nearly as well across other platforms as Chrome.

But how does it stand up on the Chrome OS platform?

Not very well.

First and foremost, if your device doesn't have a touchscreen, forget it. Firefox on Chrome OS (Figure A) only works with the touchscreen. Your trackpad is useless with this browser.

Figure A

Figure A

Firefox on Chrome OS.

The next strike against Firefox on Chrome OS is that you only have two sizes: Small and fully maximized. Granted most of the time you'd be using the browser maximized, but sometimes you want to snap a window to the left or the right side of the screen and work with one app on one side of your display and another on the other. Not so with Firefox.

So the combination of touch screen only and inability to freely resize the app disqualify Firefox for me.

Opera Mini

I've often considered Opera Mini (Figure B) to be one of the best replacements for the native Chrome browser on Android. It renders with lightning speed, offers plenty of plugins and is a configurator's dream come true. With a built-in ad blocker, you have everything you need to make this a default browser that will serve you incredibly well.

Figure B

Figure B

Opera Mini on Chrome OS.

But does it make the transition from Android to Chrome OS? In a word, mostly. Opera Mini does a great job of rendering like a pro, works with your trackpad, and feels as stable as the built in Chrome. There are only two caveats with Opera Mini. The first (in similar fashion to Firefox) is that you cannot freely resize the window. The second is that it doesn't offer all the bells and whistles of the desktop iteration. However, you can opt for Mini's big sister, Opera Browser and get a few more features (such as App layout selector and syncing). However, even using the fuller version, you still don't get the sidebars and other extras found on the desktop version.

The quick conclusion for Opera Mini is that it does a serviceable job standing in for Chrome on Chrome OS, but doesn't call out for you to make the permanent switch.

Dolphin Browser

Check out just about any "best of" alternative Android browsers list and you will find Dolphin Browser near the top. With good reason. Dolphin offers theming, flash support, ad blocking, gesture support, add on support, and more.

On Chrome OS, Dolphin works quite well. Running the browser on Chrome OS doesn't strip away any of the features that have made the browser popular and the app works flawlessly. Dolphin renders exactly as you would expect (Figure C) and does so quickly.

Figure C

Figure C

Dolphin Browser running on Chrome OS.

Dolphin Browser also offers the ability to sync across devices. This feature is a bit hidden (because it is found under Tab Push); but once you connect Dolphin to either Google or a Dolphin account, your tabs, bookmarks, and more can be synced across platforms.

Like the previous two entries, the one caveat to Dolphin is its inability to be resized. But considering this is the only issue I encountered with Dolphin Browser on Chrome OS, I feel fairly confident in saying that this particular take on the mobile browser is an outstanding alternative to the default Chrome.

Ghostery Browser

If you're looking for one of the best browsers for privacy, you might be familiar with Ghostery's Firefox and Chrome plugins. But did you know the developers rolled those features into a full-fledged browser? Ghostery might well be the browser you want, if you're looking for serious anonymity while browsing. This particular browser goes out of its way to block 3rd-party access to your data through trackers. Ghostery has a massive tracker database (with over 2,200 trackers and 4,500 scripts) and allows you to instantly clear all cookies and other saved data.

The biggest caveat to using Ghostery is that it a fairly bare-bones browser (Figure D). You won't find a lot in the way of features and, thanks to its tracker blocking, Ghostery does noticeably slow down the page loading. So if you're a fan of speed and features, Ghostery isn't the browser for you. If, on the other hand, you like your privacy, you'd do well by this browser on Chrome OS.

Figure D

Figure D

Ghostery running on Chrome OS.

What about the rest?

There are other browsers to be found on the Android Play Store on Chrome OS. However, the rest either do not function properly on Chrome OS or offer nothing that would warrant even bothering to install. The four browsers listed do function well and offer features you might find appealing (or even necessary).

Of course, in order to install any of the above browsers, you will have to have a supported Chromebook and have the Android Play Store enabled. Once you've met those requirements, you can test these browsers on your own to see if they meet your mobile browsing needs.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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