Google updated Chrome for Windows this week, enhancing the browser’s user experience with a flat, Metro-like Material Design look and feel, improved support for increasingly-common high-DPI displays, and better battery life. It’s almost like they’ve read my mind.
I’m a dedicated Chrome user, a fact that was only driven home by my recent month-long foray into using Microsoft Edge on Windows 10 version 1607: Despite having some great functionality and making many gains in this recent release, Edge still remains a highly-frustrating experience that simply does not meet my needs overall.
(Yes, browsers like Firefox and even Opera, which now uses Chrome’s rendering engine, have their proponents as well. No need to start a debate over which browser you prefer. I use Chrome, and this is about Chrome.)
The three big improvements that Google made to Chrome 53, which is the latest version, perhaps not-coincidentally address the three big issues I actually do have with this browser. So I’m curious to see whether these changes put to rest any remaining misgivings I may have.
So far so good.
Google has spread Material design from its own platforms—Android especially, but also Chrome OS—to its mobile apps on other platforms (i.e. iOS) and now to Chrome for Windows (and Mac and Linux, but who cares about those). I like Material Design quite a bit, and if you were a fan of Microsoft’s Metro, you can and should view it as that design language’s successor. In fact, Material Design is even cleaner and more consistent than Metro ever was, and Google has proven that it scales well visually, meaning it looks at home on larger displays and on diverse platforms.
In Chrome for Windows, however, Material Design has been applied subtly, perhaps even too subtly, and we don’t see any of the bold, opaque colors or layering that is common to Material Design implementations elsewhere. This is probably—sorry—by design, so that the browser doesn’t overwhelm the content you’re trying to view. But considering the popularity of browser customization, and Chrome’s support of themes, I’m a bit surprised that we don’t get more than just flatter-looking tabs and other UI elements. (Even Chrome for Android and iOS isn’t at all colorful, however, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m sure it’s purposeful.)
Still, it’s improvement. If you compare the the new, Material Design-based Chrome 53 UI with that of its predecessors, you’ll see that the new version is cleaner. The tabs are also bigger, which works better on touch-enabled devices like Surface Book.
That latter bit may be a static design change, but it could also be caused by Chrome 53’s improved support for high DPI displays. This has been a stumbling block for Chrome users for a few years now, and it’s one of the big things that Microsoft got right with Edge: Web pages tend to look really nice on both browsers on high DPI displays, but to date the Chrome UI has not scaled well at all.
And to be fair, much of the UI still doesn’t scale well in Chrome 53: The drop-down system menu still doesn’t scale at all, and it’s not touch-friendly in the slightest on any display type. But tabs are obviously the big pain point, so this is a step in the right direction no matter how it was achieved.
I’ll need to take a wait-and-see approach to the third big improvement, battery life. As you must have heard, Microsoft has been hammering Chrome especially hard lately because Edge achieves dramatically better battery life. And with the release of the Anniversary Update, the Edge battery life advantage has only improved.
So Chrome 53 promises better battery life. And while I don’t expect Google to magically close in on the stellar results we see with Edge any time soon, hopefully this is a real world improvement. Certainly, it could only get better.
There are other improvements in Chrome 53—Google Cast is included now, and Google is starting its long goodbye to Flash—but it’s interesting to me that this one release seems to address, or at least partially address, the few issues I really do have with the browser. Hopefully, the improvements—especially to battery life—continue.