Google Chrome has been my browser of choice for a while now. I like it because it’s fast, and it feels lean (at least until I look at its memory footprint). Unlike most of my applications, Chrome doesn’t make me feel like I need to customize the heck out of it to make it usable.
Still, a recent stroll through the Chrome Web Store revealed an interesting trend. There are more than a few add-ons that don’t add new functionality to Chrome, but instead replace parts of the browser with substitutes that are supposed to be better. Are they really better than the default? Let’s examine three and find out.
Speed Dial 2
Chrome’s default New Tab page keeps getting better; it recently got a selector along the bottom, for switching between apps and most visited. The default looks like this (for me):
Pretty fetching, I think. Still, Speed Dial 2 claims it can do much better. Let’s see what it looks like, once installed:
This is a close-up; the whole new tab page looks like this:
The section you see on the right (bookmarks and recently closed tabs) only appears when you mouse over it. One thing that’s really striking about Speed Dial 2 is the sheer amount of options you get:
This is just an example out of a single tab in the options page. There are dozens of different settings; it can even follow your habits and highlight the sites you’re most likely to visit according to time of day (i.e, open a New Tab page in the afternoon, and it highlights MakeUseOf because you usually go there in the afternoon). That’s a tad on the creepy side, perhaps, but it’s off by default.
Another cool thing about Speed Dial 2 is that it lets you view the Chrome Apps you’ve got installed alongside your most frequently visited sites, and it’s quite slick about it, too:
So, at the top you see my Apps, and at the bottom you see a bookmark. You can also change the sizes, if you prefer the App icons to be larger.
Last but not least, Speed Dial 2 exposes some very cool browsing statistics, as pie charts of the sites you visit the most, and those you visit the most via speed dial.
Final verdict: If you like to fiddle, Speed Dial 2 certainly offers a huge number of options, definitely far more than what Chrome offers by default. With a bit of patience, you can make it into a truly unique and inviting start page.
Chrome’s default history tab looks like this:
And it also lets you do a full-text on pages you’ve visited:
Quite nice, on its own. What can Better History offer that would actually be better?
Ooh, now that’s pretty slick. It does look better, and ironically, it meshes better with the style used for Chrome’s settings page:
That’s Chrome’s built-in settings, just for comparison. I love how the developer took the UI and made it his own – Better History feels more integrated with Chrome than Chrome’s own history view, quite an achievement.
Now, in terms of options, it doesn’t offer quite so many tweaks:
So you get to clear the history, control how visits are grouped, or leave feedback. Not very exciting. but I’m not sure what else you would need. Visit grouping is handy, and looks like this:
So if you know you visited some website around 8pm yesterday, you can quickly zoom in on the time and look just at that slice. Also, note the handy Expand button. If you visited more than one page on a given website, all pages are grouped together, so you get the larger view of where you visited, and can drill down to specific pages as you need.
Search is the only part where Better History actually seems worse than Chrome’s own built-in history viewer. You can only search page titles, URLs, and dates. So searching for “Chrome” brought up completely different results than the search I’ve shown above:
Final verdict: Better History is not entirely better (search is actually a bit worse), but for most things, it is actually better. Nicer visual integration, and great grouping functionality. Definitely something the Chrome developers could learn from.
Sexy Undo Close Tab
“Seriously now?” – that was my first thought when I glimpsed the name Sexy Undo Close Tab. By default, re-opening a tab you just closed takes only a quick tap of Ctrl+Shift+T. I do it almost reflexively, I don’t even have to think about it. What could possibly be made better here?
Sexy Undo Close Tab comes as a button, along with a live search feature. As could be expected, it also has an options page bursting with settings:
While not all options are eloquently named (“amount of closed tabs number thing“?), they are quite plentiful. The most useful ones are the new keyboard shortcut (off by default): Ctrl+Z. That’s a traditional Undo keystroke, and it actually makes a lot of sense in the context of re-opening a closed tab. It handles text editing areas intelligently – when you hit Ctrl+Z while editing a Gmail message, it still undoes your typing (rather than reopen a closed tab).
Another thing I like about Sexy Undo Close Tab is that it remembers closed tabs between sessions, and thus serves as a sort of a history viewer. Handy.
Final Verdict: Not necessarily better than the default, but certainly different! I wish it had a keyboard shortcut for popping open the list of recently closed tabs – that would definitely make it better than the default.
So what add-ons did I miss? Remember, I am looking for ones that replace default Chrome functionality with something that is better (or at least, is supposed to be better). Let me know in the comments!