Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
Let’s face it – Google is awesome. If you’re like me, you use it for everything – emailing, scheduling, file storage, navigation, apps, your browser (Chrome), etc. But there’s one major problem – how do you easily access those apps and services? Google’s solution is a black bar across the screen. I’m not really a big fan of that, plus I can’t customize it. So what’s a better solution? How about one button for all the Google services?
You might be familiar with Shortcuts for Google (which we actually haven’t covered, yet), which is a similar extension that includes links in the form of icons to Google’s services. Black Menu has a bit more functionality. So if you like Shortcuts for Google (by the same developer), you’re going to love what Black Menu has to offer.
About The Developer
The mastermind behind Black Menu and two other Chrome extensions is Carlos Jeurissen, a student and talented developer. He’s active on Google+ and has created Google+ Pages for all his Chrome extensions [no longer available] for you to connect with other users and find out about updates.
You might think that he’s just obsessed with Google+, and you may be right, but it also says that he’s interested in those who use his products, and wants to help and connect with them. If you want to contact him, his email address is visible on his Google+ profile [no longer available].
The Search tab allows you to access your desired search query from any page. As of now, only the Web results are accessible within the Black Menu extension. By clicking any of the other links, like Images or Books you will be taken to the physical search page. It’s also important to note that there are a lot of search pages available via the More dropdown menu to narrow down your search.
Referring to the first image in this section, you’ll also see that by hovering over Links there are two other available options: Trends and Custom Search.
The second menu item is Google+, where you can view notifications and even share directly to Google+ without leaving the webpage you’re on.
At the bottom there’s an expandable menu called Links and Search Filters which includes exterior links to Google+ Communities, Local, Pages, Photos, Games and more.
Yet another excellent Google service integrated into Black Menu, making it accessible from wherever you are on the Web. From here you can translate into lots of languages, but of course that’s not all. There’s a button to easily swap languages and even view the history of previous searches and translations that you’ve starred to save for later.
At the bottom there’s an expandable menu providing links to Google’s Translation Toolkit and Transliteration.
There are other good Google Maps Chrome extensions, including, but that’s all it is. Black Menu integrates Google Maps along with all of Google’s other services. And along with that allows you to view traffic patterns, view terrain in Map view and show/hide labels in Satellite view. You can’t get directions within Black Menu, yet, but there are To here and From here links that will open Google Maps in a new tab.
The extendable menu at the bottom includes several other awesome Google Maps features that you may not have even known about, including Latitude, Mapmaker, Local, Sky, Moon and Mars.
There isn’t much integration of the Play Store in Black Menu, but what it does have is quick access to a lot of links, some store-specific and others for easy access to your own content, whether it be My Books, My Devices, My Music or anything else.
The YouTube integration is quite impressive. You’re able to search and view results in Black Menu, plus play the videos.
The extendable menu at the bottom has a lot of YouTube links too that make it very easy to get where you want to go. You may even find yourself using this for YouTube more than the YouTube site itself.
Google News/Google Reader
Why is this section combined? It’s actually pretty impressive – there’s an option to switch between the two. When you hover over the menu item, you will see two horizontal arrows parallel to each other. When you click them, you can switch from News to Reader and vice versa.
In News, you have the ability to search for a specific story or topic, or by category. The expandable menu at the bottom includes external links to News Archive and Google Reader.
That said, you probably don’t even care about Google Reader at this point because it’s pretty pointless, since you probably already have or are in the process of moving to a new service. Such a shame.
The integration of Gmail into Black Menu was pleasantly surprising. Not only is your inbox viewable, but you can respond to emails directly from the extension. You can also refresh the view, search for emails, sort by label and change the Inbox view.
Of course there are a lot of Gmail functions, many of which would probably be unrealistic to ask to have in a single extension. Because of this, the developer included a lot of pages, including Google Contacts, under the Links and Search Filters expandable menu at the bottom.
The Google Drive menu doesn’t disappoint either. It features a search box, two drop down menus to sort file locations and file types, buttons to upload and create new files, and an expandable menu with exterior links such as Offline Files.
NOTE: You will have to authorize Black Menu access to Google Drive before using it.
The Calendar menu sports a search box, monthly calendar with a button to create new events, a list of the selected day’s events and an expandable Google Tasks section at the bottom with the ability to sort, create new tasks and lists and remove them as well.
The Interface & Other Services
You’ll quickly see that Black Menu’s interface is very clean and easy to navigate through. You can access the menu items simply by hovering over them. If you do click on them, a tab will load as well, so it also functions as a shortcut. As of now, these options are not customizable, meaning that you can’t move/hide them, but hopefully that will change in the future.
The integration of many popular services was very impressive – specifically Gmail, Google Drive and… actually just all of them. Of course not all of Google’s services are integrated into Black Menu, but I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a Google service that isn’t included under the More section.
There are a few services which aren’t yet integrated that I’m really hoping will be, such as Analytics, Google Voice and Blogger. I imagine that the developer has many more ideas that he plans on including in the future.
NOTE: You might notice that the is a slight difference between the Google services links and the bottom two items when on the More menu item. The bottom two, About and Settings are options that open within the extension, whereas the others are external links.
There aren’t a lot of settings or customizable options, but quite a few (not all) of the menu items have some form of customizability, some of which have experimental options under the expandable menu at the bottom.
Like the menu options on the “home” view of the extension, the Settings menu options can be viewed simply by hovering over them, although clicking on them won’t take you anywhere in this case. I encourage you to scan through these and customize it to your liking.
Download Black Menu
Having Black Menu in your browser is, without a doubt, an advantage if you’re one who relies on Google for all or most of their tools. We highly recommend it, as we feel it is one of the best Chrome extensions.
What do you think of Black Menu? Do you use it? If so, what is your favorite feature? Do have any suggestions for the developer? If you don’t use it yet, do you feel this would help you be more productive in Chrome? Share your thoughts below.
Image Credit: Black Menu Logo