Give Chrome for Android an ultra-modern makeover

Google is slowly but surely bringing a whole new look to Android, Chrome OS, and all of its apps and services (hi, Gmail!). Part of that shift is strictly aesthetic, thanks to the implementation of the newly updated Material Design standards. And part of it is functional, with elements like the new gesture-driven Overview interface in Android P.

One app that has yet to receive much fresh paint, however, is an app many of us use more than any other: Chrome for Android. Google’s trusty mobile browser has looked relatively constant for some time now. But signs suggest that’s about to change.

And the coolest part: You can get a taste of the future right now — no waiting required. All it takes is a few minutes to get the current incarnation of Google’s modern Chrome makeover on your very own phone. The revamp is both aesthetic and functional and even brings a taste of that aforementioned Android P Overview concept into the browser.

Best of all? Your regular phone browser won’t be affected in any way, so there’s practically no risk involved.

Here’s all you’ve gotta do.

1. Download the Chrome Canary app for Android

Chrome Canary is the experimental, cutting-edge version of Chrome — one that showcases still-heavily-under-development features and is intended only for advanced users.

So be aware that it may not be the best choice for your permanent, default browser, as you might run into occasional hiccups or things that don’t work the way they should. That being said, it’s a totally separate app from the regular Chrome browser, so having it on your phone and checking it out (or even using it as your main browser for a while) certainly isn’t going to hurt anything.

Install the app from the Play Store, fire it up, and then get ready to go under the hood.

2. Enable some design-related flags

Brace yourself: As if going with the Canary version of Chrome weren’t wild enough, we’re also gonna mess around with some of its flags — hidden advanced settings intended only for developers and power users. Yes, oh yes, we’re livin’ on the edge today, my dear friend.

In general, you shouldn’t mess around with Chrome’s flags unless you really know what you’re doing, as they can do all sorts of weird things to the way your browser works. The flags we’re activating here, though, are fairly innocuous — and this isn’t even your phone’s primary browser, anyway. Follow these instructions carefully, and you’ll be fine.

First, open up the Chrome Canary app and type chrome:flags into its address bar. You should see a big, scary warning followed by a bunch of mumbo-jumbo. That’s the right place!

Look for the search box at the top and do the following:

  • Start typing Chrome Modern Design into the search box. When you see that item appear, tap the box below it and change the setting to “Enabled.” That’ll give the browser an updated visual appearance, with rounded corners on various elements and a more white (as opposed to gray) theme.
  • Start typing Modern NTP Layout into the search box. When you see that item appear, tap the box below it and change the setting to “Enabled.” That’ll update Chrome’s New Tab page to match the modern design we just flipped on with the last item.
  • Start typing Material Design Incognito NTP into the search box. When you see that item appear, tap the box below it and change the setting to “Enabled.” Yup, you guessed it (my, you’re astute!): That’ll bring the same refreshed appearance to the incognito version of the New Tab page.
  • Start typing Show article suggestions expandable header on New Tab Page into the search box. When you see that item appear, tap the box below it and change the setting to “Enabled.” This one’s a minor tweak, but it gives you the ability to hide the suggested articles on Chrome’s New Tab page — so if you’d rather not have news stories pushed in your face all the time, you don’t have to (but they’ll still be a tap away if you ever do want them).
  • Start typing Enable horizontal tab switcher into the search box. When you see that item appear, tap the box below it and change the setting to “Enabled.” That’ll give you an Android P Overview-like interface whenever you view all of your open Chrome tabs (either by swiping down from the top of the screen or by tapping the box showing the current number of open tabs in the app’s top-right corner).
  • Finally, start typing Enable custom context menu into the search box. When you see that item appear, tap the box below it and change the setting to “Enabled.” That’ll reimagine the context menu — the series of options that appears whenever you press and hold an image or a link on a web page — to make it much more modern-looking and consistent with the rest of the new design.

Got all that? Good. We’re almost done.

3. Restart Chrome twice — then check out all the changes

After you’ve finished activating that final flag, look for the blue “Relaunch Now” button at the bottom of the screen and tap it. The app will then shut down and restart. You’ll need to manually force it to restart once more for all the changes to take place, so tap your Overview key (the square-shaped button alongside Home and Back in current Android versions — or a swipe up on the Home key if you’re using the Android P beta). Next, swipe Chrome Canary out of your list of recent apps, then find the Chrome Canary icon in your app drawer and open it.

And there you have it: the shiny new and ultra-modern Chrome Android browser, at your fingertips. Visual updates aside, the new tab overview interface is especially interesting, as it really does mirror the model introduced with Android P’s Overview setup. See?

Chrome Android Tabs, Android P Overview

Paging M.C. Escher…

The swiping gestures seem especially well-suited for that area, too, particularly if you swipe down from the top of a tab to get there — as you can then just keep swiping downward to push your current tab off the screen and out of your life.

Chrome Android Tabs SwipeJR

Swipe and just keep on swipin’ to say so long to a tab.

Also of note: The centered tab will always be a live view, meaning any changes on that website (via animations, videos, or whatever) will show up in the preview as if you had the page fully open. Pretty neat, right?

Just remember: This is the Chrome Canary app, so any of this stuff could evolve or even stop working anytime. For the moment, though, it really is a refreshing change — and one that, if you’re anything like me, you won’t want to stop using.

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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]

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