Android Intelligence Advice

4 hidden settings to make Chrome for Android even better

Supercharge your smartphone's browser with these powerful yet out-of-sight options.

4 hidden settings to make Chrome for Android even better
Credit: JR Raphael

Google's Chrome for Android provides a commendable browsing experience out of the box -- but if you know where to look, you can unlock extra features that'll make it even more effective.

Your mobile browser is your gateway to the web, after all -- and whether you're doing important work-related research or, ahem, important work-related procrastination, you want to be as efficient as possible. These four settings are all about enhancing your productivity and eliminating annoyances that slow you down.

So what are you waiting for? Let's do this:

1. Give your address bar a time-saving trick

You probably already know you can use Chrome for Android's address bar to get instant answers on all sorts of things, ranging from equations to general knowledge. (If you didn't already know that, try it out: Type "34*67" or "What is the capital of Canada" into the bar at the top of your browser. The answers will appear immediately, and you'll never even have to hit enter.)

Chrome offers another useful address-bar trick for Android users, though -- one that is currently under development and thus requires a little digging to uncover.

And if you're anything like me, it'll prove to be an incredibly handy shortcut. You know all those times you copy a URL from somewhere and then have to go paste it into your browser? With this option enabled, anytime there's a web address in your system's clipboard, Chrome will automatically present it to you as a one-touch option the second the address bar comes into focus.

Chrome Android Settings: Address Bar jr

Not too shabby, right?

To activate the feature, you'll first need to be using the Chrome Beta version of the app. It's a separate download that gives you access to cutting-edge features before they hit the main release.

Got it? Good. Now, open up the app and type "chrome://flags" into the address bar. Tap the three-dot menu icon in the upper-right corner of the screen, select "Find in page," and then type "clipboard" into the box that appears. That should take you immediately to an item on the page called "Omnibox clipboard URL suggestions."

Tap the selection box below that item -- which should say "Default" to start -- and change it to "Enabled." Chrome will now prompt you to restart the browser in order to apply the changes.

And that's it! Copy a URL from anywhere on your phone, head over to Chrome, and watch the magic happen.

(As a general disclaimer, I should note that Chrome's flags section is intended only for expert users. It contains some items that could potentially cause the app to become unstable. In other words: If you see something there that you don't fully understand, don't mess with it -- capisce?)

2. Make the mobile web easier on the eyes

Look, I'm not gonna point any fingers (cough, cough), but reading on a mobile device isn't always the most pleasant experience. You've got overly cluttered pages, inconsistent fonts, and all sorts of environments that are anything but optimal for concentration.

The next time you encounter a page that's paining your pupils, try out Chrome's hidden tool for cleaning up the web. It's called Reader Mode, and it's been quietly under development for quite a while now.

If you've ever used a read-it-later app like Pocket, you'll be familiar with Reader Mode's M.O. The feature strips out any superfluous elements -- everything from buttons and bars to related-links boxes and even (sometimes, though not always) ads -- and gives an article a standardized style of formatting. The result is something that's often significantly easier on the eyes, if a bit more generic in appearance.

Chrome Android Settings: Reader Mode jr

To activate the option, type "chrome://flags" into your browser's address bar once more. (This one will work with both the Chrome Beta app and the regular Chrome app, so take your pick.) Tap the three-dot menu icon in the upper-right corner of the screen, select "Find in page," and then type "reader" into the box that appears.

See the item labeled "Reader Mode triggering"? Tap the selection box beneath it and try setting it to "With article structured markup." You can play around with the other settings, too, if you're so inclined -- but that's the one I've found to work most reliably without being overly aggressive.

Follow the prompt to restart Chrome, and the next time you're viewing a compatible article, you'll see a command to fire up Reader Mode at the bottom of your screen.

3. Let yourself zoom where you wanna zoom

It drives me crazy when I'm looking at a website from my phone and the site has a mobile-specific view that prevents me from pinching in to zoom. How 'bout letting me decide if I want something to be bigger, Mr. Web M. Aster?

Luckily, Chrome for Android has a way for us override a site's demands and take back control. Open up the browser's main settings and tap "Accessibility," then check the option called "Force enable zoom."

Cue the canned applause: You can now pinch to zoom wherever you want, whether the website technically supports it or not. Well done, sir and/or madam!

4. Shift your load time into overdrive

Everyone wants web pages to load faster, especially from a mobile device. Well, prepare to celebrate, 'cause Chrome has just the option to make it happen.

It's called Data Saver, and it remotely compresses and optimizes content as you load it. The result is pages loading faster and data usage being lower on your end of the deal -- two factors most of us will happily accept.

Google has a detailed description of how the system works, if you're interested, but in short, it uses the company's own proxy servers to handle all of your nonsecure (http) requests. The servers optimize any assets associated with a page and then fire 'em all back to your phone faster than you can say "Safari suckfest."

To try it out for yourself, go into Chrome's settings and look for the option labeled "Data Saver." Tap it, then activate the toggle at the top of the screen to turn it on. After the system's been running for a while, you can head back to that same place to see how much data it's saved for you.

And with that, give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. You've unlocked some of Chrome's most interesting hidden settings, and your mobile browsing experience will be meaningfully better as a result.

Craving even more Chrome knowledge? Click over to my in-depth feature, 12 time-saving tips for the Chrome Android browser, for tons of useful suggestions.

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