Secret Chrome hacks you must try today

Wayne Williams

10 May, 2018

Hidden deep inside Google Chrome are a vast number of secret, experimental options, or ‘flags’. These are features that are in the testing phase and might make it into the browser in due course, or might equally be removed at any time. They are to be found on Chrome’s Experiments page which you can access by typing chrome:flags (or about:flags) into the address bar and pressing Enter – this was recently redesigned to make it easier to browse and search.

Be warned that although enabling some of these features may improve your browsing experience, their experimental nature means that could also ruin it, so you should only enable features you fully understand. As Google itself warns: “By enabling these features, you could lose browser data or compromise your security or privacy. Enabled features apply to all users of this browser.”

Once you’ve enabled some flags, you’ll need to relaunch the browser for them to take effect. The option to do so will appear at the bottom of the flags window.

Give Chrome a Material Design makeover

Material Design is a visual language which, in Google’s own words, “synthesises the classic principles of good design with the innovation and possibility of technology and science”, to make pages look more modern and text more readable. It is now used throughout Google’s products and services, but not everywhere just yet. The Experiments page hosts a number of Material Design flags, which you can enable to improve the look of the browser. These include: ‘Material Design in the rest of the browser’s native UI’, ‘New style notification’ and ‘Material Design Incognito NTP’ (which applies the look to your private browsing), and are worth applying to make Chrome feel fresher.

As of Chrome 64, Material Design will be applied to the browser’s Bookmark manager by default – turn to page 32 to find out more.

Close Chrome tabs more quickly

If you tend to have a lot of tabs open when you browse, you may have noticed that closing unwanted ones takes a little time. To fix this problem, Chrome offers a handy flag that speeds up tab closing by hiding the unwanted tab immediately, and then closing it in the background. To find this option, type ‘fast’ into the flags search box, and enable the ‘Fast tab/window close’ flag. After restarting, you should notice that tabs no longer hang when you click to close them.

Scroll web pages more smoothly

Scrolling down long pages can sometimes get a bit rough, and sluggish, especially if you have a lot of tabs open in your browser. Google has an experiment that fixes this issue, and it’s called, naturally enough, Smooth Scrolling. Type ‘smooth’ into the flags’ search box and enable the Smooth Scrolling option.

Mute noisy tabs with a single click

Sites that play audio or video without your express permission are among the biggest annoyances on the web. If you open a bunch of sites in tabs, and one of them turns out to be noisy, you can identify it quite quickly thanks to the speaker indicator that appears on the offending tab. Google offers a flag that turns this indicator into a button that can instantly mute that site when clicked. It also adds commands to the tab right-click context menu that will let you quickly mute multiple selected tabs. To enable this flag, type ‘audio’ into the search box and enable ‘Tab audio muting UI control’.

Generate and manage passwords

Chrome has a lot of password-related flags, some of which are definitely worth enabling. ‘Password generation’ leaps into life when Chrome detects that you are creating an account on a website, and generates a secure password for you. ‘Manual password generation’ shows a Generate Password option on the right-click context menu for all password fields, while ‘Manual password saving’ shows the password-manager icon when you type in a password. If you click this icon, Chrome will save the password, without you needing to actually log-in to the site in question.

Reload web pages automatically

If you lose your internet connection when browsing the web, or move from one hotspot to
another, Chrome can automatically reload open tabs once it detects you’re back online. There are actually two similar flags for this. Type offline into the flags search box and you’ll see ‘Offline Auto-Reload Mode’, which auto-reloads pages that failed to load while the browser was offline, and ‘Only Auto-Reload Visible Tabs’ which will auto-reload pages that failed to load even though their tabs were visible.

Flip Chrome’s interface around

An interesting – if not essential – hidden feature is the ability to switch Chrome’s browser interface from left to right to right to left. This will move buttons that usually appear on the right side to the left, and vice versa. So the back and forward buttons and refresh will move to the right of the address bar, and the menu and any extensions will appear on the left. This option could prove useful for left-handed Chrome users, or for anyone who fancies a change. There’s also the option to have your text direction switch to right to left, if you’re so inclined. To try these flags, type ‘direction’ in the search box.

Make mobile web pages easier to read

Reader Mode is a great feature in the mobile version of Chrome for Android. When enabled, it removes adverts and unwanted distractions from the page, making it easier to focus on the text. The ‘Reader Mode triggering’ flag lets you choose when the Reader Mode option appears. In the Experiments page of the Chrome app, search for ‘reader’ and click the drop-down menu next to ‘Reader Mode triggering’. Options include ‘With article structured markup’, ‘Non-mobile- friendly articles’, Always, Never, and ‘All articles’.

Stop background tabs wasting memory

All browsers – not just Chrome – tend to be memory hogs. The more tabs you have open, the more RAM they’ll consume. Chrome has an experimental feature that discards tabs from memory when it detects your system memory is running low, thereby freeing up important resources and preventing the browser, and possibly other software, from crashing. The tabs don’t get closed – they’ll still appear on the browser and will be reloaded when you click them. If your PC doesn’t has a massive amount of memory then this experiment is definitely worth enabling. Type discarding into the flags search box, and enable it there.

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