Hands-on Chrome beta for Mac

It's hard not to be impressed with the new Google Chrome beta for Mac, even though it still lacks some of the key features that are currently available in the Windows beta.

Google released the first beta build of its Chrome browser for Mac and Linux earlier today, and it's hard not to be impressed when putting the Mac version through its paces. Chrome for Mac still lacks some of the key features that are currently available in the Windows beta, but this is a browser that most people should feel comfortable using.

As expected, Chrome on the Mac is still far superior to Firefox and even its WebKit cousin Safari when it comes to JavaScript rendering. Using the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, Chrome came in 1.8 times faster than Firefox by scoring 738.8 milliseconds. Safari notched 1,155.8 ms, while Firefox 3.6 beta 4 completed it in 1,330 ms. This is semicasual testing, but it does provide a ballpark from which we can see the gross differences between the browser's JavaScript rendering capability.

Chrome for Mac also starts up fast, by which I mean the point from clicking the browser icon on the dock to when Google's search page has finished loading. On Chrome it took less than 2 seconds, while Firefox took slightly more than 2 seconds, and Safari was just less than 3 seconds.

Google Chrome beta on the Mac won't look new if you've been using the dev build. (Credit: Screenshot by Seth Rosenblatt/CNET)

Although Chrome's first non-beta for Macs is expected within the month, currently the beta doesn't have all the features of its Windows-based sibling. Most notably missing is extension support, which had been in the developer's build but was recently disabled. The timing of this is somewhat unfortunate, considering that Google just officially launched the Chrome extensions gallery. It also lacks bookmark syncing, the bookmark manager, and the cookie manager.

When firing up a site, Chrome will occasionally show nothing but white space until the page is finished loading. In several hours of hands-on use, this was the only experiential flaw encountered--although the beta could easily be hiding more.

Even with these drawbacks, Google Chrome beta makes for an excellent quick-use browser on the Mac, and can be more or less used with confidence on a regular basis, if not as a go-to browser.