Open up your smartphone web browser and the experience is probably pretty snappy if you have a new or reasonably new smartphone. Enter Google Go, a cut-down version of Google Search that is designed specifically for modest hardware and slow connections.
Considering the efforts that Google is going to enable the ‘next billion’ to connect to its online services, apps like Google Go are part of a growing collection of streamlined apps and services that tackle developing markets.
The bonus is that for most people these apps offer a cutdown experience that just works. It makes them great for people not confident with technology or new to smartphones — think your parents and grandparents. Google Go might be the perfect way to get elderly relatives on the web without them constantly seeking advice or help.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t a ‘browser’ as we’ve come to know them, it is, in reality, a lightweight replacement for the dedicated Google Search app. That doesn’t mean you can’t use it as rudimentary browser though — which we’re sure most people will probably use it for.
Originally, Google Go was launched in a few emerging markets and only available on Android Go handsets. Now it’s available globally, it might be the ideal uncluttered mobile browser for most people out there.
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Expect a stripped back experience from the get-go, this is by no means an app that has ‘everything at your fingertips’. Instead, Google Go is cut back to just get you browsing without any distractions.
Like many of the other dedicated apps that are designed for Android Go, the entire experience does feel like it would be best suited for more modest smartphone hardware where screen size and quality might not be quite as good.
I have to applaud the bottom search and address bar. Considering that phones have ballooned in size over the past four to five years, not having to stretch up to get into search is an absolute pleasure. It also has the ability to search directly with voice and even Google Lens right from this portion of the app — very clever in my opinion.
Once you search, your recent search history appears just above this lower search box. This might be a little frustrating if you don’t want to have to see all of your recent search terms every time you browse the web. At the side of this bar is a dedicated ‘Home’ button that will take you right back to your home screen from any page you visit.
There are some pre-configured navigation options right at the top once you launch. Those include direct links to the YouTube mobile web app — although this will launch the dedicated application if you have that installed. There are some familiar options too, including Lens, Voice Search, Discover, Images and Gifs, plus a direct link to your downloads section.
When I launched the preset ‘Apps’ section included links to Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia. You can install more web apps but this seems to fall over for me and won’t allow me to add more options from the mini-store. These simply launch into the mobile sites for each ‘app’ unless you have the dedicated app installed on your device.
Google Go relies heavily on web apps to give you the experience of certain sites and apps. Take for example the Twitter web app. This is great for phones where storage is at a premium, it also helps if you have a low data plan or even just spotty data connections.
This does mean that you might not get all of the features found on dedicated apps but you can still get the vast majority of the experience. For social media platforms, this is less of an issue than it ever has been, as the web apps tend to include all of the features seen on dedicated apps.
While I personally like the simple, streamlined look of the all-white interface, you can personalize your wallpaper within Google Go. You can set any image you wish as the backdrop for your main home interface. I find it a bit too much when I first load up the app. At the moment there is no dedicated dark mode, so, to an extent, you could simulate that with a black wallpaper.
Google Lens is baked right into Google Go, giving you the ability to translate or have words spoken aloud so that you can understand signs and notices for instance. This would no doubt be helpful to those that travel frequently and need quick, reasonably accurate translations. You can also set a second language for Search, which in nations where English is a second language, this might prove to be especially useful.
The read-out-loud function is spotty at best in my experience but having the ability to have Google Go read out portions of text, without ads is a really neat inclusion. It might prove especially useful for young children or those whom English is a second language. It’s even clever enough to not read out ads, which is just another bonus.
As this is a super lightweight browser, you can enable the data saving Lite Mode, which forces basic web pages to launch, rather than the full-featured versions. If you have a low data allowance, spotty service or poor data connection, this could prove invaluable.
This will obviously tie-in well with the in-built notifications that can notify you when search results are ready or web pages have loaded. In countries where cell coverage is still developing, I assume that this is a nice usability feature.
I’m not sure if that is part of the reason that tabbed browsing is not possible but that would make a lot of sense. If you want to be able to open multiple tabs at once on your smartphone, then you might want to look elsewhere for a streamlined web experience.
Coming from Chrome, I have to say that Google Go is just really refreshing. Not being able to open multiple tabs means you feel more focused on what you’re currently reading or viewing.
It definitely ensures that you stay within the app, rather than heading off elsewhere — provided you don’t have any dedicated apps installed — which we are sure many of you most definitely already do.
I will say that web pages load quickly, even on a weaker-than-average 3G connection. Being able to default to Lite webpages enhances load speed even further. The sites themselves can vary in quality and consistency but obviously, that is something that Google can’t dictate.
Being able to translate text right from Google Lens within the app is a really powerful tool that will be really useful to millions around the globe. I personally can’t see myself using it over the dedicated Lens app though.
One thing I did notice was that Google Go doesn’t actually stay open in the background of your device. Moving into the app switcher simply has the app disappear, meaning you need to find the icon and unless you have a page open. I’m not sure if this is an issue or a usability feature to ensure it runs smoothly on even the lowest-end hardware.
At just 7MB in total size, it’s impressive just how well Google Go runs, what it offers, and the entire experience. Although, unless you live in an area where high-end smartphones are less prominent or you have a relatively old or modest device, then I’d just stick with Chrome.
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