The new tab page built into Chrome (and soon, Firefox) is a nice touch, but it isn't incredibly customisable, nor is it particularly beautiful. If you're looking for something a little beyond what your browser's default start page has to offer, here are our favourite extensions and services that add a bit of extra functionality and pizzazz to your new tabs.
Title image remixed from an original by cobalt88.
We're going to go over both browser extensions and online services, since you can find start pages in both flavours. While browser extensions offer better integration -- e.g. the ability to choose whether you open links in a new tab or the current tab -- web services are cross-platform, and often offer syncing so you can get your start page on multiple machines. Here are our picks for the best in each category.
Chrome has a number of different new tab pages, most of which are based off the original Speed Dial extension for Chrome, with slightly different features. Our favourite is Speed Dial 2, which takes what was so great about the original Speed Dial and added tons of new configuration options.
The Best: Speed Dial 2
Speed Dial 2, on the surface, looks like a very basic start page. It's just a blank page on which you can add thumbnails to your favourite sites, complete with built-in logos for some of the most popular pages. If a page doesn't have a logo, it'll show a preview of the page, but you can always add your own logos if you want (though you'll have to upload them somewhere first). Mousing over to the right side of the page shows your Chrome bookmarks and recently closed tabs.
Where Speed Dial 2 really shines is its options. It has more than you'll probably even know what to do with, letting you customise every pixel of your speed dial page. From the number of columns to the dial spacing to the background, rounded corners of the thumbnail, and tons of other options, there is no shortage of ways to make your page look exactly how you want it to.
If you want a few more features and are willing to sacrifice looks -- or at least work very hard to get them looking as good -- here are our other favourites for Chrome.
Speed Dial (the original) doesn't offer a ton over Speed Dial 2, though it looks just as pretty. If all you want is something simple, it's a good option, plus it lets you see your bookmarks and recently closed tabs on the main speed dial page, rather than in the (sometimes annoying) sidebar that Speed Dial 2 has. This is easily our second favourite of the bunch.
EverTab is a new extension that offers a lot of customisation, a slightly different look, and one big feature missing from the others: the ability to access Chrome's internal pages. That means you can access your extensions, apps, history, flags and other Chrome settings pages right from your new tab page, which is incredibly awesome. It may not be quite as pretty as Speed Dial and Speed Dial 2 out of the box, but that feature alone makes it worth trying out.
Start! is a lesser known extension that performs many of the same functions as the other new tab pages. You can add a ton of thumbnails to your main page, access your Chrome apps, and specify a custom background image (though it'll automatically pick one from Flickr if you don't). What separates Start from the others is the ability to add your favourite RSS feeds to the bottom of the page, which is pretty nice. Again, it doesn't necessarily look as pretty out of the box, but it can look pretty good if you're willing to put a bit of work into it.
Lastly, if you're a fan of Windows' Metro UI, Awesome New Tab Page adds it to your start page, letting you configure shortcuts and add other widgets, like notes, a clock, the weather and more. It's in developer preview right now, but if you want a bit more than just shortcuts out of your new tab page, it's a really awesome (if slightly complicated) alternative.
Firefox users don't have quite as amazing a selection as Chrome users, but its still chock full of new tab extensions for you to try out. Our favourite is FVD Speed Dial, which provides both great looks and a ton of features.
The Best: FVD Speed Dial
FVD Speed Dial is what you make of it. You can add new shortcuts and let them load previews of their sites, or give them custom logos to make the start page really pop. It also has built-in logos for popular sites, and while the list of sites isn't huge, you can choose from a ton of different thumbnails for each site, meaning you can make some pretty snazzy looking pages.
It also has a ton of options for how the page works, letting you add or remove a search bar, a "most visited" page, recently closed tabs, not to mention choose a background and customise the colour of everything you see. It isn't quite as simple to use as its Chrome brethren, but with a bit of fiddling, you have the potential to make a pretty awesome looking page that behaves exactly like you want it to.
New Tab King is one of Firefox's most popular start page extensions, offering a few extra views, not to mention a collapsible sidebar that contains your recently closed tabs, other bookmarked sites, and even a to-do list. Its only downside is that it isn't very pretty -- at least not out of the box -- and it's kind of hard to use. But, it does have a lot of options, so as long as you're willing to dig, you can do quite a bit with it.
Super Start has also become very popular on Firefox, and offers a happy medium between some of the features New Tab King adds without sacrificing looks. Essentially, it's your traditional thumbnail-based start page, but with a nice to-do list sidebar on the right (which you can use for other notes, or anything else you want). It also offers handy little buttons for recent tabs and bookmarks.
Lastly, Fast Dial is about as dead simple as it gets. You have a completely blank page with nine big thumbnails, which you can assign to your favourite sites, give big logos to, and give the whole page a theme to bring it together. You can find a lot of user-created themes and logos for Fast Dial over at userlogos.org.
These start pages aren't extensions, but instead websites you visit or pages you store on your local machine. They should work with any browser (whether it be Firefox, Chrome, or something else).
The Best: Myfav.es
Myfav.es, while it doesn't have some of the browser-integrated features that the above extensions have, is a gorgeous-looking page with a bunch of options that make your start page your own. It's so well put together that it's actually hard to make an ugly page -- which is why its so great for those that don't want to spend hours on something just to make it look good. It has a ton of built-in sites that you can add to your page in one click, not to mention a huge list of custom icons for any pages that aren't already in its database. It also comes with a number of backgrounds, as well as the ability to create an account and sync your start page over to all your other machines -- which is a godsend if you have more than one computer.
Symbaloo is very similar to Myfav.es, though it's a bit more geared toward making pages with lots of different tiles. You can customise the tiles however you want, though the kicker is that each time someone creates a tile, they can share it with the community -- which means that you probably won't have to make that many yourself (unless you have a very specific look you're going for).
Eight is a previously featured start page based around Windows' Metro UI. It's very simple, but quite beautiful. You'll have to make it yourself by downloading images and tweaking the HTML, but if you aren't afraid to mess with some very basic code, you can create a pretty great start page in just a few minutes, that you store on your home machine.
Of course, if you're able to dig through code, you can always just make your own. It isn't that hard to do, especially if you search around DeviantART and find a pre-made one from which you can build your own ideas. It takes a lot more work, but can be literally anything you want it to be.
Obviously, we couldn't cover every single start page out there, since there are just so many -- heck, we didn't even get to touch on awesome news feed-based start pages like Netvibes. But, if all you're looking for is a prettier, more customisable alternative to Chrome and Firefox's default start pages, you should be able to find something perfect for you with one of the above options. Got a start page extension or service you love, but that we didn't mention? Let us know about it in the comments.