Chrome's new tab page doesn't have much going on for it by default. A few commonly visited sites, shortcuts to your apps, and that's about it. You don't have to be stuck with it though; there are a lot of great Chrome apps and extensions that make each new tab page much more useful. Let's take a look at a few of them.
There's nothing wrong with "about:blank" if you just want to open a new tab quickly, but with the right app to spruce them up, you can save a few of those tabs or get shortcuts to the sites you're planning to visit anyway. Here are a few extensions to check out.
Some new tab replacements pack in features, widgets and shortcuts, and others are clean, simple and minimal. Currently is definitely the latter. All it does is show you the time and date and a four-day forecast of the weather conditions in your area. You can customise the colours and the location, change the degree units, but that's about it. There's no radar, no fancy predictions, nothing distracting. There's even a little button in the corner that lets you go back to your normal new tab page if you need to. We've mentioned Currently before, and it's still a great option if you want to make every new tab more useful without piling too much on top of it.
Awesome New Tab Page (ANTP) is probably one of the most flexible new tab extensions available for Chrome. It falls into the whole "new tab pages that look like Windows 8's "Metro/Modern" design. But instead of only getting shortcuts, you also get widgets, utilities and other tools that make every new tab a place to check the time and weather, check for new Gmail messages, read RSS feeds, check on your favourite subreddits, check your calendar, perform quick calculations and much, much more.
The extension itself comes with a number of stock widgets, and while there were few available when we first covered it, there are lots available now at the extension's add-on repository. If you're a developer or just like tinkering with Chrome extensions (something we've already shown you how to do), head over to the project homepage to get involved. Even if you're not interested in helping, it's an extremely flexible new tab replacement, and it's much faster now than it used to be.
OneFeed is probably one of the most robust new tab apps we've ever seen, from a design and features perspective. While Awesome New Tab Page starts with widgets and then lets you add on to its feature set, OneFeed pulls in feeds from all of your recently visited sites and bookmarks, connects to your Facebook and Twitter accounts to keep you updated on your social networks, pulls in Instagram photos from friends so you have something nice to look at, and even connects to Dropbox and Google Drive so you can search the web or files in the cloud from its search bar.
The best thing about OneFeed is that its preferences stick with you across systems, and it learns a bit from your use, so it shows you the sites you visit most often and only notifies you about updates to services you actually connect it to. If you want each new tab to replace a half-dozen or more tabs you would have opened anyway, this app can do that for you. It's useful enough you may just want to pin an empty tab and come back to it.
Google Now has yet to make its way to Chrome, although most people think it will eventually. While we wait, try the simply-named New Tab Page, which transforms each new Chrome browser tab into a Google Now-ish grid with a search bar at the top and some useful cards beneath it. You get a button for voice commands so you can talk to you computer, and thumbnails for six of your recently visited sites just below the search bar. The cards are pretty straightforward. You get weather, news headlines and shortcuts to your installed Chrome apps. It's simple, but it's fast and functional.
Speed Dial 2 took the crown the last time we put start pages up against each other, and packs in the features. As soon as you install it, it will walk you through adding some of your most visited sites, bookmarks or other shortcuts to the new tab page. You can add large tiles for each site you want to access quickly, or smaller ones with icons for those pages, and group them into categories that you can click through and have a different grid of shortcuts for each group. The app also adds your bookmarks and browsing history to slide-out columns on the right side of the page that are quick and easy to get to.
Speed Dial 2 definitely earns points for customisation. You can modify and tweak just about every inch of the tool, from the background colour and individual icons for your shortcuts to the shortcuts themselves, their placement on the screen and more. The tool even comes with pre-built themes you can choose from if all of that is just too much work. It's a quick install, easy to set up, but remarkably flexible if you want to get under the hood.
We just covered New MetroTab not too long ago, but it definitely warrants a mention here. It probably one of the most faithful duplication of the whole Windows 8 Start Screen look and feel, and even if you don't like it in Windows as a replacement for the Start Menu, you might like it as a quick launcher for sites, apps and bookmarks in Chrome. New MetroTab is a quick install, and it all but sets itself up: open a new tab, and you'll see your installed apps, most recently visited sites, and some other apps and shortcuts added by the extension.
The app adds live weather, Gmail, Google Calendar, Flickr, 500px, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and a few more in the form of live tiles to your new tab page. Some of them display images or live data previews, while others are just shortcuts directly to the service in question. For example, the Google Calendar button takes you right to your calendar, while the 500px and TED Talks tiles show you photos and a preview of a featured talk. You can even add RSS feed widgets to the start screen that show current top stories. Behind the scenes, you get a lot of customisation options, and you can add or remove tiles as you wish, reorder them, and change the colours or backgrounds
We're sure there are more apps and extensions that can extend Chrome's new tab page, but these are some of the best that we've tried out and stuck to using, at least for a while. We've covered others, such as MySites and Modern New Tab Page, both of which also fall into the "live tile layout" theme, with varying degrees of complexity and customisability. Whatever you choose to use -- even if it's nothing at all -- you don't have to be stuck with the default new tab page. These options all give you the freedom to customise your browsing experience so it works the way you want it to work, instead of a one-size-fits-all solution.