How to Access Chrome 85’s New Features Without Waiting for Rollouts

Like a kid on [holiday of your choice], Chrome 85 dropped to the masses yesterday. Or, at least, theoretically. When I went to fire up the browser yesterday afternoon and perform my typical ritual of navigating to its “About Google Chrome” to launch the update, nothing happened.

Hmm. Perhaps Google’s suggestion that Chrome 85 was rolling out to the masses was much more of a delayed released than I expected. I can only hope that you have access to Chrome 85 today — if not, you can download and install the latest version via Google’s installer. It won’t mess up your browsing experience at all, and it’ll get you going with Chrome 85 if you don’t already have it.

And once you’ve done that, here are all the features worth knowing about and how to unlock them so you aren’t waiting around for them to officially launch.

Check out (and possibly disable) tab thumbnails

Hover over any tabs in Chrome 85, and you’ll see a quick thumbnail pop up to show you what the website looks like. Because, you know, that’s what a thumbnail is — a tiny preview.

Screenshot: David Murphy

If you hate them, just pull up chrome://flags in your address bar and disable the #tab-hover-cards flag, which will turn your hovering into a more boring:

Screenshot: David Murphy

Load your webpages faster and use fewer system resources

Here’s the good news: Chrome 85 is already 10 per cent faster for page loads than previous editions of Chrome, and you don’t have to do a thing to benefit from these improvements. That’s all thanks to Profile Guided Optimisation, a complier optimisation technique that you can read more about here. And, yes, that “ten per cent” figure comes from Google directly; I haven’t tested it myself, but I’m certainly curious.

Chrome is also launching Tab Throttling, but only in the Beta channel for now. This battery- and resource-saving behaviour, which we already previewed for Chrome Canary last month, will eventually become Chrome’s default. Until then, you’ll have to unlock it in Chrome’s Beta version by enabling the #intensive-wake-up-throttling flag in chrome://flags

Expand and collapse tab groups

Screenshot: David Murphy

Tab groups have been a thing in Chrome for some time, but you’ll now be able to expand and contract your groups of tabs simply by clicking on the group’s name (or colour, if you don’t like words). Pull up chrome://flags and enable this flag to turn the feature on: #tab-groups-collapse. I really enjoy this one.

Pay more attention to tabs you already have open

This isn’t a feature you need to enable in the browser, but it’s one you need to mentally enable as part of your address bar routine. Here’s what I mean. Now, when you go to type in a website, Chrome will let you know if you already have that website open somewhere in your existing chunk of tabs. This isn’t super-helpful if you keep your browser clean and tidy, but for people who deal with a lot of tab sprawl — myself included — this feature is great. And as of the Chrome 85 release, it’s now available on Android, too.

I have an ultrawide monitor, so this little option is easy to miss on the right side of the browser. Look for this whenever you’re typing in a web address:

Screenshot: David Murphy

Click on it, and you’ll jump to the tab that already has the website you’re trying to pull up. The option should be a lot more obvious on Android since, you know, your screen is a lot narrower.

Save .PDF forms that you filled out in Chrome

Screenshot: David Murphy

Right now, if you type data into a .PDF within Chrome and attempt to save what you’ve done, the file that gets saved to your computer won’t contain anything you typed. That’s changing in Chrome 85, but the feature is — as always — a rollout.

You’ll soon be able to fill out .PDF forms and save either the original or filled-out PDF within Chrome, but if you’re impatient, you can access this feature today. Load chrome://flags and enable the #pdf-form-save flag. And while you’re there, enable the #export-tagged-pdf flag too, which adds extra metadata about the .PDF’s structure (which is better for accessibility) to the files you save.

Create QR codes to share websites

If you go to chrome://flags and enable #sharing-qr-code-generator, you’ll now be able to right-click within the body of any website and generate a QR code, which you can then share with others, print on your storefront, hang on your wall, et cetera.

Screenshot: David Murphy

Anonymise your browser’s user agent string

If you’d prefer websites not know anything about the browser and operating system you’re using — in an attempt to limit the amount of data you share to anyone — you can enable the #freeze-user-agent in chrome://flags/ to give your browser a bit more control over what it shares, rather than blasting all sorts of information to any site it visits (for easy fingerprinting).

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