Google has now officially added tab groups to its Chrome browser on Android as part of the update to the app to version 88. The new feature follows on its addition to Google Chrome for desktop platforms, including Chrome OS, with the previous software update. And, more succinctly, it allows users to make groups of tabs for easier access and management. But how do you use tab groups in Chrome for Android? This guide can help you accomplish just that.
How are tab groups useful on Android?
As might be surmised from the above-description, tab groups in the Android variant of Google Chrome are incredibly useful. As often as not, users open dozens of tabs, or more, in Chrome.
Those aren't necessarily opened in any discernable order. In just one day, a user might open a recipe for later use, as well as a search for a new tv, a news article, and some research into a new smartphone, for example. And, without closing those tabs, they may perform a similar set of searches on a different day but in a different order.
With all of those tabs accessed in a somewhat random order, it's easy to lose track of tabs. Especially since they simply remain open in the order they were opened in. But that changes with tab groups.
With tab groups in place, open tabs are displayed in a two-row grid-like format. And those tabs can be reordered and shuffled around, to make it easier to keep like-tabs together. But, more importantly, tabs can be grouped under a single UI 'tab' and accessed in tandem. Making it easier than ever to actually keep like-tabs together, and even easier to navigate between like-tabs.
All of that is going to make a big difference for those that use a large number of tabs. Whether for a couple of dozen tabs or for those who have a hard time remembering to close out tabs and end up with more than a hundred tabs open.
Here's how to set tab groups up and use them on Android
The benefits of tab groups in Google Chrome on Android, or anywhere else for that matter, are obvious. But learning to use them isn't necessarily intuitive for every user. So let's take a look at how to do just that.
How to set up your phone if the feature hasn't arrived just yet
Now, this is a new feature and may not have arrived on every smartphone just yet — as with this feature's release on Chrome OS. But the fact that they may not have arrived with this update doesn't mean tab groups are out of reach on your Android phone. In fact, users may simply need to navigate to the Google Play Store and look for updates in the "My apps & games" option, tucked in the three-dash hamburger menu.
For those that don't want to wait, there is actually a way to gain access anyway, albeit through an experimental Chrome flag setting.
- Locate and open Google Chrome on your Android smartphone
- Open up a new tab and, in the URL bar, type in "chrome://flags"
- Google Chrome will load up the experimental Chrome Flags settings page. It's essential to bear in mind at this point that flags are not something that should ordinarily be fiddled with. In some cases, activating the wrong flag can be browser-breaking, causing unwanted bugs and other problems. So there's only one flag we'll need to adjust here to avoid potential problems.
- In the search bar, at the top of the page, type "Enable tab" to search up flags associated with tabs in Google Chrome for Android — the top choice should be "Tab Grid Layout" and that's the one we're looking for, to enable tab groups
- In your browser, "Tab Grid Layout" should be set to "Default" in a drop-down menu
- Click on the drop-down menu and select "Enabled." Other options will be available. For instance, when this guide was written, "Enabled New Tab Variation," "Enabled New Tab Tile," "Enabled Tall NTV" were available, among others. But only the "Enabled" option should be selected here
- After selecting "Enabled," the page should show a box at the bottom. That reads "Your changes will take effect the next time you relaunch Google Chrome" with a button that reads "Relaunch." Tap that button. Chrome may not relaunch the first time. And you may need to completely close Chrome, clearing the app from recent apps, if it doesn't. You may also be required to relaunch Chrome a second time, regardless. When Chrome is reloaded, the new feature will be turned on
Once the feature arrives in its stable variant for users who have activated the flag, users can choose to return through those steps and set the setting back to "Default."
Conversely, if the flag reaches a point where it can be removed entirely or integrated without the flag, that won't be necessary. It will simply remove itself, leaving the feature intact. But, at any rate, now it's time to take a look at how Google Chrome tab groups work on Android.
How to use tab groups once they're available
Once tab groups are enabled in Android, using them is relatively straightforward.
- Open the list of the recent tabs, now shown in a grid-style view, by clicking the numbered icon at the top-right-hand side of the page
- With the tabs now shown in a grid, you can tap and hold on any open tab to move it around the list for better organization. Tabs and tab groups in Android's Google Chrome will move out of the way when you want to put tabs somewhere different in the ordering, just as icons do on the home screen when moving apps around
- Tap and hold to move the selected tab over top of another open tab. The tab will shrink down, showing a gray outline.
- Lift your finger to drop the tab in the group. The title of the group will show "2 tabs" or a different number depending on how many tabs are in the grouping
- Tap the group to see all tabs inside of a group. Or to tap, hold, and drag to reorganize tabs within a group or to remove tabs from the group
- Tap on a tab within the group to open the tab in fullscreen
- When in fullscreen view, other tabs within the group will show icons along the bottom of the page. The browser displays that alongside an 'x' icon for closing the currently-selected tab
- Tap on any other tab in the bottom bar to switch to that tab within the group. Google Chrome highlights the currently-selected tab with a blue outline
- Press the "Plus" icon to add a new tab to the group. That will work in either the overview mode for the tab group, as shown in the images. Or in the bottom bar for managing an open tab group
- Select the 'x' icon on the current tab to close the tab. Google Chrome will present an undo option
- Closing all tabs will show the remaining tab on its own, with the tab group disbanded
How might Google improve this feature going forward?
Now, one of the biggest features spotted during the primary testing phase for this feature is missing from this release. Namely, it's not possible to rename tab groups in Google Chrome for Android. That's something that can easily be accomplished on Chrome OS and desktop. So it stands to reason that will land sooner than later.
Another feature not readily available that is available on desktop but not even hinted at on Android is color-coding. Specifically, users can reorganize tab groups on desktop or Chrome OS with colored tabs. That's not possible as of this writing on Android. While a small change, that feature would enable easier at-a-glance management. And there's also only one way to completely clear out a tab group aside from swiping the entire group away. An 'x' icon would arguably be easier to use.
Whether or not Google ever adds such features, or any others we may have missed, to Android Chrome tab groups remains to be seen. But those features will be added to this guide if the search giant does end up adding them.