Tablets and smartphones have homescreens filled with apps, while more traditional computers have start menus or docs or search tools to find the apps you need. With web apps, though, it seems the best way for most of us to find apps is with random links in our bookmarks or just by googling the app every time we need it.
Users of Google’s excellent browser Chrome know how fundamental the new tab page is for keeping up with web apps, especially as Google’s focused more on the Chrome Web Store. However, while the standard new tab page is useable, it is lacking in terms of customization and is missing some pretty basic features. Speed Dial 2 is a free Chrome extension that not only fixes these problems, but makes the new tab page beautiful.
The New Tab Page
Speed Dial 2 can radically change the look of your new tab page, like the screenshot above, bringing together the best of Chrome’s New Tab page with new tweaks. It’s important to know that this is not necessarily what your new tab page will look like: customization is a big part of using this tool and you can change how you want it to look and work to fit your style.
In the screenshot above, I have a fairly standard setup where I have six of my favorite websites’ in the center, a panel of apps up on the top, and all my bookmarks in a hidden pull-out sidebar to the right. The great thing about Speed Dial 2 is, you could easily change just about everything above to suit your own preference.
Customization & Options
Flexibility is where Speed Dial 2 really shines; this is seen by its extensive options page. Thankfully, even with the large number of options and settings available, the team behind this extension made sure to lay out everything in an organized manner that makes it really to use. The options page is divided up into several sections that allow you to change each individual part of the extension.
This first section of the options page is where the basics are at. You can change how many columns you want to divide your webpage bookmarks into, how often you want the thumbnails of each site to refresh, and whether or not to open links in a new tab or not.
Depending on whether you dig a minimalistic feel or like extra capability, there are a few features that you could enable. There is the option to highlight pages you visit according to your habits, and also to add a menu in Chrome’s context menu so that you can easily add sites to your new tab page.
Speed Dial 2 comes with a huge library of beautiful patterns as well as a bunch of select, high quality background images – you can either choose your favorite from one of these, or find a photo you’d like to use from the internet and enter the URL to make it the background.
Customizing the Dial Style
Speed Dial 2 includes extensive parameters to let you to change what each dial looks like. Rounded corners, padding, titles and colors, it’s all there. You can change the color of the title to match the background you chose, and edit the shadow of each dial. For you coders out there, there is even the ability to enter your own custom CSS.
In addition to access to web pages, one of Chrome’s cooler features is its wide variety of apps that you can install from the Chrome Web Store. With Speed Dial 2, you can display a panel with all your apps in it, or you can show your apps in the sidebar.
If you choose the panel, the position, size, and alignment can all be tweaked to your liking. Also, depending on how prominently you want your apps to stand out or how much you use them, you can make the size of the panel bigger and make it dark to contrast the background.
The sidebar is one of the coolest features of Speed Dial 2. In order to keep the new tab page looking nice and tidy, bookmarks and apps can optionally be hidden away in the sidebar. By default, the sidebar is invisible, but by moving your mouse to the side of your new tab page it quickly slides out from the side. What the sidebar displays is up to you: you can show recently closed tabs, apps, and bookmarks you’ve saved.
If you use the bookmarking service Delicious, you’re in luck. Logging in from the options page will display all of your Delicious bookmarks in the sidebar.
Categories for Further Organization
If you use a lot of websites on a regular basis, then you’re probably come up with a system for organizing sites into a group so that you can find them among your bookmarks faster and with less hassle. Speed Dial 2′s take on this makes it so that you can assign each dial a category – then, whenever you click on a certain category then all sites belonging to that category are shown. Simple, but effective.
Performance, Pro, and Future Updates
Speed Dial 2 is coded using modern HTML5 standards, so it works blazing fast and well utilizes Chrome’s power – when you open a new tab, everything appears more or less instantly.
While the extension is free to use, there is a Pro version that unlocks some extra functionality, such as the ability to sync all settings across computers, access your bookmarks from their site, and support for mobile devices. A Pro account is only $2 and lasts for a lifetime.
The team behind Speed Dial 2 is pushing out pretty consistent updates. They even have a list of user voted features that they are planning on implementing. Needless to say, if things continue as they have, this extension is only going to keep getting better and better. I can only hope the team knows how to deal with feature bloat and stop adding features when it no longer benefits the user.
Speed Dial 2 is a complete and well thought out upgrade to Chrome’s new tab page. Whether you decide to install it is up to you: for me, it was a no brainer. As for you, if you’re looking for an extension that’ll simplify and streamline the already lightweight Chrome browser, this is it.