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Hands on: Kiwi Browser brings full Chrome extensions to Android [Gallery]

One of the coolest parts of the modern web is being able improve and personalize your experience through extensions. Thus far, however, Google has not made it possible to use Chrome extensions on Android. The latest update to Kiwi Browser is doing what Google hasn’t, with support for full Chrome extensions.

This isn’t the first time that Kiwi Browser, a fork of Chromium, has beaten Chrome to a much-desired feature. Last year, Kiwi was able to darken web pages (similar to Samsung Internet) months before Google started testing such a dark mode themselves.

It seems one of the clear objectives of Kiwi is to work on the features that users want but Google refuses to implement. No doubt, one of the most requested features for Chrome for Android has been extensions support. The related issue on the Chromium Issue Tracker has been starred over 500 times, but hasn’t been commented on by Google since 2015.

As of the latest version of Kiwi Browser, extensions can now be easily installed from the Chrome Web Store and managed using the same chrome://extensions interface from desktop. With this, powerful Chrome extensions like uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger are easily accessible on Android.

Not all extensions work as you may expect, though. For example, my preferred web screenshot tool, Awesome Screenshot, is unable to capture screenshots in Kiwi. In the same way, per-page controls of extensions like uBlock Origin are unable to function. In both cases, this is because Kiwi opens the extension’s UI in a new tab which has no connection to the one you were on previously.

Some extensions will need to be replaced with alternatives that are more compatible with Kiwi’s current design. For example, Tampermonkey, a popular extension for user scripts, does not function well in Kiwi, with the usual script installation flow not working. To get user scripts running, I had to switch to the open source alternative, Violentmonkey, which has a manual “Install from URL” option.

Surely, one of the reasons Google hasn’t worked on Chrome extensions for Android is because of these kinds of compatibility issues. Because Chrome for Android is so different from desktop and Chrome OS, not all extensions are going to be compatible, and there’s no easy way to know besides trial and error.

Another, more subtle issue with the new support for extensions is that the Chrome Web Store does not have a mobile-friendly design. This is certainly outside of Kiwi Browser’s control, but it’s still a major factor in the extensions experience on mobile.

For those willing to accept the current experimental nature of Chrome extensions on Android, the latest version of Kiwi Browser will be rolling out soon on the Google Play Store.

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Avatar for Kyle Bradshaw Kyle Bradshaw

Kyle is an author and researcher for 9to5Google, with special interests in Made by Google products, Fuchsia, and Stadia.

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