In the latest Chrome OS Canary, Google is testing a smaller design for the Chrome OS shelf and its app icons, currently hidden behind a new flag.

A few weeks back, Google added a new flag to chrome://flags that promised a smaller app shelf design when using a laptop or clamshell-style Chrome OS device. While the flag has been visible for almost a month, it didn’t begin to take effect until this morning’s Chrome OS Canary build.

Show a smaller, denser shelf in laptop mode.

Reduces the size of the shelf and its apps when in laptop mode. – Chrome OS

#shelf-dense-clamshell

The smaller shelf is immediately noticeable on your first reboot, but it very quickly feels normal. On close inspection, Google has managed to reduce the height of the shelf by about 15%, which in turn makes Chrome OS app icons roughly 30% smaller.

Using smaller icons actually allows Chrome OS to fit more apps onto the shelf horizontally. In the following comparison image, you can see that the same seven app icons fit into a smaller space with the new shelf.

How useful having the smaller shelf will be varies greatly depending on the size of your Chrome OS device’s display. For example, on a large 16:9 display, like that of the Lenovo Yoga Chromebook, the extra few pixels don’t make much of a difference. By contrast, I imagine users of the budget-friendly Lenovo Chromebook C330, with its humble 1366×768 display, would appreciate all the extra screen real estate they can get.

Oddly, while the flag description states that the shelf should only shrink while in laptop mode, our initial testing shows that the tablet mode shelf is also reduced in size. This doesn’t seem to be intentional, as it reduces the touch area for app icons. For now, we’ll assume that this will be changed in future builds.

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