10 Must-Have Google Chrome Extensions

A while ago, I wrote several posts about my favorite add-ons in Firefox, sharing the little (and big) tools that made browsing faster, safer, and easier. At that time, Firefox was the only browser that had anything like add-ons, but that has changed since now Google Chrome and Apple Safari have opened up to third-party extensions in their most recent versions. It’s been amazing how quickly new extensions for Chrome have been created since Google opened up the platform. I have moved to Chrome as my primary browser, primarily because I was finding it faster in day to day use than Firefox, but largely because I was able to find Chrome substitutes for almost all of my most used Firefox add-ons. Since Chrome extensions are relatively new, and many people are discovering the functionalities that they can add to the browser for the first time, it seems like the ideal moment to look at some of the best extensions for Chrome:

Oldies but Goodies

Some of the most important Firefox add-ons now have nearly identical Google Chrome versions. When I say “important”, I mean the add-ons that will make web browsing safer, more secure, and faster.

I wrote about AdBlock and Web of Trust in this post on Firefox add-ons, and both have Chrome versions. Web of Trust warns you when you navigate to a dangerous, risky, or deceitful webpage, and lets you vet links before you click on them. AdBlock eliminates most adds on pages across the web, which makes surfing faster (since the browser does not have to load the adds) and safer (since adds on some pages may contain malicious code).

Other Firefox add-ons that I have written about with Chrome siblings are Google Search Preview, which shows you thumbnail images of the pages in Google search results, and Speed Dial, which allows you to create easily-clickable page thumbnails when you open a new tab.

For Gmail Users

Google Chrome has some great extensions that make dealing with Gmail a whole lot easier. By far, my favorite is an extension called Google Mail Checker Plus. Mail checker plus essentially integrates Gmail into the browser — it displays the number of unread messages, makes an alert noise when a new email comes in, and allows you to preview the message and choose to delete, archive, or read it wherever you happen to be in the browser. This allows Chrome to work more like a proper email program, notifying you of new messages and allowing you to easily triage your inbox without having to jump into a Gmail window every time. Google Mail Checker Plus easily beats out any Gmail add-on I have seen for Firefox, as well as Google’s official extension (called Google Mail Checker) which does not allow you to preview messages without going into Gmail.

Another nice extension for dealing with Gmail is Better Gmail, which allows you to customize the Gmail interface to your liking, and adds little niceties to the experience, like highlighting a row when you mouse over it. There are tons of little tweaks you can make to change Gmail, and it takes playing around with the settings a bit to discover what you want. There is also a Firefox version of this extension which behaves almost identically.

For Facebook Users

There is a very useful extension called Facebook Photo Zoom, which automatically shows you an image in full size on Facebook when you mouse over it. This doesn’t sound like it would make that big of a difference, but it allows you to quickly see that image of your friends in your feed (or wherever it happens to be) without forcing you to click through to another page or photo gallery, and this quickly becomes something you start to take for granted. It is possible to toggle this on and off right in the browser, which is important for times it might get in the way, such as when you are looking a gallery or uploading photos.

Reference Tools

Wikipedia Companion allows you to look something up on Wikipedia in a convenient pop-up window, so that you can look something up without leaving the page you’re on. The extension makes searching Wikipedia a one-click affair, which is perfect if you just want to quickly access a piece of information.

Google Dictionary, an official extension by Google, allows you to quickly lookup any word you find online without leaving the site you are on by either highlighting the word or typing it into a pop-up search box.

For Android Users

If you have a phone running version 2.2 or later of Google’s Android, you’re going to want to look at an extension called Chrome to Phone, created by a Google engineer during his “20% time”. The extension allows you to take pages, maps, or links and send them to your phone, so that you can view them on the go. There is a corresponding (free) Android application that needs to be downloaded to the phone for this to work. I haven’t used this myself, since I’m currently using an iPhone, but it reportedly works well and is very useful, not to mention cool.


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