Exclusive: Experience touchless Chrome for feature phones running Android (Bonus: Dino Runner!) {Gallery}

We have been monitoring the progress of what appears to be an KaiOS competitor being developed within Google using Android and Chrome since early this year. We had the opportunity to test out an early version of this touchless Chrome to learn more about Google’s plans for feature phones running the Android operating system.

You can make your own touchless build of Chrome for Android since a sizable portion of Chrome’s development—including touchless Chrome—takes place in the open source Chromium project. This was done by a third-party developer, who graciously gave us the results.

As of right now, there are no Android feature phones, and the majority of Android smartphones on the market lack the directional pad controls necessary for navigation without touching the screen. To get around this for our hands-on review, we used the Android Studio emulator to run this release of touchless Chrome.

HOME PAGE FOR TOUCHLESS CHROME HANDS-ON When you launch touchless Chrome, you are greeted by what is essentially an entirely new New Tab Page that was created to be used with a d-pad and a center button. A rotating menu of your most frequently visited websites, including YouTube, Amazon, Facebook, and Wikipedia, is displayed at the top of this page. The menu’s main icon is supposed to allow you to explore apps, however because it is broken in our build, it probably depends on some secret Google code.

Otherwise, it doesn’t appear like you can pick your own web URL to go to. No address bar is shown anywhere. Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that Google deliberately chose to make Chrome more simplistic as executing a long-click on any of the menu choices exposes Search or input web URL. However, this menu choice is now inactive.

In case you want to go back to your prior website, the touchless Chrome home page will offer you your previous tab underneath the suggested pages. Google also offers the useful labeling of the session’s age. You’ll see that I referred to it as a tab even though touchless Chrome doesn’t actually have tabs because it can only handle one browsing session at a time.

The Google Discover feed takes up the most of the home page, as seen in earlier screenshots, but this is yet another function that depends on private code. Here is a comparison of how it appears on our end and how it appeared the last time we viewed it with Google’s code in place:

Android Chrome Touchless New Tab Page

NAVIGATION BY PAGE The touchless Chrome experience starts to deteriorate after you leave the main page. The previously found controls tutorial, which explains how to utilize the 1, 2, and 3 keys to modify your navigation style or zoom level, comes on screen the first time you travel to a website during your surfing session. None of these keys currently function in any of the numerous scenarios in which we tried them.

In addition, neither the on-screen pointer nor the d-pad navigation of pages appear to function at all. For the time being, I’ll put this down to touchless Chrome’s infancy, although it may also be a result of our hands-on test not having the right buttons available in the Android Emulator.

You are presented with an address bar and a loading progress indication as each page loads utilizing stylish Material Design cues. This is a useful tool to use in the absence of a typical address bar to make sure you haven’t accidentally browsed to a dubious website.

Bonus: Interactive Dino Runner Even while feature phones typically don’t have the same selection of games as the Play Store, most come pre-installed with a recognizable time-killer. Snake, a classic game included on practically every Nokia feature phone ever produced, serves as an example of this.

With the addition of Dino Runner as a stand-alone app, Google is continuing this legacy with touchless Android feature phones. When you install touchless Chrome, it shows up as Chrome Fun in your app drawer and features the well-known T-rex mascot.

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On all Chrome devices, the Dino Runner Easter egg has long been available at chrome:/dino or whenever your device is offline, but this is the first time the game has been made available without first displaying No Internet. You are invited to start the game by pressing Up on the d-pad on the new start screen.

According to my, possibly excessively thorough, hands-on testing, the Dino Runner version shipped with touchless Chrome plays the same as it always has.
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