Customize Chrome tabs on your phone with a better layout

Browser tabs are handled differently on a phone to a computer and because of the small screen, tabs are shown as a vertically rotating carousel. Switch to cards in Chrome for a better view.

You may not have thought about tab switching on your phone because it is what it is and there is no way to change it, right? No. It can be changed and there are alternative tab switcher layouts available in Chrome. At least on the Android version of Chrome.

Open several tabs in Chrome on your phone if you don’t already have any open, then press the number at the top of the screen to show all the tabs. They are displayed as a vertical carousel and swiping up and down enables you to browse the tabs and select one or close them.

Is this the best way to show and switch tabs? It can be difficult finding the one you want when there are many tabs open and because of space limitations, the ones at the top shrink to just showing the title bar.

Chrome browser tabs on an Android phone
Tabs in Chrome on an Android phone

Here are just a few tabs and they are fine when you can see what is on the site, but as more tabs are added, they become harder to see. The top one just says Experiments. What is that? Let’s switch to an alternative view that is better.

I am using Android 10 with the latest Chrome browser (Feb 2021). Be aware that Chrome flags are experiments and sometimes they change, occasionally they disappear altogether. Hopefully, this one will be kept because it is a good one.

Go to Chrome flags

Chrome flags on an Android phone
  1. Type chrome://flags into the address box in Chrome on the phone to go to Chrome Experiments
  2. Enter ‘tab grid‘ into the search box at the top of the page to filter out items you do not need
  3. Tap the Default button to change the current setting
  4. Don’t press this, but remember its location. If you ever want to put everything back to the default settings, just tap Reset All

Select a tab view option

Chrome tabs setting in Chrome flags on an Android phone
Tab view options in Chrome on Android

There are several options and the best ones are highlighted. Select Enabled New Tab Variation, which is an alternative way of viewing open tabs in the mobile Chrome browser. (You can return and try the other highlighted option afterwards.)

Relaunch Chrome

Chrome experiments - flags settings

You are returned to the Experiments page and now the new setting for Tab Grid Layout is visible and there is a Relaunch button at the bottom. Any changes to settings are applied the next time Chrome is started, so relaunch it.

I found Relaunch didn’t always work the first time. Occasionally, I had to go to the task switcher and close Chrome, then start it again.

View tabs as cards

Chrome tabs shown as cards or tiles in the Android browser
View tabs as cards in Chrome

If you now return to the tabs screen in Chrome, the carousel is gone and there are now cards showing thumbnail images of each browser tab. It is much easier to see what is on a tab and to close it or select it.

More tab options

Return to Chrome Experiments and tap the button under Tab Grid Layout. Three screenshots back, we selected the Enabled New Tab Variation option. Another option was highlighted, Enabled Tall NTV and this is a tall version of new tab variation. Basically, the cards are a little taller so you see a bit more of each website. Try it, you may prefer it, although having bigger cards means fewer fit on the screen. It’s your choice.

The cards are not refreshed after selecting Enabled Tall NTV, so you get a short card in a tall space with a bit of a gap at the bottom. Tap a card to visit a site and it refreshes the card, which fills the extra space.

There are some other tab options available with Tab Grid Layout and you might want to try those. Not all are useful though.

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