Sunday, April 15, 2018

Naver releases Whale browser for Android and iOS (screenshots and my review)

Naver has released the mobile version of their Whale browser for Android. Here is a screenshot tour highlighting the look and new features of Whale, plus my commentary and thoughts.

Update: the iOS version is now out. The post below highlights the Android version.

Whale on desktop and mobile. Image: Naver

What is Whale?

Whale is a browser made by Naver, based on Chrome. They released a desktop version awhile back for Windows, MacOS, and Linux, and even an English version. Now the Android version is out, though note that the app is currently only in Korean. I'm sure they'll release an English version soon, as some settings are already showing up in English. Whale's draw is that it's as smooth/secure as Chrome, but defaults into all the Naver ecosystem services that most Koreans use.

Anyway, I played around with it yesterday, and took extensive screenshots. Here's what it looks like in action.

Whale: Screenshot tour

First-run pages

Whale first-run pages

When you first run Whale, it will ask to to agree to their policies. The first option is mandatory. The second, about agreeing to send diagnostic data, is optional.

Next it will outline a few of the new features. Just keep clicking the right link to go "Next" or the left to skip this intro.

Then it will ask you if you want to sign-in to your Naver account. Since I already have the Naver app on my phone and was signed-in, it presented my credentials right away. One tap and I was in. If you want to sync your history/bookmarks/Belly/etc. with your desktop Whale, do this. Otherwise you can continue without signing-in by tapping the bottom link.

Whale main menu

Whale main menu

Whereas you access a right-side vertical menu in mobile Chrome, here in Whale you tap the center of the bottom-screen (shown below) menu bar. It brings up a box-style menu from the bottom (see above). From here are all your usual options:

First page (left above):

  • The circle icon at top is your profile. Blank because I didn't log-in. Tap it to log into your Naver account.
  • Add bookmark
  • Bookmarks list
  • Share
  • Screen shot capture/editor
  • Translate via Papago
  • Reading Mode
  • Download
  • Find in Page
Scroll the box right to get the Second-page (right above) options:
  • History
  • Belly list
  • Add shortcut to Android homescreen
  • PC/Desktop version of site
  • Add to Favorites
  • Feedback

For me, the Papago button to translate manually is a great feature. I've always hated that Chrome decides when/if it will ask me if I want a page translated. I want a manual way to trigger that translation.

Plus Papago is a great translation service. Nice to see it built right into your mobile browsing.

Whale tab management 

Using tabs in Whale

Whale starts with a beautiful customizable New Tab page. Those are the default sites. Tap an icon or else tab the little tab switcher icon to get a display of all your open tabs. You can also go Incognito from here.

I hate this. I hate that tab control is done via buttons. This is a key reason I refuse to use Firefox or almost any other mobile browser. Chrome tab management is just so smooth. I love dragging down from the URL bar and tossing aside tabs, or else sliding within the URL bar to switch between them. The milliseconds I waste having to tap tap tap on Whale drive me crazy.

Related: I've started using the Brave browser as my default, precisely because they finally rewrote their code based on the Chrome source code, so it behaves exactly like Chrome (it essentially is Chrome, plus AdBlock). With that welcome change, I made the switch. I was hopeful Whale browser, its guts still essentially Chrome, would keep Chrome's tab management. It didn't, and that's a big strike for me.

Whale settings pages

Whale settings pages

Whale lets you customize your new tab page to one of its pretty images, or a custom image of your own.

You also can choose the highlight color, to change the color of UI elements. Really this is hardly noticeable though.

Go into the full settings page, and bingo, there's your standard Chrome settings, perfectly in their original Chrome English.

Whale menu-bar themes

Whale menu bar themes

There are two "styles" for the Whale UI elements while browsing.

The standard is the URL bar up top, with quick-button to your chosen home-page (when I changed from Naver to Google, the big green N also changed to the rainbow G), plus a quick-link to save your current page in Belly. Additionally, there's another menu bar on the bottom for settings, tab-switcher page, quick-search, and forward/backward. They can fade away while scrolling. But I don't care. I hate two menus.

The other option is a "simplified" version where everything is crammed into the bottom bar. Call me crazy, but I never liked bottom menu bars. This one includes back/forth, menu, Belly save, and tab-switcher.

"Belly" note taking and web-clipping service

The "Belly" of the Whale

Here's a look at Belly in action. Just as on the desktop version of Whale, the mobile versions gives you quick access to you Belly clipped/saved items list. Think of it as Naver's version of Google Keep. While you surf, you can clip text, images, video, links, etc. into your list, which is then accessible and synced on all your Naver devices, including the web at

Here's Naver's official English commentary about Belly:

What is Belly?

Belly is a login based scrapbook service. Unlike bookmarks that store your favorite sites, you can save the text, videos, images and anythings you want to see later. Once you add shopping items you are browsing, recipes for the weekend meal, and benchmarking materials for your work, it's very convenient to check them out with your desktop or mobile later on.

Super easy clipping anywhere on any device.
Just one tap a Belly heart to save content and easily access your content list regardless of whether you're using desktop or mobile.

Organize your content in a simple way!
Save any type of content such as images, videos, shopping links, etc. Then, Belly let them automatically classified. You can also make your own categories.

Bring your content to Whale Belly even favorites from other services, too!
Once you connect Belly with other services such as Naver Bookmarks, Naver Shopping, Naver TV, YouTube, etc., Belly will bring together all of your favorite content.

Feed Your Whale, "Whale Belly"
Save content you want to read later or keep in one place!
나만의 스크랩 서비스 벨리를 소개합니다 : 네이버 블로그

You can see more at the above link of Belly in action (Korean). Above in my screenshot you can see my saved items list on the left. I like that Whale has a quick-action button prominently near the URL bar for saving into Belly. I make extensive use of Google Keep, and wish I could stick its share button right in the URL bar too.

On the right is what you'll see if you're not logged into your Naver account. Notice it's in English already, as it's the web-based service (not directly tied to the browser).

More Belly fun

Belly how has categories you can sort by (Left) in addition to a neat new feature: auto-clipping. You can set it so that items added to these lists will be auto-added into Belly:

  • Naver Shopping Wishlist
  • Naver TV "Watch Later" playlist
  • Naver bookmarks
  • YouTube "liked" videos
It'd be nice if I could arrange something similar for Google Keep. Using IFTTT could be a workaround. I wonder what other services will be added to Belly later. Could be a useful tool after all. 

Quick Search

Whale quick-search

From the main bottom menu, you can also launch a quick-search, which is really just a fancy way to say "open a new tab on top on the current one". It's supposed to be for quick little Naver searches or quick one-box information checking, similar to how Google has "Now on Tap" or whatever they call it now. I don't see how this is useful over just highlighting a term and "Web search" from the context menu, or just plain opening a new tab. But to each their own. I guess it's an attempt at multitasking, but I'd rather have it in a separate normal tab to refer to again easily later.

Papago translation built-in

Papago Translation

Here's a sample of Papago's translation in-app. Visit a page, open menu, tap Translate, and the menu in the Left image appears. You can choose the languages and also choose if you want this site to be auto-translated next time. The post-translation result is on the Right.

To me, this is the best feature of the mobile Whale. I can be useful sometimes to compare translations from Google and Papago. This was difficult on mobile for websites. Not any more. Nice to have this built-in and manually controlled.

Reading mode

Reading mode

Like Firefox, there's also a reading mode that strips out the junk so you can focus on the text.

And that's Whale in a nutshell.

Other minor stuff

Whale also has an Android widget to show your bookmarks, but it's identical to the same Chrome widget.

Whale also adds an item to the Android "share" menu: an option to save to Belly. That's convenient for saving content from other apps into your Belly for later perusal within Whale.

Here's Whale's current user-agent string for nerds:
Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; Android 6.0.1) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/60.0.3112.113 Whale/ Mobile Safari/537.36

Whale's English forums can be found here, to address any feedback or issues:
English - 웨일 연구소

And finally some other news articles about this mobile release. Most are just announcements with little info, but the final link is the official blog post which includes their English announcement:

Final verdict

This mobile version of Whale is nice, just like the desktop version is nice. But just like the desktop version, it's not going to make me switch from Chrome. It's still too gimmicky for me. Two UI bars? Reading mode? Slow tab switching? Pass.

If you're invested in the Naver ecosystem and want something working by default in it, this is for you. Easy, simple log-in via Naver, everything synced, etc. I just really prefer the smooth tab management of Chrome. If Whale adopts that, I'd consider switching. But I all but stopped using Whale on desktop in the past few months too.

Anyway download it and try it for yourself here:

🔗 Whale - 네이버 웨일 브라우저 - Apps on Google Play
🔗 Whale - 네이버 웨일 브라우저 on the App Store

Whale on Google Play Store

No iOS version quite yet. They say it's coming "soon" but I couldn't find an exact release date anywhere. Update: It's out now as of 4/24.

The other versions of Whale, including desktop, are here:
Whale official download

Have fun swimming the web with Whale.

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