Boasting a blogging tool, an auto form filler that securely stores your credit card numbers, a spelling checker for any word typed into a Web form, a language translator to translate any English word into other languages, and even the ability to map any address you find on the Web, the Google Toolbar is a worthy browsing companion. Complete with a broad range of specific types of searches and excellent search results, Google's toolbar would win our highest praises were it not for Yahoo Toolbar's best-of-show pop-up blocker, portable bookmarks, and superb customization options.
Installing Google's 463KB toolbar was a piece of cake in our tests; it took us about a minute to download the install file and step through the setup wizard. Once the toolbar is up and running, you can add or remove buttons, set the buttons as icon only or icon and text, and drag the search box bigger or smaller.
Google toolbar gives you the requisite specific search options, including searching the entire Web, querying Google Images, News, Groups (for Usenet posts), and Froogle (Google's shopping search). You can also search for stock quotes--Google sends you to Yahoo Finance for that--and dictionary entries through Dictionary.com, but there's no weather search--sorry, Weather Channel fans. You can also highlight search terms on the page you're visiting and cycle through search results from the toolbar.
Google's toolbar has an excellent set of advanced features, including a decent pop-up blocker, which lets you allow pop-ups from a given domain but won't let you see a recently blocked pop-up, although you can try clicking the link again while pressing the Ctrl key. We like the Google Toolbar's autofill feature, complete with password-protected entries for credit cards, as well as the toolbar's ability to add links and posts to your Blogger site--not surprising, given that Google owns Blogger. The up-one-level button is a cool idea, but it's spotty in execution (it just strips directories off the URL you're visiting, which works for some sites but gives you 404 errors on others), while the voting buttons that let you sound off about a given Web site don't really do much of anything for now, though Google says that voting statistics will be put to use eventually. More interesting are the Page Info tools, which will give you a cached snapshot of a page, list similar pages, show you all the backward links to a page, or translate a page into English. One feature we'd like to see in future versions of Google Toolbar is the ability to store Web bookmarks to make them accessible from any browser, à la Yahoo and A9.
Google scored at the top of the class for most relevant search results, beating out A9, HotBot, AltaVista, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask Jeeves, although it lagged behind Yahoo and AltaVista in terms of its sheer number of hits. Should you ever want to know about the economics of Andorra, a small European parliamentary democracy, Google returned the most hits of any search site.