How to use Google WebLight on Desktop

Google Web Light is a service by Google that serves compressed web pages when it detects users are on a slow network in select countries. According to Google, this service saves up to 80% of the data originally needed to load a page, and what’s more, these pages’ apparently load 4 times faster resulting in a 50% increase in traffic.

Those are some nice stats and being a heavy user of this service I’m inclined to vouch for them. The thing however is that Google WebLlight is intended to work only on mobile devices.

Google doesn’t automatically enable the service when you’re on desktop or tablet no matter how slow your network is. Additionally, Google search results will be compressed (that is, on detecting a slow network) only when you’re using Chrome browser or the stock Android browser (2.3 and above).

I’ve also observed the new Opera Mini for Android does this too automatically, but I stand to be corrected.

Fortunately, there are some workarounds to using Google Web Light on desktop. Let’s take a look at them.

1. Using Google WebLight Manually

weblight mobile
Googleweblight on a Mobile Device

By far the quickest way to use the Google WebLight is to use the following URL pattern:[website_url]

Replace [website_url] with the full webpage address of the page you want compressed. For instance, for the New York Times site it will be:

This should work on most browsers, both on desktop and mobile. The downsides to using this method is that you’ll have to manually enter the address to the web page you wish to be compressed every single time and since this intended for mobile displays, the images will be terribly pixelated on desktop displays.

Also you can’t load Google Search using Google Web Light this way:

Doing that will merely return a transcoding error. To avoid all this hassle, I use the next method.

2. Change the User Agent (UA) to Force Google WebLight

This is what I typically use since I’m not exactly big on Chrome. I’ve nothing against it; I just got used to using Firefox from the beginning which means I’ve much invested in the way of bookmarks and add-ons. For that reason, I’m going to use Firefox to outline this method.

The theory behind how this works is as follows: Google WebLight for some reason assumes if you’re on a wap browser (e.g. Nokia S40/S60), then probably you’re on a slow network or perhaps more likely, that your wap browser can’t load properly non-wap sites.

That’s a fair assumption and it’s what I’ve relied on for a quite a few years now when I realize my network is rather slow or I’m running low of my data plan. Did I mention that it’s also a good cure for sites afflicted with ad cancer?

So to do this we just need to change our UA string so that Google thinks we’re on a wap browser. On Firefox I use the User Agent Switcher add-on by Alexander Schlarb for this purpose.

The add-on comes pre-loaded with some custom mobile UA strings (Android, iPhone etc.) but using those will not default to using Google WebLight on Google search.

You’ll instead have to use the manual loading that I’ve outlined in the previous method, and clearly we don’t want that.

To default to Google Web Light on Google Search automatically, we’ll have to add a custom UA String, in this case for a Wap browser/device as follows:

Add a Wap UA String to Firefox’s User Agent Switcher

1. Go to the Add-on Settings (Menu > Add-ons) and under Extensions open User Agent Switcher Options.

user agent switcher
User Agent Switcher Options

2. Scroll down to User-Agent entries where you’ll find a text box with user agents. At the end, add the following entry as it is:

Nokia 6630 [Other]: Nokia6630/1.0 (2.3.129) SymbianOS/8.0 Series60/2.6 Profile/MIDP-2.0 Configuration/CLDC-1

ua string
Add the Above UA String

Now from the add-on button you can at any time switch to Nokia 6630 and do a google search which will automatically load results in Google Web Light.

add-on button
Conveniently Switch UA Strings

Any web page you open from these results will by default be compressed. Some few may sites may fail to transcode (won’t compress) in which case you can view the site normally using the View Original link found at the bottom of the pages.

search results weblight
Google Search Results on WebLight

By default, some sites (usually the “big” ones) are excluded from compression. Instead, you’ll be redirected sometimes either to the mobile sites (e.g. Gmail, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter etc.) which are stripped down considerably or to the low bandwidth versions (e.g. Google Product Forums).

In the case of YouTube, the videos are not loaded and as a matter of fact can’t be played on the browser. Instead the watch video link will open a RTSP link which launches a compatible installed video player (e.g. Potplayer, VLC) to stream the video.

3. Use Google WebLight in Chrome’s Device Mode

Going by their knowledgebase, this is how Google intended for us to use Google WebLight on Desktop. As the name may suggest, Device Mode is an emulator tool that simulates mobile devices on Chrome’s desktop browser. You can access the tool on Chrome by going to:

menu > More tools > Developer tools [or use Ctrl + Shift + I]

Inside the developer tools click on the device icon at the far left of the toolbar.

device mode chrome
Launching Device Mode on Chrome Dev Tools

That should switch the browser section of the window to an emulator. At the top of that window you can select the device to emulate (Galaxy S5, Nexus 5X, IPhone 5, IPad etc.) or use Responsive which will adapt to the current size of the emulator window.

There are a lot more devices available by clicking on the Edit… option, plus you can add a custom device from there.

device emulator
Select Device to Emulate

Now for this to work, you don’t have to be on a slow network. Instead you’ll have to force Google WebLight to load a page manually by using the URL pattern in the first method.

device mode weblight
Google WebLight in action on Chrome Device Mode

Personally I don’t see much point to using Google Web Light this way since it works in much the same way as the manual way. The only benefit to using it this way is that the images will not look pixelated in these mobile resolutions.

So that’s it. I hope you’ve find this as helpful as I often do.



Kelvin Muriuki is a web content developer that's passionate about keeping the internet a useful place. He is the founder and editor of Journey Bytes, a tech blog and web design agency. Feel free to connect with him regarding the content appearing on this page or on web and content development.


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