25 Tech Tools, Tricks and Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Chromebook
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Many people think of the Chromebook as a glorified web browser in hardware form, and while that analogy is helpful, it’s also limiting. A Chromebook can store files, but not too many -- that’s what cloud storage, or Google Drive is for. Some newer Chromebooks can run apps. And there are plenty of ways to customize features and settings to make your Chromebook fit your needs.
The internet-based laptop is not completely dependent on internet access if you know how to create and edit files offline. The pared-down nature of the machine is designed to make it easy to use, and for features it lacks that traditional laptops have, such as a caps lock key, don’t worry: There are workarounds.
To figure out how to keep your Chromebook organized, manage your files, fine-tune your visual settings and get your Chromebook to perform a range of laptop functions, read on for 25 Chromebook tips.
Make sure you have what you need to get started.
If you’re just unboxing your Chromebook and getting ready to use it for the first time, you’ll need a few essentials.
Because Chromebooks are a web-based Google product, you’ll need a Google account to sign in. If you don’t already have one, head to this page to create one. You’ll also need to make sure you’re in an area where you have access to the internet.
Plug in your Chromebook, then press the power button. When prompted, sign in with your Google account username and password. You’ll have to navigate a couple of setup windows, such as choosing a profile picture for your Chromebook account (though you can skip this step at this stage if you’d like).
Get acquainted with the lingo.
Chromebook desktops don’t have icons. Instead, all apps and files are accessible via either the “Launcher,” which is like the “Start” menu on a PC or “Finder” on a Mac. You can access the Launcher by clicking the circle in the bottom left-hand corner of your Chromebook.
The row of icons or apps at the bottom of your screen is called the “Shelf.”
If you click your photo in the bottom-right corner of the Chromebook screen, you can access your “Status Tray.” The Status Tray contains the settings menu, information about your networks and battery life and more.
Group your apps into folders.
When browsing your apps in Launcher, it may help to group them so you don’t have to scroll through dozens, if and when you accumulate that many. To build folders, drag and drop one app onto another app you want to occupy a common folder.
You can also click and drag apps out of a folder if you want to remove them from that folder.
Put apps you use all the time on your Shelf.
Performing a two-finger-click on a Chromebook achieves the equivalent of “right-clicking” on other computers. If you two-finger-click on an app, then click “Pin to Shelf,” that app will appear in your shelf for easy access. (You won’t have to go to Launcher to, well, launch it.)
Apps also appear on the Shelf while open, so while they’re already there, two-finger-clicking and then click “Pin” works, too.
You can always “Unpin” (two-finger-click on the app) to free up Shelf space.
Pin websites to your Shelf, too -- and make them open in their own windows.
Say you use Gmail often. Or Twitter. Or Spotify’s web app. Whatever the website, you can pin it to your shelf, then have it open in its own window whenever you launch it. Doing so will help you avoid racking up and toggling between a bunch of tabs in a single window.
Once you’re on the website you’d like to pin to the Shelf, click a button in the top right-hand corner of Chrome that has three dots arranged vertically. Hover over More Tools, then click Add to Shelf. You’ll be prompted to name the site, so when you hover over the icon on the Shelf, that name will appear (e.g. Gmail). Check the “Open as window” box, then click Add.
This works with apps such as Google Docs, too. Just two-finger-click an app in the Shelf and click “Open as window.” If you want something to no longer “Open as window,” two-finger-click that app or website in the Shelf and click “Open as window” again, removing the checkmark.
Search for settings you want to change.
Access settings via the Status Tray (bottom right-hand corner of your Chromebook). If you know what you want to change, like your desktop wallpaper, you can simply type “wallpaper” into the settings search bar, and your Chromebook will take you to the part of the settings menu where wallpaper settings are adjusted.
Find a keyboard shortcut.
Need a special character or keyboard shortcut? Learn this one keyboard shortcut to give you easy access to the rest: Pressing the Ctrl, Alt and ? keys all at once will surface a keyboard map with all shortcuts listed.
Access Shelf items quickly.
Open any app or file on the shelf by pressing Alt and then the number key that matches its position: Alt, 1 for the first app in the row, Alt, 2 for the second, etc.
Search for something at the drop of a hat.
Chromebook keyboards come with a handy search key, which has a magnifying glass icon on it. It’s near the shift key, where the caps lock key is on other devices’ keyboards.
Pressing this key will surface a search bar, which will let you search for anything on your Chromebook.
But wait, then how do you TYPE IN CAPS LOCK?
There’s no caps lock key, so how do you show those you’re conversing with online that you’re FIRED UP about something without holding down the shift key the whole time?
In settings, choose or search for “keyboard settings,” then use the drop-down menu to designate one of your existing Chromebook keys as your makeshift caps lock key. You can chose Ctrl, Shift or Alt.
Get new apps.
If your Chromebook supports the Google Play store (these models do), you can download Android apps onto your Chromebook there. Find the Google Play icon on your shelf or in Launcher, then head there to search for and download your favorite apps.
You can even download non-Chrome web browsers, such as Firefox, if you’re feeling too contained by the Google ecosystem as a Chromebook user (or need a different browser for another reason).
Find your files.
All of yours files are accessible via the Files app. You can access the Files app most easily by holding down the Alt, Shift and M keys.
Your files app contains videos, photos, bookmarks and more. You can view local files, or files you’ve downloaded onto your Chromebook, say from email attachments, in the Downloads folder. Any files stored in the cloud, in your Google Drive, are also accessible via the Files app. You can switch between file storage locations by clicking “My Drive,” “Downloads,” etc. in the left-hand margin of the Files app.
You can also plug a USB drive or SD card into your Chromebook, then surface the files stored on those external devices via the Files app.
Beware of saving everything in Downloads.
Because Chromebooks have limited local storage, the Downloads folder is meant only for temporary storage. Eventually, you’ll have to save things into your Drive or in another location (such as a USB drive or SD card).
To save a file (such as an image or PDF) from the web, two-finger-click and choose “save as.” It will save to the downloads folder, but you can move it later (such as by clicking and dragging it to My Drive in the Files app).
Navigating to the “Advanced” section in settings allows you to change the default so that things you download go into the cloud, rather than being stored in downloads as local files. In Advanced, under “Downloads,” find “Location.” Click "Change" and select which folder (or make a new folder) you’d like files to save into.
You don’t have to use Google Drive exclusively for cloud storage.
Open the Files app and click "Add new services" at the bottom of the left margin. You’ll see you can use Dropbox or other cloud storage options and integrate them right into the Files app, vs. using Dropbox through Chrome browser, which won’t work as seamlessly.
Make things look bigger (or smaller).
If you want to adjust the size of the text and images within a window, hold down Ctrl, then press Plus (+) until the size is just right. To zoom back out, hold down Ctrl, then press Minus (-). To revert back to the default size, hold down the Ctrl and Zero (0) keys.
To adjust the resolution of your entire screen, add the Shift key to the keystroke combinations above.
Access and edit Drive files offline.
First, you’ll have to adjust your settings to enable offline editing. While connected to the internet, open the Google Docs Offline Extension. Then click “Add to Chrome.” Go to Google Drive settings and check the box to the right of “Offline.” Wait a few minutes for the setting to toggle on, if necessary.
Now, you’ll be able to work on your most recently opened documents even when you’re offline. Click the Launcher, then select Google Drive. Search for and double-click the file you’d like to open. Your changes will sync to Google Drive the next time you’re connected to the internet.
You can also create new Google Docs, Slides and Sheets offline, and they’ll auto-sync when you’re back online.
Specify which files you’d like to be available offline.
As noted above, by default, offline editing works only with recently opened files. To specify which files you’d like to be able to edit offline, click the Launcher, then select Google Docs, Sheets or Slides, depending on the file type you’re looking to make available offline. Next to the file, you should see three dots arranged vertically. Click those, then click “Available offline.” A check mark in the bottom right-hand corner of the file will indicate that it is now available for offline editing.
Also note that making files available for offline editing will take up storage space on your Chromebook. Disable offline editing in Google Drive settings by unchecking the box next to Offline. This will delete all Offline versions of your files, but if you’ve synced them since editing them offline, they’ll be safe in Google Drive. You’ll just have to turn this setting on again before trying to edit offline again.
Use tabs more effectively.
If you’re toggling between tabs, three-finger-swipe left or right on your touchpad to move between adjacent tabs.
Another tip: Rather than two-finger-clicking to specify that you want a link to open in a new tab (vs. in your current tab, requiring you to leave your current site), just three-finger-click the link.
Hide your Shelf.
If you’re using your Chromebook as a tablet, you can swipe up or down on the shelf in tablet mode to get it out of your way or make it reappear. Plus, swipe up from an empty spot at the bottom of the screen to access the Launcher.
To hide the shelf in regular, non-tablet mode, two-finger-click anywhere on the shelf and select "Autohide shelf.” You’ll only be able to see it when you hover your cursor over the bottom of the screen where it would have been.
View an interface that allows you to see all open apps or windows.
Swipe downward with three fingers on your touchpad to see an Overview interface, with a preview of all windows you have open at a given time for easily selection. Swipe upward with three fingers to close it and return to your most recently used app or window. Or, press the ]] key (above the 6 key) for the same effect as three-finger-swiping.
You can also press the Alt and then tab keys to switch between recent apps (like command-tab on a Mac). Press these keys simultaneously once, and you’ll switch to the app you were previously using. Press again, and you’ll return to the app you were in before that switch. Hold Alt and tab, and you can cycle through everything that’s open until you land on your desired app or window.
The Files app has a photo editing tool in it with some basic functionality. When you’re previewing an image in the Files app, click the pencil icon in the top right-hand corner to access it. You can also simply press the “E” key to do so.
Lock your screen with a PIN.
Go to settings and find "Screen lock.” There, you can create a PIN that you can use to unlock your Chromebook screen. Tapping on a numerical keypad is easier than pecking away at your tablet keyboard to type an alphabetical password every time you need access.
If you want to password-lock your Chromebook immediately, rather than waiting for time to elapse before a password is required, press the search key and then “L.”
Take a screenshot.
Press Ctrl and ]] if using laptop (physical keyboard) mode, or press the power and volume-down buttons (tablet mode). If you want to select a specific area of the screen to capture, press Ctrl, Shift and ]] simultaneously.
Open the Status Tray and click the bell icon. This will activate Do Not Disturb mode. To get more granular about which apps you want to halt notifications from, click the gear icon and uncheck those for which you want alerts turned off.
Say ‘OK Google’.
Open settings and check Enable “OK Google” box, then grant permission for microphone use. This will allow you to perform voice searches you begin with the “OK Google” voice command.
When you’re on Google.com, in a new browser tab or in the Launcher, you can use voice commands as well to surface what you’re looking for. Your Chromebook will talk back, reading search results aloud.