Chromebook tips and tricks: Getting the most out of your Chrome OS machine
Google announced in early May that it had an entirely new lineup of Intel-powered Chromebooks in the works from Lenovo, Asus, Dell, Acer, Toshiba, HP, and LG. They're all set to launch this year too, meaning there is bound to be a lot more Chrome OS users in the world.
When Google first released its Linux-based operating system a few years ago, most people were blown away by the idea that a computer could simply get rid of the desktop and focus solely on the browser. At first blush, Chrome OS is a simple system to learn and use. Unfortunately, that allows many people to assume it is not robust enough for power users. But Pocket-lint begs to differ.
There are numerous tips, tricks, keyboard shortcuts, web apps, extensions, and add-ons you can use at this very moment to get the most out of your Chrome OS machine and make it just as brawny and feature-rich as a Mac or Windows computer. Well, maybe not as brawny. But pretty close.
Read on to find out more.
Tips, tricks, and keyboard shortcuts
Chromebook Guides: Google offers a great resource page and thorough guide that details the basics of getting started with a Chromebook. There's also a handy Chromebook Help Center. Pocket-lint recommends that you browse through Google's suggestions and get familiar with Chrome OS before moving onto our tips, tricks, and keyboard shortcuts.
Settings page: You need to visit the Settings page to view and change absolutely any setting on your Chromebook, from Account Users and Accessibility to Extensions and History. Simply go to the bottom right-hand corner of your display, then click on the status area, and select Settings to bring up the Settings page. You can then search for specific things via the search bar in the upper right-hand corner of the Settings page.
Update: Version 37 of Chrome OS now opens the Settings page as a window that you can close, minimise, expand, move around, etc.
Manage users: Visit settings to manage who can log into your machine. Scroll down to the Users section and click on "Manager other users", where you'll be able to add users, enable guest browsing, enable supervised users, show users names and photos on sign-in screen, and restrict users. Chrome OS also supports multi-user logins.
Accessibility options: To view accessibility options, type chrome://settings/search#accessibility into your browser URL bar, or just visit the Settings page and search for accessibility. You'll then have the opportunity to enable Chromevox spoken feedback, tap dragging, on-screen keyboard, and more.
System data: To see what's going on under the hood of your Chromebook, like complex software and hardware details, type chrome://system into your browser URL bar. A page will then open with lots of data - ranging from memory use for each browser tab to signal strength for your Wi-Fi connection and more.
Factory reset: You can clear all local user data stored on your Chromebook by resetting it to original factory state. This process is also known as a Powerwash. You'll need to go to the Settings page and click Show advanced settings at the bottom of the page. Find the "Powerwash" section, then click Reset, and finally, select Restart. You can also reset your Chromebook from the sign-in screen. Simply press Ctrl+Alt+Shift+R and then select Restart.
Open Chrome App Launcher: All of your web apps are organised in a thumbnail-like grid. To view this grid, click the grid icon on the bottom left-hand corner of your slip. A menu will open; it's the Launcher. You can then swipe on your trackpad to sift through all the installed web apps on your Chromebook.
Rearrange web apps in Launcher: After you've installed a web app, you can rearrange the order in which it appears in the Chrome App Launcher. Just click on the web app and hold. At that point you can drag left or right to change the web app's position.
Uninstall web apps: To uninstall and completely remove a web app from your Chromebook, right-click on the web app in the Chrome App Launcher and select Uninstall.
Search for web apps: You can search for installed web apps by opening the Chrome App Launcher and using the search bar at the top of the launcher. Not only does it show results for locally-installed web apps but also related results in Google Search and the Chrome Web Store.
Open web app in separate window: Most web apps open by default in your browser as a webpage. But you can open them in a separate window and make them look like an actual app instead. Just hold the Shift key and click on any app in the Chrome App Launcher. You can also right-click on most web apps in the Launcher to change the way they open by default (full screen, new tab, new window, etc).
Pin web apps to shelf: To easily access a web app, you can pin it to the shelf at the bottom of your screen. All you have to do is right-click on a web app in the Launcher and select Pin to shelf.
Autohide the shelf: Mac OS X lets you autohide the dock. It's a pretty cool feature that will, as it sounds, hide your shelf until you hover over the shelf areas. But did you know you could do the same with your shelf in Chrome? Just right-click on the shelf and select Autohide shelf.
Rearrange pinned web apps: After you've pinned a web app, you can rearrange the order in which it appears on your shelf. Just click on the pinned web app and hold. At that point you can drag left or right to change the web app's position.
Open pinned web apps: You can just click on any app in the Launcher or pinned to your shelf to quickly open it...or you can get fancy and use a keyboard shortcut. Press Alt+(Number). Number stands for the position of the app on your shelf. For instance, if you want to open the Chrome Web Store app, and it's the first app positioned on your shelf, press Alt+1. The Chrome Web Store will then open. If it's the second app on your shelf, press Alt+2, and so forth.
Open File Manager: To see all your local drives, Google Drive, Downloads folder, files, etc, you'll need to open the File Manager. It's the Files web app located in your Chrome App Launcher. You can also access the Files web app by pressing Shift+Alt+M.
Open new File Manager window: Just in case you want to view two or several File Manager windows at once (could be helpful when moving files between folders and drives), click the gear icon on the top right corner of the File Manager and select New Window. You can also press Ctrl+N.
Change File Manager view: You can view your files and folders in a thumbnail-like grid mode or a list mode. Go to the gear icon on the top right corner of the File Manager to toggle between either view mode.
Navigate File Manager: To easily switch between drives and the Download folder while in the File Manager, there are three keyboard shortcuts available to you. Ctrl+1 switches to Google Drive. Ctrl+2 switches to Downloads. Ctrl+3 switches to USB Drive. And that's it.
Create new folder: There are two ways you can create a new folder. The first is to simply open the File Manager and press Ctrl+E. You can also click the gear icon on the top right corner of the File Manager and select New Folder.
Open Notification Center: Chrome OS has a Google Now-style notification center. To open it (only works when you have notifications to view), press Alt+Shift+N. You can also open it by clicking on the Notification Center button. It'll appear next to the status area on your shelf when you have notifications.
Manage notifications: To control which web apps push notifications to your Notification Center, you'll need to open the Notification Center and click the gear icon on the bottom right-hand corner. A dialog box will then appear with options for enabling or disabling notifications for all your installed web apps.
Clear all notifications: To swipe away all your notifications and temporarily get rid of the Notification Center button from your shelf, click that button and then select the middle icon at the bottom of the Notification Center. The button has three tiered lines. Once clicked, your notifications will go buh-bye.
Mute all alerts: Want silent peace for one hour with no disruptions? Simply mute all your notification alerts in the Notification Center. Go to the Notification Center and select the crossed-out-bell icon on the bottom.
Manage extensions: Right-click on any extension icon (next to your URL bar in Chrome) to view options for managing that extension as well as removing it or hiding it. You can also go to the Settings page and click Extensions in the right-side menu to see options for enabling or deleting all installed extensions.
Rearrange extensions in Chrome: After you've installed an extension, you can rearrange the order in which it appears next to your URL bar in Chrome. Just click on the extension and hold. At that point you can drag left or right to change the web app's position.
View free space on local drive: To see the amount of free space you have left on your local HDD or SDD, type chrome://quota-internals/ into your browser URL bar. Alternatively, you can click the gear icon within the Files app to view remaining space (listed at the bottom).
Lock your screen: Want to quickly log out out of your Chromebook account but don't want to exit out of open tabs and web apps? Press Ctrl+Shift+L.
Change shelf position: You can move the shelf at the bottom of your Chromebook. Simply right click on the shelf, select Shelf position, and designate the position (left, bottom, or right).
Find Caps Lock key: Missing the traditional Caps Lock key? Press Alt+Search.
Configure Search key: If you want a permanent caps lock key on your keyboard, or just want your Search key to perform another function by default, go to the the Settings page and search for Keyboard Settings via the search bar. Click the Keyboard Settings button to bring up a relevant dialog box, then click the Search drop-down menu, and finally, set the Search to key to work as as Alt, Ctrl, Caps Lock, etc.
Take a screenshot: Capture an image of your entire display by pressing Ctrl+(Print Screen). The Print Screen key is typically the sixth key from the left and has a symbol of a square next to two lines. A window will later appear with options to view the screenshot and copy to clipboard.
Take a partial screenshot: Capture a specific area of your display by pressing Ctrl+ Shift+(Print Screen). You'll then be able to drag your cursor to form a box around the area of your display that you want to capture. A window will later appear with options to view the screenshot and copy to clipboard.
Quick edit photos: When viewing an image from the File Manager (double tap on the image file to open from File Manager), you can press E to quickly bring up a built-in image editor and basic editing tools.
Customise and control Chrome: If you want to manage bookmarks, print a page, zoom, open an icognito-mode window, etc, go to the upper right-hand corner of your browser. You will see an icon that has three lines piled on top of each other. Click that icon to view options for controlling Chrome.
Browse in private: For times when you want to browse the web without Chrome saving certain information, you can use incognito mode. Press Ctrl+Shift+N. You can also press Ctrl+Shift+N to open a normal browser window.
Change default search engine: We recommend using Google as a search engine if you own a Chromebook, though you're free to use Yahoo, Bing, Ask, or AOL instead. All you have to do is go to the Settings page, scroll down to Search, and select the Google drop-down menu. You will then see other choices.
Change download location: You have a Downloads folder by default, but you can still change where you want downloaded files to go. Just designate the location and specify whether you want Chrome to ask where to save each file before downloading. You can do all this under the Settings page. You'll need to click Advanced Settings at the bottom and then find the Downloads section for all the options available to you.
Access Bookmark Manager: Press Ctrl+Shift+O to access your Bookmark manager in the Chrome browser. This page will let you easily move bookmarks, create folders, and organise all your favourite pages.
Adding bookmarks: To add a bookmark for a current page, press Ctrl+Shift+D. You can also just right-click on the bookmarks bar to see options.
Clear browsing data: To delete your browsing history, download history, cache, cookies, and all that jazz, whether from the beginning of time or the past hour, go to the Settings page. Scroll down and click Advanced Settings at the bottom. Find the Privacy section and select Clear browsing data.
Save pages for offline reading: You can still access and read a webpage with your Chromebook after the internet goes out. You just have to click on the page and press Ctrl+S. A dialog box will then appear and ask you to save the page to one of your drives. Once done, click on the saved file to open it and continue reading. Simples.
Minimise windows: Press Ctrl+M once to minimise your current window. Keep pressing the shortcut combination to minimise every open window until you see your desktop.
View Chrome browsing history: There are number of ways to see all the sites you've recently visited. You can go to the Settings page and select History in the right-hand menu, or you can press Ctrl+H.
Change wallpaper: There are a few ways to change your wallpaper, but the easiest is to right-click on the desktop and select Set Wallpaper. A dialog box will then appear with options for changing your wallpaper.
Change Chrome theme: The Chrome browser lets you change its background image, transparency, and font, among other things. You only need to open the Settings page, then scroll down to Appearance, and select Get themes. The Chrome Web Store will open with tons of themes to choose from.
Change account picture: The image that appears on your user account and in the status area of your shelf is easily changeable. Go to the Settings page and scroll down to Users. Click the image and select change. You will then see options for changing your account picture.
Power off: Press the Power button to completely power off your computer. You can also go to the status area on your shelf and click the Power icon.
Cold reboot: Abruptly turn off your computer by pressing Refresh+Power.
Restart: Restart your computer by pressing Ctrl+ Shift+Q (twice, for confirmation).
Barrel roll: Want your display window to do a barrel roll? Press Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Refresh.
Rotate Chrome OS screen: Want to try portrait mode or flip your screen around the display? Press Ctrl+Shift+Refresh.
Access your iTunes library on your Chromebook: Watch Google's video for an easy step-by-step guide.
Stream local video to TV: To stream your local videos, open the Chrome browser and press Ctrl+O on your keyboard. Then navigate to the video you want to play. You can select files from your local drive, connected external drive, and even network locations.
(Note: You'll need to buy a Chromecast dongle, then plug it into a TV, and install the complementary Chromecast extension on your Chromebook. Once you do all that, you can use the above keyboard shortcut to instantly beam video from your computer to the big screen.)
Get help: If you need even more tips and help, you can always use your Chromebook's built-in Help Center. Click on the status area on your shelf and select the question mark icon at the bottom. The Help Center will then open.
Send Feedback: If you want to send a detailed feedback report to Google, with an auto-generated screenshot attached, press Alt+F (together) and then type R and E. A menu you will appear that allows you to describe what happened or give feedback. You can include a URL, email address, and even an attached file. The report will further include any system information and metrics...all you have to do is approve it and send away
Web apps, extensions, and add-ons
Photoshop: There's no official Photoshop app in the Chrome Web Store, but there are plenty of photo-editing alternatives. Pixlr Editor, for instance, is practically a free Photoshop rip-off for the browser. You can create layers, use all the familiar Photoshop-esque tools and filters, including standard editing fixes like red-eye reduction, crop, and spot heal, and you can do more hardcore stuff like play with saturation, levels, brightness, etc. You can even open PSD files and copy and paste from the clipboard.
Video-editing: Unfortunately, there's no Adobe Premiere rip-off in the Chrome Web Store. But there are free web app editors available like WeVideo. It offers three editing modes and social sharing as well as the ability to drag-and-drop media, trim clips, enter text, add effects, record voice overs, etc. But for those of you who want something even more basic, try Magisto.
Photo management: To unlock the true power of a Chromebook, you really need to test out Google's entire ecosystem of Chrome OS web apps. The Google+ Photos app, for instance, is free and keeps all your photos backed up to Google+ (you can set albums and photos to public or private). Everything is auto-organised and ready to share as well. But that's not all...when you’re offline, you can still view your most recent photos.
Working with PDFs: There are no shortage of web apps and extensions that can help you create, edit, and merge PDFs. PDF Escape lets you start a new PDF as well as add text, images, signatures, etc, while PDF Mergy lets you merge multiple PDFs into one document. You can also use Google's Docs PDF/PowerPoint Viewer extension to view PDFs.
Productivity: As we mentioned earlier, you really need to take advantage of Google's products to get the most use out of your Chromebook. And that means installing Google's cloud productivity suite including Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Calendar. There's even a free web app called Drawing that enables you to draw simple shapes and designs, kind of like a rudimentary InDesign. All of these products work seamlessly together and back up everything to the cloud.
Notes: Another Google web app worth checking out is Google Keep. It's like a free sticky-note pad but more feature-rich. You can add reminders, colours, lists, and even images. You can also search notes and text printed in images. And, of course, everything auto-saves to the cloud.
Spell checker and grammar: Google Docs' spellchecker and grammar tools are improving every day. But Ginger is a free web app and extension that's a bit more robust for those of you who need a little extra help in the English department. Use the app to spell-check and grammar-check your emails or even Facebook posts. The extension is cool too because it'll serve up ways to rephrase your sentences.
Cloud storage: Most Chromebooks don't come with a lot of local storage, so you'll want to save big documents, photos, and files into Google Drive. Google not only gives you a bit of free storage straight away but also offers some of the cheapest subscription plans on the market.
Basic text editor: Copying text from the web can sometimes include a bunch of HTML jargon. If you want to copy and paste without having to comb through and remove the faff from your test, use a basic text editor. They can also serve as handy note-taking web apps, among many other things. We really liked Text and Caret. And they're both free.
Emails: We're going to assume you're locked into Google's ecosystem and using Gmail. If so, there are three web apps you need. The first is Gmail offline. It allows you to read and respond to email as well as search and archive messages without network access. It will auto-sync emails and queue actions anytime Chrome is running and an Internet connection is available. You can also install Boomerang, a free web app that lets you schedule outgoing emails (even if you're not online). And finally, Checker Plus is a handy and free extension that lets you easily access and manage multiple Gmail accounts.
Password management: LastPass is a renowned "password vault" - and it's now available for Chromebooks as a free or premium web app. You can save all your usernames and passwords to LastPass, and it will automatically sign-in to your sites and sync passwords. You can also use it to securely checkout at online retail stores, etc.
Tab management: It's common for Chromebook users to have a dozen tabs open at one time. So it's not a bad idea to look at products that can help you manage all those open tabs. TabCloud, for instance, is a free web app that allows you to save any window session and restore it at a later date or on another computer. You can also install the free Panic Button extension to quickly hide all your tabs from nosy friends or family members.
Text from Chromebooks: Chromebook users who want to text any mobile device from their machine (like Mac users do with Messages) will be happy to know there are free solutions available on the Chrome Web Store. MightyText is a well-rated extension that lets you send texts, photos, and files to contacts. Just install the app on your Android device and the extension on your Chromebook. Messages will sync between your devices. The extension also lets you ring your phone and schedule messages.
Android notifications: Want to get notifications from your Android phone? There are many web apps and extensions in the Chrome Web Store that can help you with this task, but one of the front-runners is Pushbullet. You’ll need to install the Android app on your Android device and free Chrome extension on your Chromebook to make everything work properly. Once that is done, you'll get Android notifications on your machine. You also be able to send links, files, notes, and addresses to any device or contact.
Skype: Microsoft hates Google. Microsoft also owns Skype. So, it's not too surprising that there is no Skype app for Chromebooks. But there is a decent workaround for messaging. The IM+ free web app lets you sign into Skype, send messages and files, and chat with contacts or groups. You can also download the IM+ Bar extension to add a dedicated chat bar for every web page you're browsing, meaning you won't have to keep toggling back to the IM+ web app in order to chat. Unfortunately, there's no support for video calls.
Video calls: Because IM+ won't let you place video calls, you'll have to look for an alternative messenger. We know of two products that you can try today. The first obvious choice is Google's own Hangouts extension. But another lesser-known option is the IMO web app. Both are great services and offer high-definition video calling.
Voice-activated search: For those of you who are super lazy or don't want to type, Google offers free beta extension that adds voice search to Chrome and Chrome OS. Once you install it from the Chrome Web Store, you’ll see a microphone symbol in the Google search box. At that point, just speak to your Chromebook (start with "OK Google") to perform a search. Also, if you’re signed in to Google, you can ask Google Now-supported questions (like “How's the weather?”) to get personalised results.
Connectivity diagnostics: Is your internet connection slow? Install Chrome Connectivity Diagnostics. It does exactly what you'd think...simple network testing and troubleshooting for Chromebooks and Chrome OS. It looks for common issues, port blocking, and network latency. It's really handy and helps calm the nerves when you're about to throw your router out the window.
Access Windows PCs and Macs: Chromebooks aren't as powerful as Windows PCs and Macs...yet. Therefore you may need to use a traditional computer at some point, but that doesn't mean you'll have to actually sit in front of one. You can remotely access that computer through your Chromebook. Simply install and quickly configure Google's free Chrome Remote Desktop extension. It lets you seamlessly view and run any machine powered by Windows or Mac OS X - directly from within Chrome OS.
Upload and stream music: Google wants your entire music library to work nicely with its Google Play Music service, so it is letting you store every track you own in the cloud. You can install the Google Play Music web app and then drag and drop any music file into your Google Play Music library. The app will essentially upload your local songs into Google's cloud storage system, enabling you to stream your entire music library through Google Play Music. Google Play Music will even watch and pull music from your selected folders whenever new songs are added.
Download torrents: Like most other functions on the Chromebook, there many ways to get things done. If you're someone that likes to illegally download content, you're in luck. Install the free Torrent Turbo Search extension and use it to search pirate sites for torrents to movies, music, etc. Once you find a good torrent, copy the torrent's download html link. You'll also want to buy and install theJSTorrent app, because you need to paste that copied torrent link into JSTorrent to download and play your content.
Stream local video to TV: Videostream is a free web app that plays your locally-stored movies and videos. Some Chrome web apps, such as Plex, require that you do complicated things like set up a media server to stream, but this app is much more simple and recently added support for several file types like mkv and avi. Just install the app, then choose a video file saved on your Chromebook, and select a Chromecast device from the top-right of your browser.
(Note - You'll need to buy a Chromecast dongle, then plug it into a TV, and install the complementary Chromecast extension on your Chromebook. Once you do all that, you can use Videostream to instantly beam video from your computer to the big screen.)
Let us know in the comments below if you think we should anything else to this list. Keep checking back for updates!