The Ultimate Guide to Chromebooks and Chrome OS

by: - Last updated on: September 26th, 2020

Chromebooks are no longer in their nascent stages. Their sales have been gradually increasing for the past year. Irrevocably, Chrome OS too has itself come a long way in terms of sheer functionality. And why shouldn’t anyone consider them while looking for their next workstation? They are simple, cheap, and powerful enough for most users out there. However, Chrome OS itself can be slightly intimidating and futile at first if you’re unaware of its notions.

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The core rationale behind the myths and complications revolving around it is the name which translates to “just a browser” for the majority. Principally, that’s true, although Chrome OS, as I mentioned, has received a slew of critical updates recently making it a substantial competitor in the market. However, under the surface, there are a plethora of features users don’t even discover during their usage, hence here’s a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about Chrome OS.

Which Chromebook to Buy?

Deciding on which Chromebook to purchase isn’t a straightforward task anymore. There are a lot of options available now, unlike before, and for the most part, they look and function exactly the same. They all come with an impressive battery life, identical unaltered software, and cost roughly between $250-$450 depending on the hardware.

So, what you should actually look for while buying is – performance and build. Oh, and you should definitely buy the one that comes equipped with a touchscreen as Chrome OS now supports Android apps and games. The performance will be above average on all of them but some are powered by extremely low-end chips which will lead to bad experience while multitasking. RAM should be a minimum 4GB unless you’re just planning to browse social media and other basic tasks. The most common thing Chromebooks usually get wrong is the quality of trackpad and keyboard, so make sure that they adequately suit your working style.

For the majority of buyers, currently, in my opinion, Acer’s Chromebook R13 is the best one available out there. It comes with a spectacular design, satisfactory keyboard, supports Android play store and costs around $350 which isn’t much. If you’re looking for something more powerful and need the best battery life, check out the Dell Chromebook 13 that costs $430 and then there’s the Acer Chromebook 14 at $600 which is basically a powerhouse sporting Intel Core CPUs. In my opinion, though, Dell’s offering should suffice. Lastly, the rugged Asus Chromebook C202 which is priced at $200, is the perfect companion if you’re buying it for your kid.

Getting Familiar with the Chrome OS

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Boot up your shiny new machine and once you get past the signup process, you’ll be welcomed with a rather traditional-looking desktop. The bottom bar is obviously, the taskbar (it’s actually called the “shelf” on Chrome OS) housing some shortcuts, a bell icon which is for notifications, a settings panel, and a little circle which will fire up the app launcher.

For unpinning any shortcuts, you can just right click which will also reveal some other options for modifying shelf’s position, autohide shelf, and set wallpaper. You can also configure Chrome OS to display a new wallpaper every day, tap the “set wallpaper” entry and tick “surprise me”.

Next, move over the notification area by clicking the bell icon. For muting alerts, tap the first option. Second is for clearing all of them and lastly, there are settings for manually choosing which apps you’d like to allow to send a notification. Finally, there’s the quick settings panel consisting buttons for WiFi, Bluetooth, shut down, log off, volume, battery level and more. We’ll dive deep into the entire settings menu later.

Google chromebook Keyboard

Next, up, let’s get you acquainted with the physical keyboard which doesn’t feature the standard functional row. There are instead, keys for navigating on Chrome, reloading tabs, full screen (5th one), an overview of windows (6th), brightness controls and more. There’s also a dedicated switch (the one with the search icon) for opening the launcher. For locking the Chromebook, you’ll have to long-press the lock button on the top right corner. But wait, there’s no caps-lock key! Don’t worry, you can configure the search button to function as that or use the combination – alt+search.

Understanding Apps on Chrome OS

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The most important thing to know about Chrome OS, though, is that it’s fundamentally a browser with some additional tidbits. Hence, everything you need will have to be searched for in the Chrome web store like full-fledged apps and extensions. You may have a fallacious image of it being utterly useless without the internet but that’s not true at all. There’s a file manager which also has tabs for Google Drive, so you can browse through that and download data (using the make available offline option). You can then look for extensions and apps that work offline. To do so, head over to the web store and check the “works offline” filter to get the complete list. We’ve already compiled some of the best ones out there, you can take a look at them here.

Additionally, Chrome OS doesn’t have a native feature for most things you get by default on other advanced operating systems. There’s a fairly decent video player, but if you want more, download VLC. For editing images, I would recommend polarr photo editor. Another is extracting archive packages, for which, you can install an app such as ZIP Extractor. For text editing or coding, there’s Caret.

The apps you get pre-installed on Chrome OS such as Google Docs aren’t actually “apps”, they’re just web links that work inside the browser even when there’s no internet connection. The task manager is accessible by pressing the combination, “search+Esc” or right-clicking the Chrome window’s tab bar.

Of course, you can also download Android apps and games. If you can’t find the play store, enable it in the settings. If you can’t locate the settings for it, your Chromebook doesn’t have support for it yet.

File Management

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Furthermore, you won’t find standard drives like C:\ or D:\ here, instead, there’s a download folder which is your local storage. You can create folders in there and if you’d like to save anything for offline purposes, copy it to the downloads folder. Speaking of the file manager, it is actually customizable meaning you can also add Dropbox or OneDrive for quick access. To do so, open the Files app and on the left, hit the “add new services” button and install your required platform.

chrome-os-overview

Chrome OS supports the usual multitasking tricks such as the alt+tab shortcut for switching windows and an overview mode which can be viewed by either a three-swipe from the top gesture or the dedicated switch on your keyboard. If you’re in the touch-only setting, tap the button located on the bottom right corner. For snapping windows to the sides, you can either drag them or use the shortcut – Alt+[ or Alt+]. Additionally, the app launcher is directly integrated with Google, so you can look for anything in there from documents to executing web queries. It even functions as a calculator and unit converter. Neat, huh?

Diving Deep into Settings

Now, let’s take a look at some of the essential settings you can enable for a better experience.

Keyboard

You can customize almost every special key on your Chromebook’s keyboard. Head into the settings and look for “Keyboard settings” or you can just search it. You can assign different functions such as caps lock to a particular switch or disable them altogether. Additionally, you can operate the top row as function keys on Windows by either checking the option or holding the search button. Lastly, Chrome OS provides a neat way to view all the available keyboard shortcuts. You can, though, press “Ctrl+Alt+?” anytime to display that interface.

chrome-os-keyboard-shortcuts

Storage Management

Clicking on the “storage management” button will reveal a comprehensive list of where your storage is being consumed the most. You can click on various categories such as Browsing history to view more and delete if required. If you’re looking for a little more advanced overview of your file system, then head over to chrome://quota-internals/ on your Chrome browser.

Search Any Website Directly From Chrome’s Address Bar

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Next up is the “manage search engine” button which isn’t particularly helpful unless you know what it is capable of. Google Chrome allows searching any website directly from the address bar if you configure it appropriately. So, for instance, you can add Gmail in there and straight away search your emails. For adding a new destination in the list, scroll to the end after tapping the button. First, there’s a field for the name, next is the keyword which will act as a search command and finally, the URL itself. Now, for the URL, you’ve to replace the search query with “%s”.

For example, when you search something on Gmail, the URL is “https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/s”. When you append a new entry in that list, you’ve to substitute the term after “search/” with “%s”. Therefore, the final URL will be “https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#search/%s”.

Add PIN Lock

Entering your entire Google password for logging in is undoubtedly a hassle. Thankfully, Chrome OS received the ability to set PIN lock in a recent update. For adding, click the “manage screen lock” link and then add a PIN.

Smart Lock

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Alike Android, Chrome OS also has the smart lock feature meaning you can unlock it by any other Bluetooth-equipped device such as your smartphone. For enabling it, click “set up” under the “Smart Lock for Chromebook” section and follow the subsequent steps.

Next, there are various settings for accessibility, resetting, cloud print, and more which are fairly basic and don’t require any introduction.

Chrome://flags

Google Chrome, as most of you might know, has an extensive range of experimental flags which you can enable to get an early hands on an upcoming feature. You can head over to “chrome://flags” to view them all. Here are a couple which I find the most useful,

You have to search for these titles, enable and restart your Chromebook.

Touchpad three-finger-click Chrome OS

Search for this flag and once enabled, you can perform a function by a three-finger click on your touchpad.

Enable mirrored screen mode

Turns the screen upside down.

Floating virtual keyboard

Brings a movable virtual keyboard while in touch-only mode or if you enable manually while using it as a laptop.

Physical Keyboard Autocorrect

This is one of the most intuitive features you enable via Chrome flags. It does what it says – displays a little list of predictions while you’re typing on the physical keyboard.

Scroll Prediction

Google Chrome also has an unorthodox feature which predicts how much you’re going to scroll next and appropriately, lands you on that section. It doesn’t work as often as you’d expect but is still pretty fun when it does.

How to use Web Apps as Standalone Desktop Apps?

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Most web apps today don’t have a standalone Chrome OS app in the store. However, there’s a way you can use them as desktop ones. First of all, load the website such as Facebook. Click the three dots present on the top right -> more tools and tap “add to shelf”. Check “open as window” and add. For getting notifications for this, open up the website again, click the little green lock or “i” icon in the omnibar and look for “notifications”. Tap “always allow” and you’re done. You have a fully-functional Facebook app with notifications on your Chromebook.

How to Record Screen?

For recording your Chromebook for demonstration or any purpose, download Nimbus. It’s a screen capturing and recording tool for Google Chrome. The extension features a comprehensive feature set ranging from tracking a portion of your screen to recording sections of the entire Chrome OS and it’s completely free. Additionally, once you’re done with taking videos or even just screenshots, Nimbus has a lot of editing options you can employ as per your needs.

Parental Controls on Chromebooks

Chromebooks are wildly popular among parents who are looking to buy something minimal for their kids and especially in schools where their sales are booming. Keeping that in mind, Google has bundled some parental controls which you can employ to block websites.

For turning on supervised users, open settings, then “manage other users” and check the box next to “Enable supervised users.”

Next up, to add a supervised user, tap the status area (where your account photo appears) and click sign out. On the resultant screen, click more and add a supervised user. Follow the steps for inserting name and details.

Once the account is created, head over to chrome.com/manage, select the respective supervised user and in the “permissions” section, click Manage. Under “Blocked sites”, enter the website you’d like to block and click OK. That’s all.

Diagnosing Connection

chrome-os-diagnostics

In case your connection isn’t working properly, you can download this little extension by Google for diagnosing it. “Chrome Connectivity Diagnostics” runs an extensive number of tests to figure out what’s wrong and churns out a sophisticated list of issues if found any.

Chromebook Recovery

Google has a recovery tool for Chrome OS in case you’d like to start again due to some issue. On a working computer (can be a Windows or Mac), install the recovery app and follow the on-screen instructions to create the recovery media. If you have a Chromebook with a keyboard, press and hold Esc + Refresh, then press Power. Let go of Power. When a message shows on the screen, let go of the other keys. Insert the flash drive and recover your death laptop in minutes.

Additional Tips and Tricks for Chromebooks

Here are some additional tips and tricks to get the most out of your Chromebook.

  • Hold down the maximum button on a window and move left or right for snapping it to the edge.
  • For taking a complete screenshot, press hold down the Ctrl button and press the Overview button.
  • However, you can also take partial screenshots on Chromebook. To do that, hold down the Ctrl and Shift buttons at once, then press the overview button.
  • In case you’ve a lot of bookmarks, make it look cleaner by removing the name and just retaining the icon of the website. Right-click on a bookmark for editing.
  • CTRL + ALT + SHIFT + RELOAD will make your Chromebook do a barrel roll.
  • To refresh Google Drive cache, go to chrome://drive-internals/ and click “Clear local data” to clear cache.
  • To view hardware information of your Chromebook while it is booting, press Ctrl + i or Tab + i.
  • For getting a detailed information about your computer, open chrome://system.
  • To check out the bandwidth, open chrome://net-internals/#bandwidth.
  • Keep pressing Alt + – (Alt Key and minus (-) to minimise each open window, till you see the desktop.
  • To quickly get the IP address and MAC ID of your Google Chromebook, click the status tray and then the wifi icon, and lastly, tap the “i” icon.
  • You can rotate Chrome OS screen using this keyboard shortcut. Ctrl + Shift + Refresh.
  • Pressing the combination – Ctrl + Shift + 9 toggles the Projection Touch HUD.
  • Open chrome://power to display battery charge percentage over time.

That was everything you need to know about Chrome OS and how to operate them. Comment down below if you think we missed anything that should be here.

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