Blog Post

10 new tips, tricks and tweaks for Chromebooks and Chromeboxes

It’s been more than a year since I shared a batch of tips and tricks for Google Chromebooks, and much has changed in Chrome OS(s goog) since then and now. In fact, when I look back both the Chromebook hardware and the Chrome OS software, I can really see a difference. Chromebooks are faster and run longer on a single charge while Google’s software has gained more features typically found on traditional operating systems.

2013 Chromebooks

Chromebooks still aren’t for everyone, of course; they suit my workflow really well but we all have varying computing needs. That’s OK, there’s room for everyone’s personal choice. If you do use a Chromebook — or a Chromebox, for that matter — here are some tips to help you get more out of your device.

1. Change the channel. Chrome comes in three distinct channels: Google starts adding new functions to Dev, they hopefully make it to Beta and eventually appear in Stable. It’s easier than ever to try these different Chrome OS channels — just type chrome://help into your browser, click the More Info link and select the channel of your choice in the dropdown menu. Previously, you couldn’t easily revert back to a newer channel, but Google has changed how the recovery process works. Now, there’s no reason not to try newer code on your Chromebook: It often gives you early looks at new or upcoming features as they migrate up to the Stable channel.

chrome os channel

2. Make a recovery drive. Using a recovery file was the old way to revert back to a older Chrome OS channel, but you don’t need it for that any longer. However, Google still recommends using a recovery file if your device isn’t working quite right. I also like to keep one handy in case I have a limited internet connection and need to refresh my Chromebook. To create one right from your Chromebook with a USB drive, just type chrome://imageburner in the browser address bar and follow the simple instructions.

3. Make it easier to read web articles. Many Chromebooks have relatively small screens. Sure, you can increase font sizes, but there’s a better way to read web content. A number of Chrome extensions strip out all of the superfluous extras from good content with a single button press. I generally use the Evernote Clearly extension for this purpose, but Readability, Read Mode and Easy Reader all work similarly.

gigaom clearly

4. Restart in the blink of an eye. Sometimes Chrome OS gets bogged down after hours of use with multiple tabs opened and closed. The fastest way to get moving again is a restart, and the fastest way to restart is to hold down the Refresh and Power keyboard buttons simultaneously. Chrome OS will quickly shut and reboot, freeing up the frozen cogs of your Chromebook.

5. Open Chrome apps in their own window. Chrome OS is built around a browser, but not every Chrome app has to run inside a browser tab. Sometimes it makes more sense to break out an app from the confines of Chrome; particularly if you have a large-screen Chromebook or use Chrome OS on an external monitor. To open an app outside of the browser, just hold the Shift keyboard button while clicking the app shortcut in your Chrome App Launcher.

NYT outside of Chrome browser

6. See what’s under the hood. Although Chrome OS looks simple on the surface, there’s a lot going on with both the software and the hardware. Type chrome://system to see interesting details on both. From here, you can see how much memory is in use by each browser tab, numeric signal strength for your Wi-Fi connection, and detailed battery information for your device.

7. Change the scrolling direction. Whether you like to scroll through web pages like traditional desktops or like a mobile device, Chrome OS can meet your needs. Type chrome://settings in the browser URL bar and look for the Touchpad settings under Devices. From here, you can choose Traditional scrolling or what Chrome OS calls Australian scrolling. The former scrolls a page down when moving up on the trackpad, while the latter works in the opposite way to simulate a touch screen.

touchpad settings Chrome OS

8. Add Google voice search. You might have missed it but in November, Google released a beta extension to add voice search to Chrome and Chrome OS. After installing it from the Chrome Web Store, you’ll see a microphone in Google search box: Just speak to your Chromebook when you see the microphone and Google will perform your search. Bonus tip: If you’re signed in to Google, you can ask Google Now style questions such as “What’s the weather ?” and “What’s my next appointment” for personalized results.

9. Remotely access a Windows PC(s msft) or Mac(s aapl). Chromebooks can’t do everything, so it’s a safe bet that at some point in time, you might need to use a traditional computer. There’s no need to physically sit in front of that computer though: You can remotely use it with Chrome OS. Just install the Remote Desktop extension and with some simply configuration, you can view and run Windows or Mac OS X right inside Chrome. This tool is so useful, I think Google should simply include it natively in Chrome OS by default.

chrome remote desktop to windows

10. Get notifications from your Android phone.There are a number of ways to accomplish this, but one of the best I’ve found is to use Pushbullet. You’ll need both the Android app and a Chrome extension to make this work; once both are installed, you’ll see your Android notifications without having to pull out your phone. An added benefit? Pushbullet also makes it easier to send links, files or addresses.

14 Responses to “10 new tips, tricks and tweaks for Chromebooks and Chromeboxes”

  1. Dmitry Trofimov

    I just bought a Chromebook and I found no good offline Video players for my child to watch her cartoons collection in the car. All apps stop after a video is finished and its difficult for her to start a new one.
    I had to develop the one that use YouTube-like gallery to choose a video to play and then continuously plays all videos in the gallery.
    If you need a super-easy video player for your child – that’s the one:

    Also I plan to add GoogleDrive support to stream videos from there as well.

  2. Hey Kevin

    I’ve tried your tip to open Chrome apps in their own window. This is nice. But, it won’t work for every app on my Chromebook. For example Dropbox opens in a new window (without the complete “header” and the omnibox) but Drive, Gmail, Google+ don’t do so. These apps still open as a new browser tab.

    Are you able to explain why?

    Best Thommes

    • I open a lot of my apps in seperate windows it makes them feel a little less like browser apps or extensions. I just right click on the app and select open in a new window rather then the browser tab and they all open in their own window. Seems to work for most of them and i have tried most of the ones like google docs, chrome store, gmail, etc. This might be an easier way to get the apps to open in their own windows.

  3. Dave L.

    Hi Kevin

    I really like the Google Chrome Show you do with Janko. I’ve picked up a lot of tips and tricks over the past few months. I have a quick question. Do you know when or if Google will be allowing users to remote into Chromebooks? I have a great interest in doing this. This is something that many of the Chrome community would like to see happen. I understand the concerns Google has with giving full access to the OS, but I thought that was pretty much possible with any computer you log on to via remote access. I would appreciate your thoughts. Take care and thanks for a great program.

    • Thanks for listening, Dave! At this point, I’ve heard nothing about remotely accessing a Chrome OS device. And I have asked around in the past. My take is that Google doesn’t want to open Chrome OS up to any security holes from a remote desktop standpoint so I’d be surprised if they ever allow it. :(

  4. Joe Ellett

    No, no, no. Following #4 does NOT let Chrome OS finish writing to disk; it will kill the OS even in the middle of a write operation. This has a nonzero chance of hosing up your stateful partition.

    You’ll get virtually the same result by holding down the power key for a few seconds to sign out, after which you can sign back in with everything clean, or hold the power key down just a few more seconds and the machine will power off, but it will do so cleanly.

    Refresh-power is for emergencies only, and with Chrome OS those emergencies are virtually nonexistent unless you’ve wandered off to dev or canary.

  5. Bill Richardson

    I don’t recommend using Refresh + Power to reboot unless the normal process fails. That doesn’t shut down politely, it just crashes and restarts. There’s a small but nonzero chance that doing that will corrupt your local storage. It will repair itself, but you’ll lose any local data.

  6. Wesley Files

    I was just trying out number 5 and it doesn’t work for apps that are pinned to the launcher outside the app tray, even if you go to the app tray to Shift-click them.

    Do you have any insight as to why that might be, Kevin? I love your work here and on The GigaOm Chrome Show, by the way!

  7. Usman Shams

    Remote Desktop is the most useful one, I can manage my torrent downloads right from my chrome :)
    Chrome os has a very useful picture in picture feature which can be accessed from Chrome://flags

  8. Shane Phillips

    i like using my chromebook it is all i need. i love tech as much as the next guy or even more but i was sicking of security concerns using my mac and it was getting slow after 4 yrs of use and plus i didnt have the money to buy another mac since i will never go back to windows

    • Joel Montfort

      “…i didnt have the money to buy another mac…”

      Similar experience here.

      I bought my Samsung Chromebook a while back with the intent that it would hold me over until I could replace my aging MacBook. After some months with the Chromebook, however, I’m coming to the conclusion that it makes better sense for me. I still think Macs are terrific, but I’m doing pretty much everything I need or want with the Chromebook.