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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 or Mac. 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.
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.