Chromebooks are fantastic little devices—they’re simple enough for nearly anyone to use, and often come in at prices a fraction of Windows laptops or MacBooks. Whether you’re a Chromebook veteran or a first-time buyer, here are some tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your machine.
First: Pick the Right Chromebook
If you’re just fooling around with the idea of getting into the Chromebook scene, you’re probably curious which one to buy. They can come in at prices as low as $99 or go upwards of $1600 depending on what you want, so there’s no shortage of choices.
Before you jump up and buy the first one you look at, however, there are a few things you need to ask yourself, like if you can live with just a Chromebook. For most people, the answer is “yes,” but if have specific needs, the answer isn’t always as clear.
Once you’ve done the research on whether or not a Chromebook is right for you, and you think you may be ready to buy one, you’ll want to get the best your budget offers. The good news is we have a roundup of the best Chromebooks you can buy right now for pretty much any budget, so take a look at that.
Change Channels for Early Access to New Features
If you like to live life on the cusp of stability and new features, then jumping from Chrome OS’ Stable channel to the Beta or Developer channels is a great way to see what Google has in the works for upcoming releases.
And if you’re really brave, you can even switch to the Canary channel, which gets updated nightly with the latest code changes. This makes it highly unstable and not all that great for daily use, but you definitely get eyes on the newest features as soon as they’re available.
Personally, I live on the Beta channel, as I find it to offer the best balance of stability and slightly early access to new features—but you do do.
Tweak Chrome Flags to Test Experimental Features
Even if you decide not to change channels, you can oftentimes test features that aren’t quite ready for prime time by enabling hidden “flags” in the Chrome menu. These are usually features that are almost ready to be integrated into the system but may not be fully tested yet and could be slightly buggy. The cool thing here is that if you enabled something that causes issues, you can just disable it to fix the problem.
It’s also worth noting that the Beta, Developer, and Canary builds will always have the newest flags (respectively), so you not only get early access to upcoming platform features, but also new flags.
To find these flags, open a new tab in Chrome and enter this:
Boom, there you go. To learn more about what you can do with flags, head here.
Boost Your Productivity with the Right Tools and Apps
There’s this weird old-school mentality that Chrome OS is “just a browser,” which I very vocally disagree with. Even if you use Windows, there’s a good chance you do most of your work in Chrome. I’ve been using a Chromebook as my main laptop for over two years now and haven’t missed out on anything when it comes to getting stuff done. Not convinced? Here’s a list of all the apps and tools you can use on your Chromebook (including games!). If you’re looking to get more done with your Chromebook, that should help.
Use Android Apps—Even Ones that Aren’t in the Play Store
Android apps now work on many Chromebooks, and it’s a total game changer. Where there used to be voids in certain types of apps, like photo editors and games, Android apps can now fill those gaps. Many of them even translate very well to a keyboard-and-mouse setup, so it’s a win-win.
If you’re looking for some good Android apps to get started with, we have you covered.
Furthermore, if an Android app you want isn’t available on the Play Store, you can “sideload” it just like you can on an Android phone. The thing is, sideloading Android apps isn’t supported by default, so you’ll have to put your device in Developer Mode before you can do it. That may eventually change, but for the time being that’s how it is. We have a full guide to get you rolling with that, too.
Run Windows Software Alongside Your Chrome Apps
Once you’ve put together your perfect list of Chrome and Android apps for Chrome OS, you may find that you’re missing one key tool that’s only available on Windows. No worries, as there are actually a few ways to run Windows apps on Chrome OS.
I won’t promise that they’re all flawless, but they may be the answer you’re looking for—at the very least, it’s worth experimenting with.
Install Linux Alongside Chrome OS with Crouton
Finally, if you’re looking to eke just a little more versatility out of your Chromebook, then a Crouton install is the way to do it. This will allow you to run Linux alongside Chrome OS for those times when you just need to do something Chrome OS can’t handle on its own. It works surprisingly well, and is a very flexible setup—for example, you can run your Crouton installation in a browser tab for fast switching between the two OSes, or even run Linux applications directly in Chrome OS for a more native feel. It’s cool.
…And a Lot More
Those are some of the biggest things that you can do to get more from your Chromebook, but it’s arguable that the best tweaks are often the smallest. I’d be remiss not to mention the tons of little things you can do to make your Chromebook work better for you, so here’s a short list of other things to check out if you’re looking to optimize that experience just a bit more:
- Connect to a VPN for a more secure web experience
- Print from your Chromebook
- Monitor your Chromebook’s system resources
- Get your game on with Android apps and a controller
- Set your default apps
- Check your Chromebook’s battery health
- Understand how the backlit keyboard works on Chromebooks
- Unlock your Chromebook with a PIN instead of password
- Tweak text size for easier reading
- Find, use, and tweak keyboard shortcuts
That should keep you busy for a while, and hopefully make your Chrome OS experience a more pleasurable (and useful!) one. Enjoy.