Chrome OS

65 Chromebook tips for maximum productivity

Supercharge your Chrome OS experience with these time-saving tricks and techniques.

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Managing files

40. Chromebooks are all about the cloud and keeping your data perpetually synced — but by default, any files you download are actually stored in a local device folder. Fix that by opening up your Chromebook's settings, scrolling to the bottom, and selecting "Advanced." Find the line labeled "Location" under the "Downloads" header. Click "Change" and select a folder (or make a new folder specifically for downloads) within your Google Drive storage. Now, anything you download will automatically be saved to Drive and thus be instantly available wherever you sign in.

41. If you really want to get wild, you can crank up your Chromebook's cloud-connecting power even more by having your Windows or Mac computer and Android phone also sync downloads with that same Drive folder — effectively creating a single device-agnostic and internet-based "Downloads" folder. That way, anything you download will always be available on any device you're using. You can find the full instructions, if you dare, in this Android Intelligence column.

42. Want your Chromebook to integrate with cloud storage beyond just Google Drive? No problem: Open up Chrome OS's Files app, click or tap the three-dot menu icon in its upper-right corner, and select "Add new service" from the menu that appears. You can then select to add a new SMB file share — if you have a network server you want to be able to access — or to install a new service, if you want to integrate Dropbox, OneDrive, or other remote storage services into the Files app for system-wide use.

06 chromebook tips file services JR Raphael/IDG

A few quick clicks are all it takes to integrate Dropbox, OneDrive, and other cloud services directly into Chrome OS's file system. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

43. You can create custom shortcuts to commonly used folders — from either your local storage or any connected cloud service — in the left panel of your Chromebook's Files app for easy ongoing access. Find the folder you want and right-click it, then select "Create shortcut" to add it into the list.

44. Speaking of your Files app, a shortcut to remember: You can quickly open it anytime, from anywhere, by hitting Shift-Alt-M.

45. While in the Files app, you can switch between different sections by hitting Ctrl and then the number keys that correspond with their position (Ctrl-1 for Recent, Ctrl-3 for Images, and so on).

46. Chrome OS's Files app has a built-in photo editor that's perfect for basic image manipulation. While viewing an image in Files, click the pencil-shaped icon in the upper-right corner — or hit "e" on your keyboard — to get started.

47. For an even more robust file management experience, try installing the Solid Explorer Android app (also my top pick for advanced file management on Android) onto your Chromebook. It's optimized for Chrome OS support and gives you a two-panel view for fast dragging and dropping of files between different locations — including your regular Chrome OS storage, the area of your storage reserved for Android apps, and a huge variety of cloud-based storage accounts you can opt to connect. It also empowers you to add extra encryption onto specific files or folders and even to create password-protected ZIP or 7ZIP archives. The app costs $2 after a two-week trial.

07 chromebook tips solid explorer JR Raphael/IDG

Solid Explorer gives you advanced file management functions like a two-panel view and additional layers of encryption. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

Simplifying security

48. Your Android phone can serve as a virtual key to your Chromebook. All you have to do is set up Smart Lock, which lets you avoid typing in your password whenever your phone is unlocked and nearby. Open the "Connected devices" section of your Chromebook's settings to enable the feature and configure its options.

49. If you're using a convertible Chromebook as a tablet, you probably don't want to type in your full password on a giant virtual keyboard every time the system wakes up — especially if you're in a public place with lots of wandering eyes. Luckily, there's a better way: In the "Screen lock and sign-in" section of your device's settings (under the "People" header), you'll find an option to create a PIN that can be tapped in more discreetly on the screen, similar to how you'd unlock a phone.

08 chromebook tips security pin JR Raphael/IDG

Setting a PIN makes it more practical to unlock a Chromebook in its tablet mode. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

50. Let someone else use your Chromebook without gaining access to all your info with the help of Chrome OS's Guest Mode. Just look for the "Browse as Guest" option on the lock screen when no one is actively signed in. That'll open up an incognito-like environment where no personal or account-related data is available and nothing that happens is saved beyond that session.

51. By default, Chromebooks make it easy for anyone to add an account and sign in from the lock screen — something you may not want to have happen on your work device. You can turn this feature off by opening the "Manage other people" section in your Chromebook's settings. Activate the toggle next to the line labeled "Restrict sign-in to the following users" and then make sure only your account and any others you want on the device are included in the list.

52. Next time you're stepping away from your Chromebook, secure it quickly by hitting the Search key and then L. That'll take you back to the lock screen and the account sign-in prompt.

53. If you want to go a step further, hitting Ctrl-Shift-Q twice will sign you out of the Chromebook completely — closing any open apps, windows, and so on — no matter where you are in the system or what you're doing.

Embracing system tools

54. Chromebooks have multiple ways to capture screenshots, three of which are particularly useful: To capture the entire screen, either hit Ctrl and the Overview key if your physical keyboard is handy — or press your device's physical power and volume-down buttons if you're using a Chromebook in its tablet mode. To capture a specific limited area of the screen, hit Ctrl, Shift, and the Overview key and then use the on-screen guides to select the area you want.

55. Need to focus? Open up Chrome OS's notification panel — at the bottom-right of the screen — and click the icon that looks like a circle with a line through it (above the word "Notifications"). That'll put your Chromebook into Do Not Disturb mode, and no notifications will alert you until you turn it off.

56. You can also limit which apps and processes are allowed to notify you in general. Just click the word "Notifications" in that same area of the notification panel and then uncheck any titles you don't want to be able to generate alerts.

09 chromebook tips notifications JR Raphael/IDG

Stop individual apps and processes from notifying you to cut down on distractions. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

57. Give your eyes a break from the glare and take advantage of Chrome OS's Night Light mode whenever you're staring at your screen in the dark. Night Light adjusts the temperature of your display to make it less harsh in dim conditions (just like the same-named feature on certain Android phones, such as Google's Pixel devices). You can activate it by looking for the Night Light button within the Quick Settings panel — and you can customize its appearance and even tell it to turn on and off automatically based on the time of day by looking in the "Displays" section of the Chrome OS settings.

58. Speaking of visual optimization, take a moment to explore Chrome OS's recently updated wallpaper tool, which allows you to pick a category of images — things like cityscapes, landscapes, and art — and then have the system automatically refresh your device's wallpaper with a new image every day. After all, a pleasant work environment is critical for productivity, right? Right-click (or long-press) on an open area of your desktop and select "Set wallpaper" to check out the options.

59. If your Chromebook is running slowly or an app is acting up, hold the Search key and then hit Esc to open Chrome OS's Task Manager. There, you can see memory and CPU use for every active process and manually end any item as needed.

60. Pressing Alt and then the brightness up or down keys (in your keyboard's function row) will let you manually adjust your keyboard's backlighting — assuming, of course, that your Chromebook has a backlit keyboard.

61. Stylus users, listen up: If your Chromebook came with a connected stylus, be sure to look for the stylus menu in the lower-right corner of the screen (alongside the settings and notification panels). It'll give you quick-tap options for changing your stylus's current function and taking full advantage of everything it can do.

Breaking down boundaries

62. Don't forget about Chrome Remote Desktop. It's a simple and effective way to access another computer (Windows, Mac, Chrome OS, or Linux) from your Chromebook without any costly or complicated software.

63. If you need to show your Chromebook's screen on a larger display, meanwhile — like a Chromecast-connected TV in your office, conference center, or abode — look for the "Cast" option in the Chrome OS Quick Settings panel. It'll automatically pull up any compatible Cast targets on the same Wi-Fi network, and with one more tap, your computer's screen will be mirrored.

64. Remember that many recent Chromebooks can now run Linux apps — something that won't be sensible or necessary for most people but can be an interesting way for advanced users to expand Chrome OS's horizons. See my detailed Linux apps on Chrome OS guide to get started.

linux apps chrome os installing linux JR Raphael/IDG

Setting up your Chromebook to run Linux apps isn't exactly simple, but for certain types of advanced users, it can open up a lot of intriguing possibilities.

65. Want to use a browser other than Chrome on your Chromebook for a while? That's actually now possible, thanks to the availability of Android apps on Chromebooks. Provided your Chromebook is recent enough to support the Google Play Store, just open it up and take your pick. You can install common favorites like Firefox and Opera along with more niche-oriented titles like Dolphin and Puffin. Heck, if you really want to get crazy, you can even install the Chrome Android app and run it on your Chromebook. Just be prepared to see the ghost of M.C. Escher cackling off in the distance.

This story was originally published in November 2017 and updated in December 2018.

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