Technical Care BD

15 tricks to take advantage of a Chromebook, for novice or more advanced users

Chromebooks never cease to amaze: robust, agile and hardly demanding. If you want to learn how to get the most out of them, in this article you will discover how.

Chromebooks are much more versatile and capable computers than, in many cases and mistakenly, you may think. The idea of Chromebooks is to be cheap computers, especially suitable for certain uses in areas such as education or business.

Still, it is an incomplete idea. In addition, being laptops appropriate for those specific uses, with a good quality/price ratio and economical in most cases, Chromebooks allow us to deal with practically everything we need to do with a computer.

Chrome OS: an operating system with its own personality

Despite this versatility, “getting” with the Chrome OS operating system that moves Chromebooks requires an adaptation process (if we come from other operating systems), or a learning process.

This adaptation process means that we familiarize ourselves with the operating system options to adjust its operating parameters or familiarize ourselves with the repositories of productivity applications in the Chrome Web Store, in the Google Play Store, or even in application repositories in Linux.

As a spoiler, it should be said that, with a Chromebook, we can do practically the same as with a traditional computer.

Cheat gallery

To do this, let's see some tricks or tips for use that will help us take advantage of our Chromebook. There are dozens of them, but we will focus on some that, after several weeks of using equipment such as the Acer Chromebook 314, we have detected as more relevant, curious, or interesting.

1. The Google account is our passport to productivity: protect it

Most likely, you already have a Google account. It's basically what we need to make a Chromebook ours. Everything we do on the computer will be recorded, so that even if our equipment is broken or stolen, by entering our Google credentials on another Chromebook we can essentially recover all our work and continue where we were in a matter of a few minutes.

Regarding the account, it is important that you use a strong password and preferably with two-factor authentication. Chromebooks are very secure devices by platform concept, but a weak password is always a weak point, even if Chrome OS is designed to be malware-proof.

2. You can use a PIN to log in

If you create a particularly strong password, it may be better to use a PIN to log into your computer. Remember that the PIN is only used to access the Chromebook and not your Google account, so it is not a risk factor and saves time when accessing the device.

If you have an Android phone, with Smart Lock you can also access the Chromebook (and your Google account) by unlocking the terminal.

3. Get familiar with keyboard shortcuts

Google offers options for accessing certain common functions using keyboard shortcuts and hotkeys. In all Chromebooks we have keys such as search, reload, show all windows, maximize the window,

or raise and lower brightness and volume. In addition, there are dozens of additional combinations that allow you to capture the screen, capture only one area, or scale the size of the screen.

In the configuration menu, under Device - Keyboard we find setting options as well as a complete list of the different combinations of keystrokes that we have to do to activate some of the functions described above.

For example, to make a screenshot we will press Ctrl + Show all open windows, which is the key that is in the position where the "F5" key would be on a Windows laptop.

4. Take time to get to know your app stores

On a Chromebook, we have access to the Chrome Web Store as an application repository. It is a store with almost 200,000 applications and extensions with a cloud-based operation, although compatible in many cases with the offline operation without connection.

Unlike the store that we find on computers with other operating systems, when we access the Chrome Web Store we find the Applications mode, which allows you to install applications and cloud services as if they were conventional programs available through direct access, although they are later executed in the browser.

We also have the Google Play Store with Android apps. It is an addition to Chrome OS that Google integrated in 2016. The philosophy is to “virtualize” an Android environment on Chrome OS so that no complexity is added that contradicts the cloud philosophy of Chromebooks. It does make aspects such as the processor, memory, or storage influence performance, although even the most basic configurations "can" with most of the Android apps that we install.

And we must add a Linux environment that is in the beta phase, although functional, using a philosophy based on virtualization through containers. The version is Debian Linux 10 (Buster). It is compatible, at the moment, with the microphone but not with the webcam. We do not have an application store as such, although we can install a package repository such as Plasma-Discover. There is no single method to install apps on Linux, although they are a very powerful formula to add functionality to our Chromebook.

5. Get familiar with the interface

The elements of the Chrome OS interface are slightly different. We have a file manager, called "Files" from which we can access documents, downloads, and items that are stored locally. It will not be every day, being a team designed for cloud work, but we can access both the main unit and external units without a problem.

We also have a taskbar, called "Bookshelf" where we find shortcuts to applications that we have pinned or "pinned". The right mouse button allows access to contextual functions such as “Pin” an application to the Shelf.

The equivalent of the Start menu is the Applications menu, on the left on the Bookshelf. Pressing once we access the search engine and the registry of recent applications. If we click on the arrow, a more complete menu is displayed with all the applications as in Android.

6. Use the guest account

In Chromebooks, we can use a computer without compromising security using guest access. In this way, our activity during the time we use the equipment will be eliminated when we leave the guest mode and, if we leave the equipment to someone else, they will not be able to access our files and data.

It's a simple and elegant way to allow the use of Chromebooks safely and privately.

7. Choose the version of Chrome OS

On Chromebooks, we don't have to worry about keeping the system up-to-date: it is updated frequently and is a fast and problem-free process. In addition, we can choose the update channel. The "standard" channel is the most stable, although if we want to "tinker" with the most recent options and experimental functions we can choose the "beta" or development ("dev") channels.

To access "geek" features such as installing .apk files, we will need to be on the dev channel. This would be the case of developers who want to test their apps, or users who want to install apps that are not in the Google Play Store for Chromebooks. The beta version allows, for example, access to more recent versions of Linux, or to configuration options that only later can reach the stable version. Also, there are faster updates.

If you go from unstable versions to more stable versions you will have to perform a "power-wash", or complete erasure of the equipment. It is not serious as we will see in the next section.

8. If something goes wrong, go back to factory settings

One of the advantages of Chromebooks is that our data will generally be in the cloud and what we have stored on the Chromebook itself will be marginal and easily “backupeable” on a USB key or a MicroSD memory card if it is the case, as in the Acer Chromebook 314.

Thus, in the event of any symptoms of instability (in the case of beta and dev versions especially), by deleting everything and logging in with our Google user account again, we will have almost everything as before the deletion.

In addition, we have the option of creating a recovery USB key from the cloud itself and from any computer with a Chrome browser. Chromebooks are crash-proof, ideal for both newcomers to computer science - be it the little one at home or the grandfather who resists surfing the internet - as well as for those well versed in computer gadgets.

9. Play as if you had a gaming PC

In Chromebooks, we can access, for the moment, two gaming services in the cloud such as Stadia from Google and GeForce Now from NVIDIA. If the Internet connection is optimal, we can play at 1080p with maximum detail level and frame rates between 50 and 60 fps without problems on our Chromebook and without noticing any appreciable loss of graphic quality or fluidity of movement.

It's one of the clearest and most spectacular examples of cloud processing power.

10. Remotely connect to a Windows or Mac computer

In the event that we need to access a Windows or Mac program, we can use applications such as TeamViewer or AnyDesk to remotely access a computer that we have with those operating systems. Or use the Google Remote Desktop extension.

It is a way to integrate all the experiences of the ChromeOS, Windows, Mac, or Linux operating systems without leaving the Chromebook. With a good Internet connection, the user experience will be smooth and productive.

11. Connect peripherals

Chromebooks are a category of the product perfectly capable of extending its functionality through peripherals such as external screens, external storage units, peripherals such as keyboards or mice, memory cards in many cases or we can even use digital "pen" to take advantage of the technology of models with touch screens.

Far from what you might think, Google is adding more skills to ChromeOS, and connectivity is one of those skills. Computers like the Acer Chromebook 314 have USB-C, USB-A, microSD card reader or headphones, as well as Bluetooth and WiFi.

12. You can also work offline

Chromebooks originally relied heavily on the Internet connection. Gradually, developers have been adding "offline" modes that allow applications and services to work even if the Internet connection is interrupted or unavailable at some point.

Apps that support this model have their own category in the Chrome Web Store. There will be options that we will not be able to use, but others will, updating the cloud logs when the connection is recovered.

In the case of streaming platforms, such as Netflix or Spotify, we have the option of downloading the multimedia contents locally to view them offline without connection.

13. Use Linux apps

The equivalent of app stores on Linux is software repositories, like Plasma-Discover. We can install a repository manager like this by using the script in the Linux Terminal: "Sudo apt-get install name-of-program" (always without the quotes). So, to install GIMP, we will use "Sudo apt-get install gimp". For Plasma-Discover we will use “Sudo apt-get install plasma-discover”.

14. Use your voice

Video conferencing applications are trending. Chromebooks, like the Acer Chromebook 314, are equipped to use tools like Google Meet or Zoom. And even Microsoft Teams using the Google Play Store app. Thus, it is quite immediate to create or join a virtual meeting room.

We can also use Chromebooks as speakers and a microphone for the Google Assistant, with which we can perform searches, execute voice commands, or even take notes without using the keyboard.

15. The screen is also touched. Sometimes

Let's not forget that there are Chromebooks equipped with a touch screen. Not necessarily in convertible format, yes. The Acer Chromebook 314, for example, has a conventional design and a touch screen, which is useful for tasks that require quick interaction that does not require mouse precision, for example.

In our case, in more than one situation we have forgotten that the screen was tactile, wasting time using keyboard and mouse to complete interactions that only required a touch on the screen.

Endless possibilities for off-road equipment

Chromebooks are laptops with much more travel than you might initially think. In these years, the Chromebook concept has been specially developed by Google and has grown in parallel with the growth of the cloud as a platform and the trends that point to a hybrid use of cloud resources and resources on the device itself.

And the additions that Google has been incorporating, such as Google Play or Linux applications, do not add ballast to the operating system and make use of container and virtualization technologies. In addition, they are safe equipment against dislike.

In summary, we are talking about highly customizable and configurable equipment, from the most basic to the most geek, with a performance that in the cloud part depends more on cloud servers than on local hardware.

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