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The 7 Best Chrome Apps of 2014

chrome app 2014 banner

With a brand new year looming large, it’s time for a quick look back at the rear view mirror before pressing on ahead — and what a view 2014 holds for Chrome fans. 

We’ve seen native 64-bit builds of the browser land on both Mac OS X and Windows, savoured the introduction of nifty new features like tab audio indicators, and reaped the benefits of developers getting access to new APIs, design guidelines and features.

The past 12 months have also seen a great many changes in the world of Chrome Apps. In this post we look back at some of the very best new and updated Chrome Apps from 2014.

Sunrise (New)

sunrise chrome app

Sunrise built up a huge following on iOS, making its arrival on Android and Chrome OS (in May) all the more anticipated.

Kitted out with all kinds of handy organisational wizardry, support for multiple service providers, including Google Calendar, Outlook, Facebook and Todoist, it’s one of the easiest ways to stay on top of everything you need to do.

Some great touches include Google Maps integration for events with a location; Facebook birthdays; natural language app input; and much, much more.

Key features:

  • Flat, light design
  • Works offline
  • Google Calendar and iCloud sync
  • Displays contextual information from Facebook, Google Maps, Twitter
  • Smart icons for events

Sunrise, which works offline, is a free download from the Chrome Web Store.

Download Sunrise for Google Chrome

Wunderlist 3 (Update)

wunderlist

Wunderlist hardly needs an introduction. A mainstay in the productivity toolbox of millions, it’s practically a byword for “getting things done”.

The company behind the app, 6Wunderkinder, having abandoned its noble, if flawed, ambitions for a wider range of apps and services, returned to lavish attention and new features on its task manager. And boy did it show.

Aside from a cleaner look free of the skeuomorphic touches came a raft of new features, some of which were previously only available to ‘premium’ subscribers.

From file attachments, public lists, real-time sync, comments and a new notification centre, all served to power up an already powerful to-do app.

Key features:

  • Real-time sync across platforms/devices
  • New design & layout
  • Public Lists
  • Comments available to all
  • Media uploads
  • Activity Center
  • New backgrounds

Wunderlist 3 is a free download from the Chrome Web Store, with paid plans available for more features. And, like most other Chrome Apps on this list, it also works offline.

Wunderlist 3 on the Chrome Web Store

Pixsta (New)

pixsta chrome app

Instagram now outranks social grandee Twitter in both user numbers and active engagement. As cliched and mocked as the photo sharing network is, it’s clear it isn’t going anywhere.

Using the service on the desktop was made easier this year by the arrival of Pixsta by Sweetlabs, makers of the popular Windows software ‘Pokki’.

Their app offers a slick, app-like experience for browsing the artistic and wannabe-artistic snaps posted to Instagram.

While Pixsta doesn’t offer native image uploading — something no non-official app has thanks to Instagram limiting their API —  it is still a fantastic tool. It excels for casual needs, like viewing, liking and commenting on yours friends’ latest hot beverages, bed selfies and other hipster-fodder.

Key features:

  • Search for photos by user, tag or location
  • Get notified of new likes and comments
  • Two layouts: media grid and list
  • Ability to download photos and videos
  • Comment, follow/unfollow and like
  • Edit your own profile

Pixsta is a free download and runs offline. To get the most from it you will need an active Instagram account, something that can only be created through the official Instagram apps on Android, iOS and Windows Phone.

Pixsta on Google Chrome Web Store

Play Movies (Update)

play-movies-chrome-app

Google’s movie & TV store underwent a transformation this year, hatching from a mere web link into a fully fledged packaged app back in June.

In the months that followed Google has added more and more features to it, including the ability to download purchased content for offline playback (Chrome OS only).

Other features are more subtle, like in-app searching and purchases of movies, while playhead sync with apps on Android and iOS lets you pick up that episode of Girls right where you left it.

Google Play Movies & TV is a free app available for Chrome on Windows, Mac, Linux and Chrome OS.

Google Play Movies on Chrome Web Store

Polarr (New)

polarr

Polarr (sic) is a photo editing app that is so good, so powerful and so well designed that you almost have to pinch yourself when noticing that it’s free. 

No ads, no catches; just raw WebGL-powered photo editing tools that professional-grade apps like Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture demand money for. It has a slight learning curve, but has all the fine-grained controls avid photographers expect.

Among the adjustment settings:

  • Basics, including color, temperature,  exposure, saturation
  • Lights and shadows, including highlight quantity and strength
  • Interactive color curves and tones
  • Lens physics, including barrel distortion and vignetting
  • Apply grain
  • Crop and rotation tools
  • Community contributed pre-sets, including ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ option

Since launching in the Web Store the app has (quite rightly) been promoted by Google. Polarr is by far and away one of the most powerful free apps of its kind available on any platform, not just Chrome.

Polarr on Chrome Web Store

Hangouts App (New)

hangouts

Even the most ardent users of Hangouts, Google’s GTalk replacement service, have a love/hate relationship with its new ‘Chrome App’.

On the one hand it looks fantastic, offering a seamless and thoughtful presentation of chat activity. But on the other, it rarely works like a champ, and the use of ‘web view’ rendering leaves it with a serious memory problem.

But it’s getting better. Just this week the Hangouts team has added Google Voice integration and notification of new messages when the app is hidden or minimised.

Hangouts for Chrome is a free app, but only officially supports Windows and Chrome OS. Linux and Mac users can install it but should be prepared for quirks.

Hangouts (App) on Chrome Web Store

Google Play Music (New)

music chrome app

The reason for including Google Play Music is two fold. It’s undoubtedly just a handy little widget to have floating around on the desktop (assuming you’re a user of Google’s free music streaming service), with support for global keyboard media keys being especially useful.

But the other reason is that, by having it installed, you can use browser-based uploading of music files to Google Play Music rather than installing the old ‘Music Manager’ app for desktop.

It could be better, mind. It’d be nice to be able to use the app without needing to keep the main Play Music website open in a tab. Additional sizes/layout options and the ability to view a queue/playlist wouldn’t go unloved, either.

Google Play Music on the Chrome Web Store

Honourable Mentions

recover-app

With thousands of applications either debuting or updated this year it’s understandably hard to select just seven for this list. But if we didn’t, we’d be here all day.

Some honourable highlights not listed above but still worth mentioning again include Google Keep, which got some collaborative skills and a new icon this year and the new Chrome Recovery Tool (pictured above).  

The Google Chrome Dev Editor, forever to be known to most by its code name ‘Spark’, also launched, whetting the appetites of code ninjas in the process.

Weather Now, TimeDoser, and the short-lived Elmnts ambient noise app all found favour, as did dependable tools like Pocket and Pixlr TouchUp.

Which apps (not extensions) were your favourite this year? Let us know in the space below. 

  • Cristian Otegui

    I voted for Wevideo for its 720p few minutes for free.

  • JPB

    Seriously? No Pushbullet? Hands down the #1 Chrome app around.

    • There’s no Pushbullet app for Chrome, but an extention ;)

      • Iiari

        App or Extension, Pushbullet has changed how I relate to my CB, phone, and SMS. A breakthrough product that’s being updated at a breakneck pace…

        • Phil Oakley

          This is for Chrome App’s though. Offline, run in their own window. Pushbullet runs inside Chrome, so is an extension. I want them to make a Chrome App.

  • jasonbereklewis

    Why did Elmnts become ‘short lived’? It was a great ambient noise app…

  • Daniel Gallagher

    The Dev Editor and updated Google Keep are by far my favourite Chrome apps this year. If Chrome had a style editor like Firefox’s I would barely need anything else at work.

  • Darren Bates

    Some of the Android apps on Chrome (I’m looking at you Evernote) deserve honourable mentions here.

    • I feel like these are a bit cheap. While they do work well (and I enjoy using Android apps on my Chromebook!), I think this is a workaround, not a solution. Little to no extra coding was required to get it to work, as the runtime does all the work. It’d be like if OMG! Ubuntu! covered the 7 best games for Linux, but one of them required Wine.

  • Anton Voloshin

    Still waiting for Google to fix Hangouts on Mac. It’s hideous because it runs in a window, not on the desktop.

    And hide it from the taskbar on Windows. Why would anyone need it there if it’s already always-on-top and has a tray icon?

    • It does look atrocious, but it’s not supported. Until we (will we ever) get Aura on OS X there’s not a lot than can be done.

  • Heimen Stoffels

    @Joey: Error in the article. Sunrise doesn’t support Outlook yet. It still says “Not available yet” inside the Account settings of the app.

  • Elmnts is no longer available via the Webstore, however it is still available on the developer’s website.

    Developer’s website: http://zaucetech.com/elmnts/

    Direct download: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9Ribyvo1NYsTnZnX2tBdTdVaU0/view

    • Aron Tripp

      Elmnts is a really great ambient noise app. Use it all the time.

    • Adrian

      Why is it no longer in the Web store?
      Is there zero risk in downloading via Drive?
      thanks.

  • There’s also Journey (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/jlncjaehedpdoinepaejmlpbmdkgmpog), which I think deserves an honorable mention at least. Quite a nice app for writing journal entries, and its Chrome OS version is nearly identical in functionality to its Android version. Highly recommended to anyone who keeps a journal, or would like to.

    • Iiari

      Absolutely agree with Journal. One of my favorite apps on both Chrome and Android of 2014…

  • Andrew Smentkowski

    Draft takes collaborative writing to a new level. It also has a nice simple interface and a clean writing space.

    Chrome App: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/draft/hhdpdhokkaokgnlpednnaldpikngiipa?utm_source=gmail

    Developer’s Website: https://draftin.com/

  • The fact that you used Relient K for your screenshot made this site even more awesome.

  • Ryan E Howard

    How about being able to upload your own movies to play movies the same way you can upload your own music to google play music.

    • Coza

      You can do that using Google Drive. The biggest problem is the large file size of Movies compared to the relatively small file size of music.

  • 3 of the 7 are Google apps that people should (probably) be aware of already.

  • Shriram Bhat

    Word online ????

    • I tried to avoid including Hosted/URL apps in this list. Not because they’re not handy to have, but because there’s not an awful lot to them; they’re links to websites.

      • Shriram Bhat

        Yeah. Well, I was sarcastic anyway.
        Love your website. Keep up the good work!

    • Alexander Brown

      Thats just a link to a online service that has been around for a good few years and actually doesn’t fully function under ChromeOS

  • Jeremy
  • Peter Zhe Chen

    I found Owl Reminder is the best solution for calendar notification https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/owl-reminder-for-google-c/fgfgfbgekocmkfenbpndokpjjbifncoj

  • peterbhill

    Re: Polarr. It says above “available on any platform, not just Chrome” but when I go to download it I get a message that it’s not compatible. (Using Ubuntu Linux)

    • jo

      I think it only works in Chrome-based browsers

    • maevian

      I use lubuntu 14.04 with chrome, no problems wit polarr

    • peterbhill

      Am using Ubuntu 14.10 and Chrome Version 39.0.2171.95 (64-bit)

  • Alex Thierry

    Are some of these apps free (as in free speech)? And, I know where on an english speaking website, but is that possible to see what languages are available for apps like these? Because I don’t like using apps which are made only for english-speakers only.

  • Sunrise Calendar is SUPER AWESOME !

  • Luctreebusch

    Would love to have just a gmail app with notifications and a full google music player, both not in browser but as a standalone app.

    • Phil Oakley

      There’s a full Play Music app coming (Joey did a report on it a while ago – there was a reference to it on crbug.com) and `I’m hopeful an Inbox app is coming. I have it as a hosted app at the moment, which is just about good enough. Would be fantastic to be able to write emails offline and then have them send when I’m back online though.

  • Ziink A

    Better Search extension makes your search more productive.

  • Dale Pearl

    What is different about sunrise calendar and google calendar in the browser?

  • nice

  • Schtick

    Hangouts is designed for morons. Dumbest and curve messenger of all time.