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15 Useful Chromebook Tips & Tricks

IMG_1467I’ve been using Chromebooks for several years, but I’m still learning handy new tips and saving tricks that speed up my workflow.

Below I run down 15 handy, lesser-known Chromebooks tricks, tips and keyboard shortcuts.

Not just for aficionados, the following tips may even make switching to Chrome OS a little easier for newcomers.

Before we go on

All of the tips and tweaks listed below work in Chrome OS, the operating system that comes loaded on your Chromebook.

Because of a shared codebase the majority of the tips below (excluding keyboard shortcuts) also with the Chrome browser on Windows, Mac and Linux.

1. Use The Chrome App Launcher as a Calculator

2

Not being the best with numbers I often resort to double-checking my sums using a calculator. In Chrome you can subtract the hassle of opening an app, launching a website or reaching for your phone by using the Chrome App Launcher to perform simple sums instead.

Just like Google (the search engine) basic sums can be calculated quickly, and it supports semi-advanced features like brackets, tan, cos and sine.

2. Use Chrome App Launcher as a Unit Convertor

1

Are the sums you’re making of the measurable variety? If so, you can perform on-the-fly conversions in the launcher too.

Just express your query as“{num} {original unit} in {needed unit}” and the result will appear .

Supported/example conversations include grams to kilograms, millilitres to tablespoon, miles to km, meters, cm, mm, inches… and so on.

3. Use Chrome App Launcher to Open Apps By Voice

chrome-os-voice-hotword

You can do more than check the weather

Google’s Launcher also has built-in voice search capabilities (which can even be set to “always listening” in the latest developer builds).

Aside from barking random search terms at your device you can also launch apps installed on your Chromebook by saying their name:

So, for example, saying “Ok, Google – Wunderlist” will launch Wunderlist (assuming it is installed).

For what it’s worth you don’t even need to say the entire word. For example “cal” would launch any shortcut, website or app result that matches.

Ok Google — that’s neat!

4. Close Tabs Quickly and Open Links in Background

three-finger-tap-gestures

If you have a mouse with a clickable middle button, or a Chromebook with a gesture-enabled touchpad, you can speed up two common activities: opening links in background tabs and closing tabs that are already open.

If you open links using Right-Click > Open Link in Background Tab, you should stop. It’s far faster to just “click” on the link in question with a three finger tap on your trackpad or by clicking the scroll-wheel on your mouse.

Same goes for closing tabs. Just hover over the tab you wish to close and tap with three fingers or click with your mouses’ third button and… vamoose!

5. Favicon Bookmarks Bar

favicon-bookmarks-bar

My super-minimal, very colorful favicon-only bookmarks bar often attracts a lot of questions, typically “what extension do you use to do that?”

No extensions, but a really easy “hack” — one that even pre-dates Chrome!

More than just look good. By reducing links to my favorite sites to their website icons I can have more of them on show and at hand.

To make the Chrome Bookmarks Bar show only website icons:

  • Right-click on a bookmark bar item
  • Select ‘edit’
  • Delete the text in the ‘name’ box
  • Hit ‘save’

It’s that simple. No extensions or add-ons needed. Repeat the process until all of the sites/services you want to minify are.

6. Search Gmail from Omnibar

cusom-search

Chrome’s omnibar is far more powerful and extensible than most realise. By adding a custom search engine for a specific site, you can quickly drill down to what you need from URL bar — no need to visit the site first.

One of the most useful ‘custom search engines’ to set up Gmail. With a simple phrase and a tap of the Tab key you can quickly find what you need, cutting out a step or two in the process.

To set Gmail  as a custom search engine in Chrome: 

  • Right click on the Chrome Omni-bar
  • Select ‘Edit Search Engines’
  • Scroll to the bottom of the window that appears

adding a custom search engine

Enter the following info:

  • Name: Gmail
  • Keyword: gms
  • URL: https://mail.google.com/mail/ca/u/0/#search/%s.

You can pick any ‘keyword’ you like. The one above is simply an example.

When you’re happy you can hit ‘done’. To use, head to the address bar, enter ‘gms’, hit the Tab key and query away!

(You can also use the Chrome App Launcher to perform searches using voice commands. In this example you would say “gms” followed by your query, e.g., “gms amazon”.) 

Keyboard Shortcuts

In our post “10 Shortcuts Every Chromebook Owner Should Know” last year we highlighted the basic key combos for enabling caps lock, taking a screenshot, and so on. It was, naturally, far from being exhaustive.

Here are a few additional ones.

facebook in the chrome dock

Pixsta snapped left, Facebook mobile docked right

7. Snap Windows like a Pro

Chrome OS and Windows 8 Mode: you can snap Chrome windows and applications to the left and right sides of the screen like a ninja using the following keys combinations.

To snap a window/app to left-hand side of the screen:

shunt333

To snap a window/app to right-hand side of the screen:

shunt33

8. Dock Windows Like a Pro

Chrome OS and Windows 8 Mode: You can also shunt select app windows to the “dock” area in a similar way, this time double-tapping the “[” or “]” key.

To dock window/app to the left-hand side:

shunt

To dock window/app to the right-hand side:

shunt

9. Append and Go

Typing the name of a website, e.g., ‘eBay,’ in the omnibar and hit the following key combo to automatically add ‘www‘ and ‘.com‘ and head to the site.

  • Ctrl + Enter

10. Access ‘Delete’

Chrome keyboards don’t come with a traditional delete key. To delete files or text ‘the wrong way’ without using your mouse just position your mouse at the right point in your document/click the file you wish to ditch and hit:

backspace

11. Paste Text Without Formatting

Pasting text from a word document, web page into an email often carries over text formatting, e.g., different fonts, text sizes, etc. To paste text without formatting press:

paste

12. Skip/Select Words in a Document

Don’t wear your back-arrow key out trying to move to a specific part of a document letter by letter. Instead use the following modifier to jump back/forwards by word.

chrome-os-keys

To select/highlight words as you jump tap:

chrome-os-keys

13. Open Chrome OS Notification Center using the Keyboard

You don’t need to take your hands off the keyboard to check any pending notifications in the Chrome OS Notification Center by pressing this key combo:

notification-centre-shortcut

14. Hard Reboot

While you may never need to, on the  forcibly reboot  It’s not the ideal way to reboot but can be vital if you’re in a boot loop or sat facing a frozen screen.

Just be aware that any unsaved work, data, etc will be lost when using this method.

quit

Note: this is a not a power wash or a factory reset.

15. Access More Google Drive Options

drive options in chrome os

Developer and beta channel builds of Chrome OS now show an extended set of Drive options in the File Manager menu.

Stable you don’t have to wait; press Alt then Click the cog icon in the File Manager to choose whether mobile data is used for syncing, and whether Google Docs files show up.

Bonus: Slow Down Chrome OS Window Animations

Finally, a largely pointless trick, but fun to play with from time to time. When clicking on an app icon in the app shelf to maximize or minimize it, hold down the ‘Shift’ key to watch the animation take place sup…er… sll….oo…w…lll…y.

  • Michael Moore

    I don’t know if I missing something or what, but I can’t get the calculator or unit conversion to work. I am on v40 (beta).

    • Are you using the new “experimental” launcher?

      • Michael Moore

        No, I am using the standard launcher associated with the beta version. There is a flag that needs to be enabled, is there?

        • Heimen Stoffels

          Yes.

  • Jonathan

    I usually just held the power button to hard reset, but I guess the combo is probably faster.

  • moe

    nice, good tips thanks.

  • Mototoro

    Thanks, great tips for a new Dutch chromebook user!

  • I am a power user (crouton in one window, SSH in another…), and even I didn’t know the “hold shift” or “docking” ones.

    Good read, thanks Joey!

  • Pedro Guillén

    Please, share with us the TARDIS wallpaper link!

  • cmannen

    Love that 3 finger click! That was new to me and is great, thanks for the tip!

    • FlacVest

      Swype with 3 fingers to move between tabs. That’ll save you tons of time. :)

      • cmannen

        Sweet, thanks! Even better! 3 finger magic all over the place now :-)

  • The three finger click has changed my life…great list!

    • FlacVest

      Swype with 3 fingers to move between tabs. That’ll save you tons of time.

      • Mind blown!

        • Adrian

          Hang on to yer head: Swipe with 3 fingers forward & back to toggle all-windows view :)

          • Ahh, stop it! It hurts. No, don’t stop. haha

  • Mark Permann

    Really nice tips here, thanks for posting. Did not know about 3 finger open in new tab! Or docking (snapping I did know and use a lot – I wish there was also a snap to top & bottom, have provided that feedback). Also search engines. Which leads me to ask: when I opened search engines, I saw that there were a lot in there from sites I’d visited. Does Chrome somehow automatically add a site to search engines if you search on that site? Anyway, using your tip I was able to create new keyword search shortcuts e.g. for eBay.

    • Mark Permann

      So, I learned from this link
      http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/create-custom-search-engines-google-chrome/

      that
      a) yes, Chrome does automatically add search engines when you’ve searched on a site, and
      b) you can make your own custom search engine with simple instructions in that link (I made one for Chrome Web Store, for example).

      • Adrian

        thanks for that :)

  • Avishkar Manna

    Something I’ve found that is not on this list is: enable HarfBuzz for UI text in flags; the onmnibox should no longer lag

  • Mi Pen

    That 3 finger swipe is very nice tip. makes tab switching real easy.

  • JAT

    Is there any way to print this list? I mean without printing the entire web page content.

    • Underdog

      JAT, I use the extension Clearly for this. It cleans up the page and allows you to print or save to Evernote. Hope I helped.

      • JAT

        Thank you, I’ll try that. That is helpful.

        • Underdog

          Did Clearly clean the page up to print for you?

          • JAT

            Yes it did.

    • Degru

      Assuming you’re using Chrome…

      Highlight the keyboard shortcuts section, ctrl-p, more settings, check Selection Only, print.

      • JAT

        Excellent, thank you.

  • Underdog

    Just changed my settings for the touchpad and three finger touch will definitely change things! I have never considered using the omnibox in the app launcher! One thing I noticed though is not to forget the equal sign on equations before you press enter,

  • JAT

    How do I undo these:
    alt+ [ to snap window/app left
    alt + ] to snap window/app right
    and these don’t seem to do anything:

    alt+ [ [ to dock window/app left
    alt + ] ] to dock window/app right

  • Dovaa

    the second pic is still a chromebook?

    • Daviljoe193

      It’s safe to say that the picture showing the touchpad gesture is based off of the Chromebook Pixel, as the only real difference is that there are two extra keys on the illustration, a Super key, and an FN key, but apart from that, I’m certain it’s a Chromebook Pixel.

  • Mike Hill

    Doctor Who wallpaper location please. :-)

  • mikebar

    Here is another great tip for you hardcore chromebook fans!

    Check out the all new SearchTop™ from wow/chrome!
    http://www.wowchrome.com

  • Pedro Martins Zamboni

    I found something note-worthy as well! You can use three fingers to scroll between tabs. It’s neat!

    • Blaide Nikado

      Oh thats freakin awesome! I just got this to replace stupid apple crap. I hated it with a passion from day 1. This thing I am absolutely in love with.

      • scoobie

        I got mine to replace stupid Apple Ipad2 after release 8.0 farked it all up. So Apple “fark U”

    • david ellis

      Thanks so much for this. Some great tips but this one I love!

  • Ben DiBello

    Ctrl+Alt+Shift+⟳

  • Stefan

    Any way to do the quick search for drive?

    • Joann

      yes if you go to manage search engines there is already a drive search, double click on it and change the google.drive.com to something else like drs for DRive Search

  • Lily

    if you choose Ctrl+n opens a new tab

    • Shawn Holmes

      Ctrl+n opens a new browser. Ctrl+t opens a new tab.

      • Matteo Spazza Giordan

        ctrl + shift + t open, one per one, the last closed tabs!!!!

  • Harry Nguyen

    I suggest a word count extension that might help your writing if you use Chrome
    https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/word-count-tool/ibjgdahgcdkpdlbkadidojhfddflblcm

    or this add-on if you use Firefox
    https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/word-count-tool

    if you want a quick & reliable solution, you can go to its web version:
    http://wordcounttools.com
    http://casechanger.net

  • Izzy Avilez

    Awesome tips and tricks! Thanks so much!

  • jt80uk

    i love my chromebook and the whole chrome experience suits me best and getting a chromebase tomorrow thanks for the tips.

    • same here !! i finally bought a Chromebox and a 25″ monitor.

  • Pietro Giovani

    3 fingers to navigate into tabs, 3 fingers + left or right ;)

  • Kyle Salewski

    FYI on #13, it is actually Shift + Alt + N

  • NO its right

  • nonamejo

    if you use two finger and swipe to the left slowly you will go back, it gestures hitting the back arrow

  • Jason Haynes

    CTRL + Tab brings you to top of the page

  • ChromeGenius

    Do ctrl + shift + reload button to flip the screen by 90 degrees. If you press ctrl + alt + shift + reload button flips the screen 360 degrees. If you dont have a chromebook go to google and search “do a barrel roll”.

  • ChromeGenius

    This is the reload button.

    • Mike

      Wow! Who would have thought?! Haha.

  • ChromeGenius

    Holding ctrl+alt+t and you will get the crosh (Chrome Shell) developer page. I will post an article about The developer shell.

  • Brian Whitworth

    Some fantastic tips!!

  • derek waterfield

    well all this is worthless, i just want to use the symbols like tm or r circled, stuff thats easily accesed on my android alternate keyboard and no one knows how or they just want to discuss shortcuts but cant give a secondary keyboard layout so i can choose those other symbols….. its like .finding a needle in a haystack here

    • pkop4

      No, it’s not all worthless. Just because it didn’t help you, doesn’t mean it wasn’t helpful to many others, including myself. Just because you were looking for a solution to your specific issue, doesn’t mean those discussing other issues need to address yours as well. Just do better at google searching, you would have found it:

      Settings -> advanced settings -> languages -> language and input settings -> check the box on the right that says “US extended keyboard”

      Then if you look on your task bar next to the clock and profile image, there is a label for the current keyboard.

      Clicking left shift + left alt will toggle between the keyboards. Using the “Extended” one, to get what you wanted:

      Right alt + v = ®
      Right alt + c = ©

      For list of other characters search for “chromeos extended keyboard characters”

    • Check out Emojipedia.

  • Nice tips! Now I can’t stop with the Alt + [ or ]!

    • Mike

      Same here! Haha.

  • Barry

    Great tips. Particularly like the three-finger ones (tapping for new tab or ‘swiping’ between tabs).

  • Toby Adams

    I have always wanted an extension that would hide the titles of bookmarks in the bar. This is because if you access the bookmarks through sync on another device, the favicons do not always show.

  • maxthepro500

    wow those are some nice tips