Chromebooks are great for cheap, easy-to-use internet access. As a stand-alone platform, however, Google’s Chrome OS is far newer than Windows and MacOS. There’s a definite learning curve when moving away from Apple and Microsoft.
If you’re new to Chromebooks, familiarize yourself with all the nooks and crannies for an overall better experience. To help get you started, here are a few tips that will advance you to “power user” status in no time.
Use the shortcut map
We could fill up an entire post listing all the keyboard shortcuts crammed into Chrome OS, but why bother? You can see all of them for yourself at any time by pressing the following keys simultaneously:
Ctrl + Alt + ?
This opens a window listing all keyboard shortcuts divided into six categories. To close the shortcut map, just click the X button.
Utilize overview mode
Want to see all the windows and desktops you have open on one screen? Simply swipe three fingers down on your touchscreen or trackpad to activate this mode.
You can also press the Show windows button key, or F5.
Create new desktops
Like Windows and MacOS, Chromebooks have the native ability to create new virtual desktops. This allows you to assign different groups of windows to different desktops, arranging more complicated projects effortlessly without getting them too confused or overloading any single desktop. To add a virtual desktop, press the following keys simultaneously:
Shift + Search + =
You can also create and manage virtual desktop using the following steps:
Step 1: Use three fingers to swipe down on your touchscreen or trackpad. Alternatively, press the Show windows button key, or F5.
Step 2: Tap or click New Desk located in the top right corner.
You’ll see the new desktop listed next to your original desktop in a ribbon running along the top edge of your screen. You can delete a virtual desktop by clicking the “x” on the desktop’s thumbnail.
Adjust resolution and zoom
If you find text or images a little too hard to see on your Chromebook (especially on newer high-resolution screens), you have two options.
Your first option is display scaling, which scales fonts, icons, and so on accordingly without reducing visual fidelity no matter the setting. This is different than changing the resolution as seen in Windows, which can result in ugly visuals if it’s reduced lower than your screen’s native resolution.
Step 1: Click on the system clock
Step 2: Click the gear icon on the pop-up menu. This opens the Chrome OS settings.
Step 3: Scroll down to the Device section and click the Displays option.
As shown above, you’ll see a slider ranging from Tiny to Huge. By default, it’s set to Tiny or 100%, which is your display’s native resolution. You can move the slider in eight increments up to 200%, but it’s still based on your screen’s native resolution.
For instance, a 1,920 x 1,080 screen scaled at 200% looks like 960 x 540, but everything is merely scaled up and remains crisp. If you grabbed a screenshot, the resulting image is still 1,920 x 1,080 despite all the larger elements.
There are keyboard shortcuts that do something similar:
- Scale up = Ctrl + Shift + “plus”
- Scale down = Ctrl + Shift + “minus”
- Reset scale = Ctrl + Shift + 0
If the menus and other interface elements are acceptable but you want to change the scale of text and images on one specific website, type the following:
- Zoom in = Ctrl + “plus”
- Zoom out = Ctrl + “minus”
- Reset zoom = Ctrl + 0
To change the default zoom and font size for all web pages, do the following:
Step 1: Open Chrome
Step 2: Click the three-dot Customize and Control icon in the top right corner.
Step 3: Select Settings on the drop-down menu.
Step 4: Click Appearance listed on the left.
Step 5: Use the drop-down menu next to Font Size to switch between five font settings.
Step 6: Use the pop-up menu next to Page Zoom to adjust the zoom between 25% and 500%.
Multitask like a pro
Like Snap Assist in Windows 10, Chrome OS allows you to “snap” windows to the sides of your display, essentially splitting your screen in two. For instance, you can have a browser open on the left and Google Docs open on the right, filling the entire screen — no stacked or floating windows.
Step 1: Select your first window and press Alt + [ to snap it to the left. Type it again later to “un-snap.”
Step 2: Select your second window and press Alt + ] to snap it to the right. Type it again later to “un-snap.”
Alternatively, you can simply click and hold on a window and drag it to the left or right edge of your screen. Release the mouse button when it fills the target half. Rinse and repeat with your second window.
Snap a screenshot
Screenshot captures work differently on every operating system, which can get frustrating if you are switching to a Chromebook keyboard, as it doesn’t support the Print Screen key. But fear not: Taking a screenshot is just as easy albeit slightly different:
Ctrl + Switch window (F5)
For more help on taking a screenshot on a Chromebook, check out our dedicated guide.
Get your Caps Lock back
By default, Chromebooks replace the Caps Lock key in the standard keyboard layout with a Search button that activates the Google Search popup. If you rely on a conventional Caps Lock key (or you just like shouting at people with all-caps text), there’s an easy way to get it back.
Step 1: Click on the system clock.
Step 2: Select the gear icon on the pop-up menu. This opens the Chrome OS settings.
Step 3: Click Device located on the left menu.
Step 4: Click Keyboard listed on the right under Device.
Step 5: Click the drop-down menu next to Search and select Caps Lock.
In addition to the Search key, you can reassign the Ctrl, Alt, Esc, and Backspace keys. You can disable all five as well.
Load the Task Manager
Despite its web-based roots, Chrome OS provides a Task Manager like Windows and MacOS. With this tool, you can see what’s eating your Chromebook’s memory, CPU, and network bandwidth. To open Task Manager, type the following:
Search + Esc
Alternatively, you can access Task Manager from Chrome:
Step 1: Click the three-dot Customize and Control button in the top right corner.
Step 2: Highlight More Tools in the drop-down menu until a roll-out menu appears.
Step 3: Click Task Manager.
You can end a task by selecting it on the list and clicking the End Process button.
Check the system information
Unlike Windows and MacOS, you won’t find a detailed hardware list. Instead, you must open Chrome and load the About System page. Even then, the average Chromebook owner may not understand what the information provides save for the current Chrome OS version.
To access this information, type the following in Chrome’s Omnibox:
Check your storage
Chromebooks typically have very little integrated storage due to their original web-focused design. Support for Android changed that, but you’ll still find most Chromebooks carrying less than 64GB. This is why we recommend purchasing an SD card so you can store images, photos, videos, and more on the card and let Android consume your Chromebook’s internal storage.
Still, you need to know how much each storage device currently offers. You can find this information in the Files app.
Step 1: Click the Files icon on the taskbar. It resembles a folder.
Step 2: With the app open, click the three-dot More button located in the top right corner.
A drop-down menu appears listing the internal drive’s remaining amount at the bottom. To see how much space remains on an SD card, select it listed on the left in the Files app and follow the steps again.
Get Chromebook Perks
Google offers a variety of perks just for buying a Chromebook, and they’re a great way to try other services or apps. Perks can shift over time, but currently, they include:
- 12 months of Google One with 100 GB of storage
- 12 months VSCO membership
- 12 months Dropbox membership with 100 GB of storage
- Three months of Disney+
- Three months of Stadia Pro
- Calm Premium for 30 days
- Duet Display
- Six months Squid membership
- The Fall of the Dark Brotherhood story expansion for the Elders Scrolls: Legends
- DOOM II
- In-app item pack for Fallout Shelter
Wipe your Chromebook
Want to factory reset your Chromebook to sell or completely start over? Chrome OS makes this easy with Powerwash. However, you can’t keep files on the device and merely reset the operating system settings like in Windows 10. You must save all files to an external drive first before performing a powerwash.
Step 1: Click on the system clock.
Step 2: A menu will open. Click on the gear icon to access the Chrome OS settings.
Step 3: Select Advanced listed on the left to expand the menu.
Step 4: Look to the left to find the Reset Settings option.
Step 5: Click the Reset button listed next to Powerwash under Reset Settings.
Step 6: A pop-up appears on your screen. Click the Restart button to confirm.