Learn how to use and master a Chromebook with complete tips and tricks.

How to Use a Chromebook – A “Complete” Guide (2017)

So, you want to get the most out of your Chromebook? The best way? Learn how to use a Chromebook.

This guide is a work in progress that’s constantly updated, but it strives to be complete. It covers the basics so you can learn how to use a Chromebook effectively and efficiently with ease. If you read the whole thing, you’ll be a Chromebook master– for what’s covered in this guide so far, at least.

Topics such as how to adjust the settings to your liking, and how to do other miscellaneous things like search, play games, download apps, and more about them than you’d ever want are all included. More topics will be added to this guide as they develop for Chrome OS.

Last updated: 5/4/17. This guide is constantly updated for accuracy.

 

You’ll be happy to know that they’re known for their ease of use. They’re fast, efficient, and offer all the basics you’ll need out of a laptop. In fact, I’ve always been a Windows user and I can say that after making the switch to them, the learning curve is not even comparable. The learning curve on these laptops is as easy as it gets.

They have a works “out of the box” approach, simple system settings, automatic updates, automatic virus protection, and pretty much automatic everything else- Chromebooks just…work.

Anyway, enough bragging. There’s no reason for me to persuade you to grab a Chromebook because you probably already have one. Let’s get on with it.

Let's get started and learn how to use a Chromebook.
Let’s get started and learn how to use a Chromebook.

Here’s your huge guide on how to use a Chromebook.

You can skip through to find something specific using “Ctrl + F” and typing in your query, or you can skim through this if you’re completely new to Chromebooks.

This guide will also be updated as new updated features roll out, and as readers have more questions.

Let’s start with the basics.

Make sure your laptop is updated to the latest version of Chrome OS

First, if you’re reading this on your new device, you’ll likely have already gone through a whole bunch of updates after starting your laptop- but that’s only if you’re connected to the internet via WiFi.

If not, I suggest that you connect to a network immediately so your device can update to the latest version of Chrome OS.

Updating to the newest version of Chrome OS is important as security updates, bug patches, fixes, and new features are added with each update. If you don’t update it now, it’ll automatically fetch and install the newest updates as soon as you get an Internet connection. So it’s nothing to worry about now, but you should get connected and update your Chromebook ASAP.

The downloads are automatic, but you need to restart your laptop for them to actually take place and update your laptop.

Read the “getting started” guide

If you’ve already updated, signed into your Google account, then you’re ready to go.

Your Chromebook should’ve also prompted you with a “quick start” or “getting started” guide. If you’ve read this guide already, you should already know all the basics.

If you haven’t read this guide, you can read it by clicking on the information widget on the bottom right corner of your screen, and then click on the question mark “?” at the bottom of the pop-up window.

This guide that Chrome OS offers by default will cover many of the common questions you may have about Chromebooks, especially if you’re new. It’s one of the best ways to learn how to use one, and I suggest you go over it quickly. It’s divided into sections for easy reading and goes over topics in easy to understand language, no matter if you’re new to them or even laptops in general.

 

Navigating your way around Chrome OS

This section covers how to use your Chromebook’s menus and widgets, as well as performing functions such as search, connecting to WiFi, and changing quick options.

On the home screen, you’ll see pretty much everything you need.

Yeah I know, it looks like nothing. That’s because Chrome OS is basic and only offers you what you need- without all the bloat. You can’t place icons on the desktop, it’s really just a static image. However, you can access all your “programs” (they’re actually web apps in Chrome OS) with the press of a button, which I’ll cover next. This isn’t really a bad feature, it keeps the desktop free from any icons and you can actually see your background picture.

Let’s go over the menus and settings for starters.

 

Find anything with the Finder window and key

On the home screen, you’ll see a blue box on the bottom left. This is similar to the “Start” button on Windows devices. This is called the “Finder” button on Chrome OS. Click on it and a window will pop up. From this window, you can search for anything within your hard drive, or perform a Google search.

Try it. Click on the Finder button. You’ll see a Google search box. You can search Google or search for apps on the Chrome web store, or even search for apps you have installed on your Chromebook.

Below it, you’ll see a list of your most used apps. Most models come preinstalled with a few Google apps, but you can easily uninstall these apps by clicking on it with two fingers and clicking on uninstall.

This is the easiest and fastest way to search Google or find something within your Chromebook.

Tip: You can use voice search as well and your device will utilize the internal microphone. You don’t even need to say the whole word if you’re searching for an app. For example, if you want to search for “Angry Birds” installed on your Chromebook, you can just say “angry” and your laptop will suggest “Angry Birds.” And then you can launch it instantly and fling away.

Another tip: You can also access this menu by using the “Finder” key. It’s the key with the magnifying glass, where the “caps lock” key usually is on a traditional keyboard.

 

Familiarize yourself with the shelf

Okay, next look to the right of the Finder button. You’ll see a list of pinned web apps. This is basically the taskbar on a Windows computer, but on Chrome OS it’s called a “shelf.” It works the same way as Windows. Apps that you launch will appear here and you can pin them for quick access. You can also multi-task and switch through apps on the fly using the shelf.

Easy enough.

 

Read your notifications

On the right corner, we first have the notification messages. It’s the square with a number in it. If you have any notifications, they’ll appear here. Things like system messages, updates, warnings, and other fun things will appear here. Click on the box and you’ll see a list of notifications if you have any.

 

See information about your device at-a-glance with the information widget

To the right of the notification box, you’ll see the information widget, as I like to call it. If you’re following this guide in order, you should’ve already played with this earlier. This is where you check system status, such as the WiFi network, Bluetooth, battery, account, help, current time and date, and if updates are pending. It gives you quick access to these functions for quick toggling.

Try it: Click on the information widget and see all of your Chromebook’s important connectivity and system information at a glance.

Changing your Chromebook’s basic settings

Next, let’s go over how to change your Chromebook’s basic settings.

Click on the information widget and then click on “settings.”

From here, you can configure basic settings such as WiFi, browsing, touchpad, appearance, and your default search engine as well as change your search engine settings. You can also manage your Google account on this screen.

This stuff is pretty self-explanatory so I’ll go over the stuff that’s slightly more difficult or hard to find.

Syncing your Chromebook with Windows

Find “People.”

If you want to sync your Chromebook with your Windows computer that’s running Chrome web browser, you can do so by clicking the “advanced sync settings” and you’ll be taken to a checklist of things you want to sync between your Chrome devices.

Changing advanced device settings

This section covers the advanced settings on Chromebooks and how to properly set them.

At the very bottom of the screen, you can click on a “show advanced settings” tab to open up…you guessed it- advanced settings. These options are not really for basic users, so if you don’t know what you’re doing, you should leave them alone. Although, they aren’t that hard to understand and it’s best to familiarize yourself anyway.

Setting the time and date format

Find “Date and time.”

You can change the time zone, date, and switch the time over to a 24-hour clock (military time) if you wish.

Changing the privacy settings

Under “Privacy” you can change the privacy settings of your Chromebook.

I suggest you enable the following options:

  • Send a “do not track” request with your browsing traffic. This will prevent some advertising trackers from spying on your browsing history and habits, though it’s not a complete solution.
  • Use a web service to help resolve spelling errors. This will automatically underline spelling mistakes as you fill out forms, post on forums, share on Facebook, or Tweet on Twitter. It works out magically without any slowdown on your Chromebook’s performance and is probably the same technology that Google uses to correct your spelling mistakes with their infamous “did you mean…” grammar correction.
  • Protect you and your device from dangerous sites. This one is obvious. Just check it. When your laptop detects a malicious site, it’ll prompt you with a giant warning before you can proceed. It’s based on a database of known malicious websites.
  • Use a prediction service to help complete searches. This option is basically what you see when you start typing in the search box (known as the omnibox in Chrome) and it suggests websites based on your query. I find that this is helpful so you don’t have to type out the entire URL. Typing out “bestwebsiteintheworld” every instance you want to visit it can get annoying.
  • Use a prediction service to load pages more quickly. This option is what’s known as “pre-fetching” and it’s where Chrome OS will load your website before you even finish typing the URL.

As for the other options, they’re up to you. I always have the above checked for privacy and efficiency, however, they may not work for your needs. You can play around with the settings and see what works best for you and your user experience.

Enabling Bluetooth on your Chromebook

Find “Bluetooth.”

Easy enough, just tick the box to enable it. You can also enable Bluetooth for your laptop by using the information widget on the bottom right corner. When your Bluetooth device is connected to your Chromebook laptop, you can do stuff like play music and access your phone, though this doesn’t really work well.

Saving, managing, and changing “autofill” settings

Find “Passwords and forms.”

If you’re used to Windows, you may recognize this feature as “autocomplete.” It’s the same thing.

If you want to manage your saved passwords, delete passwords, or change passwords, you can do so by clicking on the “manage passwords” text under You can also change how your passwords are saved and how your information is saved when you fill out forms by clicking on “manage autofill settings.”

Enable Smart Lock for Chromebooks

Smart Lock is a new feature that’s in beta testing. It’s a function where if you have your Android-powered device nearby, you don’t have to type any passwords. You can try it out by clicking on the “set up” button.

Changing the font size and default zoom level

Find “Web content.”

If you want bigger or smaller font, you can change it here. You can also change the default font itself- this is how the font looks. You can change the default zoom level, which is how zoomed-in the screen is by default.

Changing the language and translate settings

Find “Language.”

Here you can change the default language of your laptop. Click on “language and input settings” and go from there. If you want to turn off the pop up that asks for translations when you visit a page that isn’t in your language, you can simply tick the box.

Changing the default download location

Find “Downloads.”

Here you can change the download location for the stuff you download on the ‘net. You can also have Chrome OS prompt you before you download something, and to disconnect your Google Drive account if you have it connected.

Connecting a printer to your Chromebook

Find “Google Cloud Print.”

I wrote another article that details how to connect a printer to your Chromebook. It covers this topic in detail so I suggest you check it out if you have a printer that’s cloud-ready. If you don’t have a printer yet, or need one later, you should know that not all printers will work with Chromebooks. You might want to read this list of Chromebook-ready printers.

Changing startup and new tab settings

Find “On startup.”

From here you can change what tab to show when you launch your device. You can open a new tab, continue your session, or open a specific set of tabs.

Changing the accessibility settings

Find “Accessibility.”

Here you’ll find a list of options you can change depending on how you’d like your laptop to function. They’re all self-explanatory so you can configure it exactly to how you’d like your device to respond to your input.

Delete or erase your Chromebook completely

Find “Powerwash.”

This will factory reset your Chromebook. Everything, including all your personal data, settings, browsing history, downloads, pictures, videos, music, and other media will be deleted. Your Chromebook will be like when you just bought it. If you want to reset your Chromebook, click on the “powerwash” button. For more details, see how to uninstall Chrome OS completely.

If you want to really get advanced, try this backup and restore guide.

Reset all settings to default

Find “Reset settings.”

If you made a mistake or your Chromebook is acting weird after you configured something, then click the “reset settings” button to restore everything back to their original settings. You won’t lose any data- doing this simply resets all the settings back to their factory defaults. Your laptop may act differently though if you’ve changed settings and grown accustomed to it. Simply change it back to how you want it.

Searching for a setting

There’s a search box where you can search for whatever settings you want so you don’t have to look for it in the top right for your convenience.

Updating Chrome or checking your version of Chrome

Click on “about Chrome OS” at the top of the page in the settings menu. This will show a popup with information on your current version of Chrome, your release mode, and if any Chrome OS updates are available.

Managing, viewing, and deleting your downloads

You can view, copy, paste, and delete your downloads by using the file manager.

Step 1: Click on the Finder button or use the Finder key (where “caps lock” is on a traditional keyboard) and search for “files.” It’s a blue button with a picture of a file.

Step 2: Click on it and you’ll be brought straight to your downloads. You can also access your Google Drive files here as well by using the menu on the left-hand side.

Searching for something on Google

This is super easy. Just press the Finder key and type your query, then press Enter. You can also perform a search in the Chrome web browser as your normally would. You can also use your voice to search within the Finder window. This is probably the fastest way to search Google and your whole Chromebook from a single search. You can also use your voice to search for just parts of titles, or just type it, and it’ll automatically give you suggestions for both web searches and apps installed on your laptop.

For example, search for “clash” if you had Clash of Clans installed on your device, which will be possible after the Play store update, and it’ll suggest “clash of clans.” Your app searches are like web searches. Super easy to use and convenient.

Updating your Chromebook

When an update is ready, you’ll see the hamburger menu within the web browser change colors.

If it’s green, it means there’s an update ready.

If it’s orange, it means you should update your laptop ASAP as it’s been pending for a while.

If it’s red, it means you need to update now.

To update your Chromebook, just click on the arrow that’s pointing up in your information widget. It’ll then restart and update. the whole process is a breeze. Try comparing it to Windows.

Using “mouse” gestures on the touchpad

Chromebooks come loaded with convenient gestures you can make to get things done quickly.

Here’s a rundown of the most common gestures you’ll be using:

To “right-click” on anything: tap the touchpad with two fingers.

To go forward a page: swipe left with two fingers.

To go backward a page: swipe right with two fingers.

To switch between tabs: swipe left or right with three fingers.

To see an overview of all apps: swipe down with three fingers.

If you really want to get pro and see all the things you can do with your touchpad, check out this list of mouse gestures.

 

How to do common tasks

This section covers some of the most common things people ask about in regards to Chromebooks.

Connecting a USB device to your Chromebook

Simply plug it in. Chrome OS should automatically recognize your device and it should just work. Note that this doesn’t work on legacy or very specific devices. Only major brands and common devices, such as external hard drives, mice, keyboards, and the like will work.

Download and installing a game, app, or program on your laptop

Step 1: Press the Finder key and look for the Chrome web store. If you’re within the Chrome browser, you can click on the “apps” button in your bookmarks bar (it should be the first button).

Step 2: From here you can see all apps available for download. You can search on the left menu, and filter by type, price, runs offline, and more.

After you download an app, it’ll appear within your app list. To access this list, just press the Finder key and you’ll see your most used apps appear first. You can expand the menu to see a full list of your installed apps, or you can search for it using the query box. You can even search by voice.

Deleting and removing an app

This is easy. Just press the Finder key and find the icon of the app you want uninstalled, and if you don’t see it you can search for it or expand the list. Click on the app icon with two fingers, and click uninstall. The app will be permanently removed from your Chromebook unless you reinstall it from the store.

Changing the resolution of your Chromebook

I wrote a specific guide on how to change your Chromebook’s resolution that covers this in detail.

Changing the theme

The theme is easy to change. Basically, go into the settings menu and find appearance. From there, you can change the theme to whatever you’d like. You can download more themes from the Chrome Web Store as well, many of which are free.

Changing the desktop background

Please check out this quick tutorial as it covers everything you need to know about changing the desktop background.

 

Frequently asked questions about Chromebooks (FAQs)

This section answers common questions about Chromebooks.

Can I play Minecraft on my Chromebook?

It depends. This is a very popular topic.

First, check out this article to see if your Chromebook is capable of running Minecraft.

Then, use this guide on installing Minecraft.

How do I enable developer mode?

Enabling developer mode requires a series of steps that may be hard for the beginner. By doing so, you delete your installation of Chrome OS and could possibly lock up your laptop. If you don’t know what you’re doing, I suggest to not do it, unless the reason for doing so is worth it (like playing Minecraft).

If you’d still like to launch developer mode, then read this guide on enabling developer mode on it.

Should I get a cheap or expensive Chromebook?

If you’re not a hardcore power user, then a cheap-to-moderate model will do just fine. If you’re just looking for something to surf the web, type essays, work on spreadsheets, and play some games, then even the cheapest Chromebook will suffice.

However, if you plan to do some heavy editing, watching HD videos, or even playing demanding games, you may want to get a high-end model. Some models have a lot of processing power, such as the Acer Chromebook 14, but these are geared towards power users who need all that power.

Should I get a used or refurbished one?

If you don’t care about freebies, then yes. Google offers some free stuff, such as Drive storage, music, and WiFi certificates for new purchases only. If you don’t care about this stuff, then go for the cheaper one.

I heard that they’re useless without an Internet connection. Is that true?

Well, if you think about, isn’t any laptop pretty much useless without a connection?

Besides, they’ve gotten a lot more user-friendly and many web apps don’t even need a connection to run offline, such as Docs, Sheets, and many games. They can do plenty offline.

What are the main benefits of Chromebooks?

Check out this post covering Chromebook benefits that Windows doesn’t have.

Why are they so cheap?

It’s because the operating system (OS) is Chrome OS, which is open source. This means anyone can download the OS and change it, improve it, or build something out of it for free. When a manufacturer, such as Acer, decides to build a laptop, they need a license to do so. However, since the OS is free, this saves them a lot of overhead costs and they can afford to produce a laptop with low costs.

On the other hand, if Acer were to produce a Windows laptop, they would have to pay for the license fee, which raises the overall cost of the product. This in turn then costs more for distributors to purchase in bulk, which then costs more for retailers to purchase in bulk, which then costs more for you, the consumer, to purchase.

It’s not that they have cheap hardware or parts, it’s all in the licensing fees. That’s also why they’re dominating schools everywhere and the preferred laptop by students. But professionals use them too, so don’t feel left out. They’re really made for anyone as you can install any apps you wan tot cusomitze it to your liking. You can have a productive laptop, a gaming laptop, or even a movie-watching laptop. The choice is really yours with these awesome devices.

Which one should I get?

There are literally a ton of models out there and finding the perfect one can be a nightmare. I really can’t pick out a Chromebook just for you, so I’d recommend reading this post on the best Chromebooks. They’re all under $200 as well, so it’s definitely something to get you started.

Which brand is the best?

It’s funny. In the world of Chromebooks, most manufacturers, such as HP, Acer, Dell, Lenovo, and even Google all use the same standard setups.

The majority of models out there are loaded with 4GB of RAM, an Intel processor, and 16GB of SSD storage. Since most versions are cookie-cutter in their specs and performance, the only thing that makes them different between the brand is the body of the laptop. Some brands use plastic, whereas others use all-aluminum. If you’re buying one and brand matters to you, I’d suggest looking at the body and build of the Chromebook instead.

Brand-wise, they’re almost standardized to have the same performance. It’s the body that’s different.

I heard that the Play Store available and we can download Android apps. Is this true?

Yes, but not all models will be able to receive the update. Check out the list of Chromebooks here.

Can I run Skype on Chromebook?

Yes, but a limited version of it. It’s a web-based app, but it includes video calling as well as audio. Find out how to install Skype here.

Can I play Pokemon Go on my Chromebook?

Yes, but only if your laptop is one of the few that have received the Play store update. If so, you can install Pokemon Go on your Chromebook.

Can I run Microsoft Word?

Yes, but it’s limited to only some models that have this feature built-in. Some versions of Samsung Chromebooks have this feature.

For most laptops, you won’t get MS Word included. I’d suggest to use Google Docs instead, as it’s integrated perfectly with Chrome OS and Google Drive. They offer alternatives to most of the popular programs out there. There are apps available on the Chrome web store that substitute Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, and they word much quicker and efficiently on them than any Windows device I’ve used. It’s just another benefit of them in my book.

What about Chromebooks versus Mac?

Believe it or not, Chromebooks have overtaken MacBook sales recently. That says plenty.

When is the Play store update coming to my Chromebook?

I’d suggest reading the official Chrome blog. They keep up to date news about everything Chrome, sort of like PlatypusPlatypus.

Is it true that they’re as fast as they say?

Yes. Chromebooks are built for speed and simplicity. Most models boot in just a few seconds and have all the essentials you need to get stuff done. They’re much faster than any Windows device I’ve come across, and they can do just about everything Windows can.

For most people, the power they provide is enough to handle any task you can throw at it. Whether you’re a student or professional, expect to get some work done with this beast of a machine.

Of course, you can’t do everything on a Chromebook, but you can do most of the things you do on a Windows computer. From my experience, my Chromebook is quickly replacing my Windows desktop for everyday tasks.

Which Chromebook apps should I get?

I wrote a guide on the best Chromebook apps that I use myself, you can check it out if you’d like. Then again, it depends on the purpose of your laptop. If you’re more on the productive side and “getting stuff done” mindset, you’ll like my list.

If you’re on the gaming and entertainment side, you’ll probably like this list of the best Chromebook games I’ve played instead.

How do I install Ubuntu on my Chromebook?

This is covered within the Minecraft guide. In essence, you’ll have to enable developer mode and download Crouton, and then simply install it. From there, you can install and run Minecraft, Steam, and other popular programs. You’re basically turning your device into a Linux laptop, and it requires deleting all your personal data. So, if you this is something you’d like to do, you’ll need to get Crouton on your Chromebook first. Please use that guide for reference as it covers this topic completely.Be sure you adhere to all warnings before moving forward.

More updates on the way

And there you have it. I’ll be updating this guide as readers ask more questions and as Chromebook features roll out. This will be the most complete “how to use your Chromebook” list on the entire ‘net- or at least, that’s my goal.

It took a while to write, so please share this list so new owners have somewhere to start with a brand new, or refurbished, Chromebook. Or to anyone who has one but could improve their learning. We Chromies owners need to look out for each other in a world of multi-colored Windows.

If you have anything to add, please leave a comment and I’ll add your advice to this guide- with credit, of course. Please share your tips, tricks, and tweaks as you wish. I’m thinking of adding a new section just for those. Or just share whatever other tips you may have that you’d like to share to a fanbase of Chromebook-ers.

Thanks for reading. If you actually read the whole guide, you’re an inspiration to Chromies owners everywhere.

Get your Chrome on, Chromians. Oh yeah.

About Andy Z.

Andy is a casual-hardcore Chrome OS fan and contributes to the site regularly. He likes computers, tech, sports cars, videogames, and of course, Chromebooks. Thinker. Introvert. Geek. You can find him on Twitter (@platytech), or send him an email (platy@platypusplatypus.com).

What do you think?

8 Comments on "How to Use a Chromebook – A “Complete” Guide (2017)"

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Raina
GUEST

Thank you so much for this!

Lizzie
GUEST

This was actaully very helpful for some ftuff that I don’t know about Chromebooks (even tho I know all of of it now…). I was a windows user when I started playing on computers. Then when I started middle school we started using Chromebooks. For the people who read this, I do NOT suggest you get a Samsung Chromebook. They don’t work ver good just being very honest. I have experience… so I am promised a Chromebooks as my late birthday present this year and I am getting one next month! ✌︎(‘ω’)✌︎

Deborah Hosking
GUEST

That was fantastic, Andy. Thank you so much! I really appreciate it. (And I am officially ‘an inspiration to Chromebook owners everywhere’).

roleblocks
GUEST

blahahhhahahha i want windows on me chromebook so i can play with my friends on roblox

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