Chromebooks may still be a niche product for some, but already a practical alternative to expensive Windows notebooks for others. In this article, we've listed the benefits of Chrome OS for newbies, and we're giving Chromebook owners some tips and tricks they may not have been aware of that can significantly improve the workflow.
Chromebooks can best be described as a subgenus of the classic notebook. The usually very compact devices not only do without strong hardware, but also without the Windows operating system - in favor of an incomparable battery life and numerous other advantages that go hand in hand with the economical Chrome OS. This does not require any fans, which means that the devices are whisper-quiet and yet work quickly.
In the first part of this article, we will tell you what characteristics make a Chromebook and why it can be worthwhile, especially for students, to switch from an expensive Windows PC to a device with Chrome OS. Maybe you already own a Chromebook but want to use its full potential? Then continue reading the second part of this post, where we have listed some perhaps less obvious tips and tricks for using a Chromebook efficiently.
What makes the Acer Chromebook 715* - which we used to compile this list - stand out is its dedicated numeric keypad. This makes the Chromebook slightly larger than its relatives, but it also surpasses their areas of application and efficiency.
For newbies: the possibilities of a Chromebook
Mobility: charge Chromebook with the cell phone charger
The Acer Chromebook 715 is charged via USB-C, although it does not necessarily have to be the original power adapter that came with it. Although this is the optimal choice with 45W, in case of doubt the charger of the smartphone will also work. Due to the generally long battery life, the unwieldy original charger does not have to be carried in the backpack all the time. If there is a need for longer periods of use on the go, the much more compact mobile phone charger is sufficient.
We tested the principle with several cell phone chargers in the editorial office: An older model with 9 watts was not enough to charge the Acer Chromebook 715 when it was switched on. More powerful chargers like the Anker PowerPort III mini (max. 30W) charged the Chromebook slowly - around 10 percent in 15 minutes - but at least it works that way.
Efficiency / Optimized for Chrome OS
A Chromebook isn't just smartphone tech crammed into a regular Windows notebook chassis. A look at the keypad is enough for this realization. A simple rearrangement of the key layout does justice to the significantly different operating conditions of Chrome OS without demanding a complete readjustment from experienced Windows users.
The function keys (F1-F12) have been removed. What remains are the additional functions, which are often accommodated as double assignments: The volume can still be changed here, but without the FN key combination. Other buttons here include two arrows for browser navigation, a full-screen button and an overview of the recently opened apps like on a smartphone.
The shift key has also disappeared, or has given way to a "search" key. By pressing the small magnifying glass icon you get quick access to Google search and installed apps. Screenshots are made using the key combination Ctrl + App overview.
Storage management on Chromebook
Even in the maximum configuration, the Acer Chromebook 715 does not have more than 128 gigabytes of memory, and this is not an NVMe SSD that is usual in notebooks, but a permanently soldered eMMC memory.
There is also a disadvantage compared to Android smartphones: According to the current status, no apps can be installed directly on inserted SD cards, so the device memory must be sufficient for this purpose. It usually does so, since most of the data is stored online through extensive cloud integration.
However, songs, videos and films can be stored on the memory card via apps such as Netflix in order to reduce memory consumption on the device memory. Important: To do this, you must first grant the relevant app permission to access your storage. You can find this option a bit hidden under Settings -> Apps -> Google Play Store -> Android Settings -> Apps & Notifications -> eg. Netflix -> Permissions.
First the necessary permissions have to be granted in the app settings...
...then the SD memory can also be used for Netflix and Co.
If you want to continue working on the go without an internet connection, you must first select and download the respective files for offline access. As soon as you are connected to the Internet again, the file edited offline is synchronized with the cloud.
Apps, mouse, printer and co: Chrome OS in everyday life
"Can I also use program XY on it?" - One of the most frequently asked questions in our video "The advantages of Chromebooks" was whether you have to do without your usual programs when buying a Chromebook. Of course, Chrome OS comes with some limitations that many long-time Windows users will have to get used to. However, there are numerous workarounds for many situations.
Netflix, Disney+ and Co. can be used on the Chromebook as well as on the smartphone or tablet. Many programs originally based on desktop PCs are now also available as mobile apps. Prominent examples are Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Office.
On the other hand, mobile apps like Snapchat and Instagram can also be used in the usual way with a Chromebook. Most Android apps can be used as usual, but in many cases we have to use the touch display because keyboard operation is not supported. Of course, a mouse can also be connected to the Chromebook like other USB devices and used as usual - here too, however, the possibilities depend on the respective app.
The same goes for headphones, Bluetooth speakers and printers. The Acer Chromebook 715 has a jack and a USB-A port that can be used to connect most headphones. Our Brother MFC-L8900CDW office printer could also be set up in a flash via the WLAN network and used wirelessly.
Play on Chromebook?
Gaming is of course only possible to a limited extent. If you're looking for a cheap notebook for the latest PC games, you've come to the wrong place. In return, a large number of mobile games in the Google Play Store can be enjoyed on the big screen. Fallout Shelter, which has now been optimized for all platforms, ran particularly well, as did the Asphalt racing game series and PUBG Mobile. The fight game Shadow Fight 3, on the other hand, was awkward to use with both hands on the screen, but turned sideways as soon as we pressed around on the keyboard.
Play on Chromebook
My personal favorite so far is the port of Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR), which was released in 2003 and is also available for Android smartphones, where we can use touch, mouse and keyboard controls. The bottom line is that the Chromebook is good for the occasional mobile game, or for reviving old classics during a long train ride.
For advanced users: With these tips & Tricks to get more out of your Chromebook
Better workflow with Google Drive
Microsoft Word has always been the undisputed leader for creating text documents. But despite the latest efforts to make the word processing dinosaur fit for the 21st century with cloud functions, the alternative Google Docs does a lot better.
Every entry is immediately saved in the cloud, whether on a smartphone or Chromebook. The result is a seamless, cross-device workflow. Cloud storage is optional for Microsoft Office, locally backed up files are often moved from system to system on USB sticks. Different file versions are titled "FILE NEW 2 final" and in the worst case the transfer medium gives up the ghost and takes the homework or the like to the grave.
The ability to edit text documents, presentations or spreadsheets anywhere and on any device makes the Android smartphone plus Chromebook combination a great choice for students.
Set up multiple desktops
Google added a very simple, but all the more practical function just a few months ago: virtual desktops. With just a few clicks, several separate user interfaces can be set up, which can help, for example, with the separation of professional and private content, or with the organization of individual projects.
New virtual desktops can be created at the top right, files are simply moved like this
Press the unhide windows key to create a virtual desktop. Here you can see the app overview. In the upper right corner you now click on "New desktop" and from now on you can switch between your up to four virtual workspaces at the top of the screen. In the app overview, individual open windows and applications can also be moved to another desktop.
In some cases, the operation of Chrome OS can be accelerated a little and save a lot of time in the long term: Many core functions of apps can already be started from the app launcher. For example, we can select specific functions such as “New window” or “New incognito window” directly in the overview by right-clicking on the Chrome browser. Right-clicking on GMail also lets us immediately compose a new email and bypasses any intermediate steps. As a reminder, "right-click" works on most Chromebooks by pressing the clickpad with two fingers.
More efficient shortcut usage
With the key combination Ctrl + Alt + # you open an overview of all key combinations. You can find the desired function either by means of several context menus or a search bar. A full list of available shortcuts is also available here.
Splitscreen: Open multiple windows at the same time
Especially in everyday university life, multitasking is an important factor for efficient work. When researching literature, for example, it can be extremely cumbersome to constantly click back and forth between an open PDF file and the note document.
Chrome OS devices like the Acer Chromebook 715 offer several ways to make life easier in those moments. The "Maximize" key on the keyboard toggles between windowed and full screen mode when the app is open. The window can now be opened – just like in Windows –
Windows applications on Chrome OS: CrossOver closes the gap
If the software alternatives mentioned are not enough for you, the Android app "CrossOver" could be interesting for you. This uses the Linux kernel of the Chrome OS to run Windows programs via Wine.
You can find a detailed list of compatible programs and a search function for the database of around 16,000 applications here on the website of the developer CodeWeavers. To install one of the supported programs on your Chromebook, all you have to do is select the installation file via CrossOver.
Do you have any other tips & Suggestions to add here in this article? Then simply send us an email or leave a comment directly under this post. The Acer Chromebook 715, equipped with an Intel Core i5-8250U, 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB of internal memory and a 15.6″ full HD display, is available in stores at a price of just under 700 euros*.
Links marked with * are affiliate links. With the purchase via this link, we as the site operator receive a sales commission without you paying more.
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Robin Cromberg ... is studying Asian Studies and Chinese at the University of Bonn and, as an editor, is mainly responsible for the notebooks, monitors and audio equipment departments at Allround-PC.com, but also writes about new products from many other areas.
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