Learning to use a Chromebook doesn’t have to be a long or difficult process
Switching to a new operating system can be a difficult process, especially when it comes to relearning how to accomplish common actions via keyboard shortcuts. Chrome OS, in particular, has several quirks and an almost entirely different keyboard, to begin with. Thanks to Google's commitment to driving a user-friendly ecosystem, moving over to a Chrome OS device such as a Chromebook, tablet, or one of the more obscure desktop-style devices doesn’t necessarily have to be hard, either.
Now, most of the more common keyboard shortcuts remain the same for Chromebooks and other Chrome OS devices. That includes such common actions as holding down the 'Ctrl' key while tapping the ‘A’, ‘C’, ‘X’, or ‘V’ keys to select all items in a given window and copy, cut, or paste the highlighted content respectively, remain the same in Chrome OS.
Chrome browser shortcuts such as the use of arrow keys for scrolling remain mostly the same across the various platforms too.
Here, we’ll cover some of the more commonly used shortcuts such as accessing system features, menus, and UI elements as well as taking screenshots and more, looking at a few basics and those shortcuts that apply specifically to Chrome OS.
The most useful shortcuts of them all lead to all other shortcuts
The most useful shortcuts included by Google in Chrome OS are its two quick and easy-to-access guides for discovering keyboard shortcuts and related information. Those can be accomplished without a keyboard too and we'll cover that later on.
The first of the guides is effectively a searchable keyboard shortcut list, as those currently exist for a Chromebook, Chrome OS tablet, or other Chrome OS gadget. That's easily accessed by simply holding down the 'Ctrl' and 'Alt' keys while pressing the '?' or '/' key. The guide contains categories that the shortcuts are divided into.
So whether you're looking for the most commonly used shortcuts, those that apply to the system itself, browsing, typing, or accessibility features, they can all be found there.
Simultaneously holding down the 'Ctrl' and 'Shift' keys while pressing the '/' or '?' key -- with a Chrome browser window opened and active -- brings forward a web-based tutorial for the entire Chrome OS ecosystem from getting started to personalization and fixing common issues.
Some common and useful shortcuts in Chrome OS
The shortcuts we’ll cover here can be divided neatly into four distinct categories including display adjustments, system-level controls, and browser shortcuts.
Beginning with system-level controls, the most prominent use of the 'Search' key -- marked with a magnifying glass icon -- is probably as a “Caps Lock” button when used in conjunction with the ‘Alt’ key, since no dedicated button is included. That can also be used to access the traditionally-used ‘F1’ through ‘F12’ keys that also aren’t found on a Chromebook keyboard -- despite still being useful in some apps and Linux.
To access those keys on a Chromebook keyboard, the Search key needs to be held before pressing the corresponding number on the keyboard is pressed, starting with the '1' key. Because there are no number keys for ten through twelve, users will need to use the zero, minus, and equals key instead.
The Chrome OS task manager is called with the Search key as well, this time combined with a press on the ‘Esc’ button.
Utilizing the ‘Alt’ key while pressing the same number keys, conversely, will cycle through the applications -- or launch applications -- housed on the Chrome OS shelf. Those launch in order from left to right so pressing ‘Alt + 1’ will load up the first application from the left while ‘Alt + 8’ will load up the eighth.
Only apps one through eight work that way, ‘Alt + 9’ defaults to the last app on the shelf. To easily access all apps, pressing the Search key will bring up a search bar and the most recently used apps. Pressing ‘Shift’ and the Search key will bring up the full app launcher.
Now that apps are being launched, users can easily dock them to the left or right-hand side for easier multitasking too. That can be accomplished by pressing the ‘Alt’ key and either the ‘[‘ or ‘]’ key for left and right, respectively.
Finally, holding down ‘Ctrl’ and ‘Shift’ simultaneously, while pressing ‘Q’ will log out of the Chromebook entirely if pressed twice. ‘Search + L’ will lock the device down behind the log-in screen.
Other adjustments can be made to the screen as well. To control display settings for an external monitor that’s been connected, users can simply press the ‘Ctrl’ key plus the ‘Immersive Mode’ key -- represented by a square with diagonally-pointing arrows. To rotate the screen by ninety-degrees, holding both ‘Crtl’ and ‘Shift’ before the circle-arrow-shaped ‘Refresh’ key will accomplish the task.
To scale the screen contents up or down, users need to hold ‘Ctrl’ and ‘Shift’ in combination with a press on the ‘plus’ or ‘minus’ buttons found in the number row. Those same keys can be pressed with the number ‘0’ to reset screen scaling.
Screenshots are taken by holding the ‘Ctrl’ key and pushing the ‘Overview’ key -- shaped like a box with two vertical lines. Adding a ‘Shift’ to that combination brings forward a cursor that can be used to take more selective shots and adding 'Alt' instead will capture only the currently selected window. All screenshots are saved to the “Downloads” folder in the “Files” app.
As with the function keys and app switching, the Chrome Browser can take advantage of number keys to quickly switch between tabs. Pressing 'Ctrl + 1' through the number '8' key will move between the first eight tabs while 'Ctrl + Tab' will switch through tabs in left-to-right order and 'Ctrl + Shift and Tab' will move through them in the opposite direction.
To open a new tab, the ‘Ctrl’ and ‘T’ keys can be pressed and adding the ‘Shift’ key to that combination will open the most recently closed tab in case one is exited by accident.
'Ctrl + L' selects the URL bar at the top of the page, allowing a new site to be navigated to. For those who don’t want to always have to type out the “www.” and “.com” parts of a URL, entering in the basic site name -- such as AndroidHeadlines -- and then the ‘Ctrl’ and ‘Enter’ keys will automatically generate the rest of the address.
Holding down ‘Alt’ while pressing the ‘E’ key will open the browser’s menu, which also showcases further keyboard shortcuts for specific menu items.
Finally, a press on the ‘Ctrl’ button before pressing the ‘plus’ or ‘minus’ symbol on the keyboard will respectively zoom in or out on the currently displayed page.
If you don’t have a physical keyboard
The glaring caveat to using keyboard shortcuts is that those aren't easily accessible, without some requisite knowledge, for users on devices that don't come with a keyboard already attached. The on-screen keyboard, similar to Gboard on Google's Android OS, doesn't have the ‘Ctrl' or ‘Alt’ keys by default but the search giant has included a way to turn those on. So keyboard shortcuts can still be used.
The process for turning those keys on starts by navigating to the settings menu. That can be accomplished via a click or tap on the status area -- also called the Quick Settings panel or Notifications panel -- located at the bottom-right-hand side of the UI. Accessing that more quickly can be accomplished by holding the ‘Alt’ and ‘Shift’ keys while pressing the ‘S’ or 'N' key. A straightforward tap or click on the gear-shaped settings icon in the resulting menu will open up the appropriate window.
Using the quick search tool at the top of the settings window and entering the term "keyboard" brings up the appropriate section of the menu. Ordinarily, that’s housed in the "Languages and input" section under a click on the "Input method" and then "Manage input methods" option.
From there, a click to mark the box next to the "US Extended keyboard" option will add that as a choice on the previous page.
"US keyboard" will still be marked as enabled on that page but tapping on the other will switch the on-screen keyboard to show the keys that are needed to access the shortcuts above. Active keyboards can also be swapped in or out using the keyboard drop-down options found in the status area menu mentioned above.