Make Your Chromebook Life Easier With These Handy Touchpad Gestures

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So you've finally decided to replace your aging Windows machine with a new Chromebook. You've scoured the web to find the best devices available. You've learned the keyboard shortcuts that are unique to the underlying operating system — Chrome OS. And now you're looking to learn the touchpad with gestures, so you can use the Chromebook to its full potential. You've come to the right place.

Here, we'll discuss all of the intuitive ways Google has backed touchpad gestures directly into its Chrome OS operating system. Additionally, we'll discuss some of the ways the gestures might be used and some of the nuances associated with the gestures.

Chromebook touchpad gestures offer something new, something similar

Now, Chrome OS is still, comparatively, a new operating system. The ecosystem is growing and adapting every few months with gusto to better serve users. And Google has consistently worked to ensure they're easier to use with each successive update. But that doesn't necessarily mean learning the wealth of new tricks comes easily.

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In many respect, usability features are identical on Chrome OS laptops compared to Windows. Keyboard shortcuts to select all, copy, cut, and past, for example, are the same. So are at least a few of the keyboard gestures found on a Chromebook. Simultaneously, some of them are entirely different or have no equivalent on Windows or Mac.

Fortunately, here at Android Headlines, we've spent a lot of time with the devices. And that's not just review devices either. Some of our writers actually use the gadgets on a daily basis. That means we're well-positioned to discuss various quirks, such as touchpad gestures. And below, you'll find some that we found most useful in day-to-day use.

What touchpad gestures are unique to Chromebook?

When it comes to touchpad gestures on a Chromebook, those are going to be a lot like those found on other operating systems. That is to say, they'll mostly be dedicated to navigation — whether in the Chrome browser or otherwise. As we'll cover a bit later on, at least a few gestures are going to be almost identical to Windows.

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That means that users who have already been taking advantage of shortcuts on Windows will have an easy enough time rediscovering quite a few of their favorites.

But that's just about enough on that matter. Let's take a closer look at some of the gesture-style shortcuts unique to Chrome OS touchpads. And a few that almost make their way over from Windows with no changes at all.

Navigate Chrome

Of course, a significant portion of the navigation that happens in Chrome is navigating backward and forward. But users can do a lot more than that if they really need to.

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Back and forward button gestures

For clarity, users can actually simply move forward or backward with the touchpad without ever clicking anything. That's when a user wants to stay in the same current tab but navigate back to a previous page. Or forward to a page after navigating back. The latter gesture, of course, only works after navigating backward. If there's nowhere to navigate forward too, Chrome can't navigate forward.

Regardless of whether users need to go backward or forward, these are probably going to be among the most commonly-used gestures on a Chromebook touchpad.

  1. To go back, swipe on the touchpad with two fingers from the left-hand side to the right-hand side of the pad.
  2. Or, to go forward, swipe on the touchpad with two fingers from the right-hand side to the left-hand side of the pad.

To close a tab without needing to find the 'x' icon first;

It's also possible to easily close out of tabs if there happen to be too many open. For example, if users have opened so many tabs that they can't properly see what's on each tab. Or if they've accidentally opened a new tab they don't need. Closing any tab is just a quick tap away.

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  1. Hover the mouse over the desired tab
  2. Quickly tap the touchpad with three fingers

To open a link in a new tab

For those who want to dive a bit deeper into tab control, it's also possible to open a window in a new tab. As that suggests, that means opening up a window in an entirely new tab, leaving the current tab open and in place. That's without holding down any keyboard keys or instantiating any 'right-click' actions.

  1. To open a link in a new tab, start by hovering the mouse over the desired link
  2. Rest three fingers on the touchpad
  3. Click with all three fingers

To switch between multiple tabs that are already open

Now, chances are good that any user at any given moment will have multiple tabs open all at once. Wherever that's the case, chances are good that — at least for some users — it's going to become a real pain to move from tab to tab. Or, at the very least, time-consuming.

There are, of course, keyboard shortcuts for cycling through open tabs. And those work just fine for those who want to move through one at a time. But it's also possible to simply gesture on the touchpad and cycle through.

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  1. To cycle through opened tabs, place three fingers on the touchpad and swipe to the left or to the right
  2. In the tab strip at the top of the page, the currently selected tab will be highlighted
  3. Continue swiping to the right or to the left until the desired tab is highlighted
  4. Release the touchpad to select the highlighted tab

Navigate Chrome OS

Getting around inside the Chrome browser isn't the only navigation to be done with the touchpad either. In fact, it's possible to do quite a lot with touchpad gestures on a Chromebook without ever opening Chrome. Or to use gestures in order to open Chrome from the app launcher or to switch to the browser if it's already open.

Open up the app launcher

For clarity, the app launcher is effectively the drawer Chrome OS tucks all of the apps in. It's found on the bottom-left-hand side of the UI  by default, specifically on the left-hand side of the app shelf. And it takes the shape of a circle within a thin circular line.

Typically, users would tap that to pull up the app launcher. But it is possible to open that up without moving the mouse quite so far.

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  1. To open up the app launcher, adjust the mouse position so that it is hovering anywhere over the shelf
  2. Place two fingers on the touchpad and swipe upward
  3. Users can search for apps or use Google Assistant directly from the resulting UI.
  4. Or swipe up again with two fingers to open up the app launcher entirely, laying out all apps that are installed
  5. Swipe down, still using two fingers, to close the app launcher

Drag and drop, in Chrome

Now, drag-and-drop in Chrome OS borders on being identical to how it works in Windows. But with one or two very important differences. For example, in Windows, users double-tap and hold to instantiate a click-and-drag. Double-tapping in Chrome OS will simply open up whatever the users double-taps on.

  1. To click and drag in Chrome OS, single click-and-hold or tap-and-hold on the desired object
  2. Slide to move the now-dragged object to the desired location
  3. Release the touchpad

Conversely, it's also possible to use two fingers from different hands to accomplish the same task a bit easier if users are having a hard time getting a single-finger-click to work.

What's just about the same as Windows?

The touchpad gestures we're going to cover here for a Chromebook work identically to Windows or close enough to make no difference. Those are right-clicking — which can also be accomplished by holding the 'alt' key and clicking — as well as web scrolling, pinch-to-zoom, and opening Overview mode. The last of those is effectively Task View on Windows machines.

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Right-click with just a gesture

Now, right-clicking opens up a wealth of possibilities because it provides access to menus that change based on the context of what's been clicked. For example, right-clicking a file or link offers ways to copy or paste the file or web address. But right-clicking on an image file will also offer options to copy the image or download it. Or just to open it up in another page.

So, obviously, right-clicking is something that all users should know how to do. And, thankfully, it's effortless with touchpad gestures on a Chromebook.

  1. To right-click, simply hover the mouse over the desired object, page location, or another piece of UI
  2. Quickly tap the touchpad with two fingers to call forward the context menu

Scroll windows without a click or the keyboard

Now, scrolling on a Chromebook with touchpad gestures, as with Windows, is an easy affair. It also doesn't only work in a browser, although that's going to be the most likely place it will see action most often. But it can, for example, also be used in the files app to scroll through a long list of media or in the Google Play Store too.

  1. To scroll vertically through a window, start by placing two fingers on the touchpad within the desired window
  2. Swipe down to scroll up or down to scroll up.
  3. When zoomed in, using two fingers to swipe to the right or left will scroll horizontally. But a similar action, as noted above, is great for moving forward or backward too. So it's best to use that gesture sparingly.

Zoom in or out of windows

Speaking of zooming in, that works just like Windows here too. A pinch in or out can be used to zoom in or out. In effect, that simply magnifies the page to make content easier to see or read.

  1. To zoom in and magnify, start by placing two fingers on the touchpad
  2. Spread the fingers outward, diagonally in opposite directions
  3. To zoom out, perform the same action in reverse, but pinching inward.
  4. Zooming out only works to the 100-percent mark in Chrome but can be used to zoom out further in some other applications such as PDFs.

Open Overview Mode and cycle through current windows

The last area of discovery that's similar to Windows is Chrome OS's Overview Mode. The mode paves the way for multi-desktop use, easy management of open windows, and overall improved productivity. Getting there via keyboard shortcuts or via a click on the Overview Mode key — shaped like a square backed or flanked by lines or other squares — is easy.

It's equally easy to interact with the UI without ever touching the keyboard, to begin with.

  1. To enter Overview mode, start by placing three fingers on the touchpad
  2. Swipe upward on the touchpad with all three fingers

The screen will shrink in on itself, revealing over-sized tiles for each open window. At the top-right-hand side, there will also be a button to create a new desktop, if one hasn't already been created. But users still don't need to use their clickers or precision mouse navigation to get around this interface either.

  1. To cycle through the UI in Overview Mode, start by placing and holding three fingers on the touchpad in Overview Mode.
  2. Swipe to the left or to the right to highlight selectable items in the UI
  3. Press 'Enter' on the desired selection.

Cycle through desktops quickly

Now, cycling through the UI on the Overview Mode page isn't always the most efficient way to get around. In fact, sometimes it's going to be desirable to just switch rapidly from one virtual desktop to another. Thankfully, there is one final bonus gesture that can be used to accomplish the task.

  1. To cycle through open virtual desktops without ever entering overview mode, start by placing four fingers on the touchpad
  2. Quickly swipe with all four fingers from the right to the left-hand side of the touchpad to cycle directly to the virtual desktop on the right
  3. Quickly swipe with all four fingers from the left to the right-hand side of the touchpad to cycle in the opposite direction