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How To Set Up & Get The Most Out Of A Brand New Chromebook

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Opening the box to unwrap a new Chromebook can be exciting and Chrome OS is already an extremely intuitive operating system that makes customizing easy. But there are at least a few things a user can do fairly early on to make the experience more individualized and convenient.

That’s true whether that involves customization to better suit your personality, learning keyboard shortcuts for better productivity, or adjusting a variety of other settings for ease-of-use and comfort. Chrome OS offers a wide range of changes that users can implement for a better overall experience right out of the box.

Here, we’ll cover some of the most useful of those options and how to access them.

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Customize your Chrome OS experience

One of the first things that users are going to want to customize their device for a more personal experience. More directly, that’s to take advantage of the theming options available on a Chromebook. But it also includes options for organizing apps and the operating system’s shelf so that apps are easier to access.

Customize your browser

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Chrome Themes can be found in the Chrome Web Store

N0w, it isn’t just the shelf that can be customized in Chrome OS by any stretch. Users can also adjust the theme of Chrome itself on a Chromebook, just as they can on any other platform. The steps to theme Chrome are fairly straightforward.

Chrome offers two solutions for theming that work on effectively any platform except mobile. The first is Chrome extensions, specifically theming extensions. Those are found on the Chrome Web Store. They are likely the easiest to apply since it’s a simple matter of finding a theme and clicking the “Add to Chrome” button. It works almost exactly like downloading an app from the Google Play Store.

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The second method for theming Chrome is Chrome Colors. The menu for theming by that method are equally easy to follow and intuitive. They’re found behind a pencil-shaped icon at the bottom-right-hand side of the UI any time a ‘New Page’ is opened in Chrome.

UI that appears once that’s clicked is separated into sections that allow both the background image on new pages and the colors Chrome shows overall.

Change the wallpaper

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Chrome OS has its own built-in Wallpaper picker

Obviously another way to theme Chromebook is to change the wallpaper. As with theming Chrome, doing that is straightforward. The wallpaper picker is tucked away in a fairly easy location. Users simply need to right-click on the desktop via either holding the ‘Alt’ key and clicking. Alternatively, clicking with two fingers on the home screen will open up the same context menu. A click on “Set wallpaper” will call the menu forward.

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From there, it’s possible to select either a pre-loaded wallpaper, including the option to change the wallpaper daily. Or users can select a local image from their Chromebook to use as a wallpaper.

Organize your app drawer

A Chromebook’s app launcher allows plenty of organization and customization

The next step in customizing a new Chromebook to suit a given set of needs is going to be reorganizing apps in the launcher. Now, there aren’t many applications installed on a Chromebook out of the box. But we’ll get to that momentarily. For now, we’ll take a look at how to create, manage, and arrange apps and software in Chrome OS.

Luckily, for those that have used Android before, this process is going to be straightforward. The app drawer is technically referred to as the app launcher in Chrome OS. But it’s also easy to find. The tool is tucked behind a circular icon at the bottom-right-hand side of the shelf. Tapping or clicking on that reveals a secondary menu with an upward chevron arrow. Performing the same action there calls up the app launcher.

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Within that, Google’s desktop OS showcases all of the installed applications just like Android’s app drawer. Organizing those is as simple as clicking or tapping on an app and then holding that tap or click. That will lift the app from the page so that it can be moved around.

Moving the lifted object between two others will shuffle things forward, creating a space in which the app can be dropped. That also works with folders.

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The Chrome OS app launcher can easily be organized by moving folders or apps around to better suit users’ needs

Creating folders requires the lifted icon to be dropped directly on top of another. The two apps will form a group, with the contained icons housed in a bubble-like folder. Clicking or tapping those expands the folder while performing that same action on the title of a folder allows a new name to be given. For example, users may choose to move all of their games into a folder titled “Games” and photo apps into a folder titled “Image Editing.”

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How the apps and folders are organized or named is entirely up to the user. So it doesn’t take too much effort to set things up in an easy-to-use way. Apps and web app icons can be moved out of a folder by opening the folder, clicking or tapping and holding the desired icon, and then dragging the icon out of the folder.

Change your shelf

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The Chrome OS shelf is also customizable in Chromebooks

The Chrome OS shelf isn’t without available alterations either. For those who would rather have a side-positioned shelf, that’s possible. And placing or pinning custom items on the shelf for quick access is possible too.

First, it is possible in Chrome OS to move the shelf from its default bottom edge placement to either the left- or right-hand edge. To accomplish that, all that’s required is a right-click on the shelf itself. A context menu appears at that point and the middle option, “Shelf position,” offers the choice to place the shelf on the “Left,” “Bottom,” or “Right.”

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Moving the shelf around the screen isn’t the only option here either in terms of customization. Chrome OS also allows users to ‘pin’ apps they use often to the shelf. The only app icon that can’t be taken off and added at whim is that for Google Chrome.

If there are icons already on the shelf by default that aren’t desired, unpinning those is straightforward. To ‘unpin’ apps from the shelf, another right-click action on the appropriate app icon will present the option to “Unpin” it. Tapping or clicking on that will remove the icon, while the app itself will remain in the app launcher.

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To pin an app to the shelf, users need to open the app launcher using the circle icon at the left-hand side of the Chrome OS shelf and then the up-arrow to expand the apps.

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After navigating to an app that needs to have quick access on the shelf, a right-click action needs to be performed on the app icon. That’s accomplished with a long-press for touch devices or by holding “Alt” and clicking. Conversely, users can simply click the touchpad with two fingers.

Then, the “Pin to shelf” option needs to be chosen. Conversely, right-clicking on any open app that isn’t currently pinned will also present a “Pin” option to users.

Learn your keyboard and get comfortable

Well beyond customizing a theme or the organization of a Chromebook, one of the first things to do with a new Chromebook is to learn the keyboard and operating system. That also includes making the OS easier to use by adjusting Night Light mode, learning how to use Quick Settings, and setting up for easier unlocks.

Shortcuts are easy enough to find

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Chrome OS has plenty of keyboard shortcuts to make things a bit easier

Now, Chrome OS is like any other operating system in that it’s built with quite a bit of productivity in mind. That all starts with shortcuts and the key combos that can be used to easily view all of those keyboard shortcuts.

Android Headlines already has a handy guide for some of the most commonly used shortcuts. But it would be an act of futility to try and outline all of the Chromebook shortcuts in any article. That doesn’t necessarily mean that learning those is difficult. Google made sure that all of the shortcuts can be accessed at any time without much effort. That’s via what may be the two most important keyboard shortcuts to learn from the very start.

The first of those two shortcuts are found by simultaneously holding down the ‘Ctrl’ and ‘Shift’ keys while pressing the ‘/’ or ‘?’ key. So long as a Chrome browser window opened and active, that key combo brings forward a web-based tutorial for the entire Chrome OS ecosystem. The searchable tutorial ranges from getting started to personalization and fixing common issues

Far better for more general shortcuts applicable to the entire Chrome ecosystem is Chrome OS’s shortcut guide. That’s a searchable keyboard shortcut list, which works with Chromebooks, any Chrome OS tablet, or other  Chrome OS gadgets. To access that, users simply hold down the ‘Ctrl’ and ‘Alt’ keys while pressing the ‘?’ or ‘/’ key. The guide contains all of the shortcuts and those are divided into categories.

Adjusting your inputs for comfort and familiarity

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Chromebooks also allow reverse scrolling and the return of the Caps Lock key with a quick change in Settings

While adjusting to Chrome OS’s keyboard shortcuts, there are at least a couple of other minor changes that can be made for the sake of familiarity. Namely, that’s the ability to reverse the direction of scrolling and the ability to return a functioning Caps Lock key.

Both settings are found in the Settings application, found either under the gear icon behind a tap or click on the shelf’s clock or via the app launcher.

Caps Lock can be an important key for a wide variety of purposes, whether that’s for emphasis in text or inputting a password. Chromebooks don’t have one. Instead, they have a search key that brings forward the first layer of the app launcher. But it is possible to turn that back into a Caps Lock key.

Within the Settings app, the appropriate options are easily found with a search for the term “Keyboard” and a tap on the associated card. Within those expanded settings, tapping or clicking the drop-down box by the “Search” option reveals several choices. One of those is Caps Lock.

Switching the selected option to Caps Lock will set that key to do that. Conversely, that key could be switched over to activate Google Assistant, for those that don’t use Caps Lock but who might use the AI-powered feature a significant amount.

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It’s also possible to regain the top row of keys to their more standard Function behavior in that same menu. The toggle for that is located just below the key customizations. To use the feature, after it’s toggled, users simply need to click and hold the search key.

Additionally, users who are accustomed to scrolling with a mouse wheel may have a preference for scrolling down to move screen content upward and up to move screen content downward. That’s not how scrolling works by default in Chrome OS. It’s set up to run in the reverse direction, using two-fingered swipes on the touchpad. But that can be adjusted two.

Within the Settings app, a search for “Touchpad” will bring forward the appropriate menu, accessible via a click or tap on the appropriate card. Among other options, adjustable at the user’s preferences for taps and scroll speed, scrolling direction can be changed at the bottom of the resulting page.

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Under that menu, there are two options dubbed Traditional and Australian. The default is Traditional while Australian will reverse the scroll direction.

Connect your Android and make messaging, device unlocking easier using your smartphone

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Google Smart Lock lets users unlock their Chromebook with their Android phone

One of the most useful features found in Chrome OS and added only recently is Smart Lock. This will likely be one of the first features users want to turn on, as it makes keeping a new Chromebook unlocked far more convenient.

To get started, the Settings app will once again need to be opened, either by navigating to the app in the launcher or by clicking the gear icon in the Quick Settings menu — tucked behind a click or tap on the shelf clock. From there, users need to type “Connected devices” into the search bar at the top of the page.

The option that will surface is an “Android phone” card. A “Set up” button will be located to the right of that card’s description.

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Once that UI loads up the setup window, users will need to select the desired device from the list. This should be their primary Android smartphone since that’s will most likely be within reach when the Chromebook is in use.

In some cases, the device shown on that page will not be the desired device, clicking the drop-down menu will reveal other account-connected devices. Both devices will need to be using the same Google account and users need to click or tap “Accept & continue” after selecting the desired device. Users will need to verify their password at that point.

Once that setup is complete, the device should be shown under connected devices in Settings. Toggles will be available under a click or tap on that card and both Smart Lock and Instant Tethering will be turned on by default. The latter option allows internet passthrough automatically when tethering on the smartphone is enabled.

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Using Smart Lock on the computer is easy but only works after the initial sign-in, which still requires password input. As long as the smartphone is unlocked, after that first sign-in, the Chromebook should automatically unlock for subsequent sign-ins. That means that users can open their device up and just tap their profile picture to sign in without password entry.

As long as Smart Lock on the phone hasn’t timed out due to device inactivity, users simply need to wait for the lock icon next to their profile name to turn green. After that happens, selecting that account will load up Chrome OS without additional password entries.

Near the bottom of the connected device settings, users can follow an additional wizard to set up Chrome OS to receive and send text messages from their smartphone as well.

Night Light, notifications, and other quick settings

The Chrome OS Quick Settings panel closely resembles Android and is almost as useful

Another key aspect to consider with a new Chromebook, tying back into Google’s mobile operating system, is a device’s Quick Settings. Just as with Android, those are found in the same place as notifications, under the shelf by the clock. Tapping or clicking on the clock segment of the shelf’s UI will bring those forward.

There are three primary Quick Settings that are worthy of consideration when first setting up a new device. Wi-Fi is set up during the initial process of turning the gadget on. But first, now is also the perfect time to set up any Bluetooth connections that might be needed. To do that, users simply need to click or tap the drop-down menu just below the Bluetooth icon. Tapping or clicking the Bluetooth icon itself will, as with Android, turn the feature completely on or off.

Tapping the drop-down menu will swap pages to another familiar UI. That showcases a toggle at the top, along with a gear-shaped icon for settings associated with Bluetooth. The latter icon isn’t necessarily important for this process. Once the toggle is flipped to on, the Chromebook will scan for Bluetooth devices and accessories. Those will be listed just below the loading bar.

Tapping or clicking on the desired Bluetooth accessory will link that gadget to the Chromebook. The next time Bluetooth is turned on, that connection should be automatic.

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It’s also generally easy to manage notifications in Chrome OS. Notifications can be turned off entirely by toggling the main icon in the Chrome OS Quick Settings menu. A “Do not disturb” option can also be found under that Quick Setting’s drop-down menu.

More importantly, notifications for each individual app in Chrome OS can be turned off full time in that same submenu. There, the apps with notifications access are listed out with a checked box to the left. Unchecking that box turns off notifications for that individual app.

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Chrome OS notifications are customizable and intuitive

The final feature found under Quick Settings that’s worth examining when first setting up a new Chromebook is called “Night Light.”

As the branding may imply, that’s a setting that adjusts the display. But, more concisely, it adapts the display to dim things down and reduces blue light exposure — which can be harmful to the eyes, particularly over long periods or dark environments. As with other features here, that can be toggled simply by tapping the Night Light icon.

Clicking or tapping just below the icon shows deeper settings, in the Settings app, near the bottom of the page. A toggle is present for simply turning the feature on or off but there is also a drop-down menu. That allows scheduling, with three choices. The first is the default and self-explanatory, it’s labeled as ‘Never’. The second option uses localization data to turn the feature on from ‘Sunset to Sunrise’.

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The final option allows the user to define times when Night Light will kick on and turn off. A slider is presented for that purpose. When the feature is turned on, another slider appears that enables fine-tuning of the screen’s color temperature.

Apps, storage, and using the cloud

Finally, one of the biggest advantages of a Chromebook or other Chrome OS device is its mix of applications. That’s offset by a somewhat minor caveat associated with the typical level of storage available on Chromebooks. But that isn’t necessarily an insurmountable issue as we’ll show here.

Downloading Android and Linux apps

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Chromebooks come packed with Google Play Store for apps

Setting aside web apps that are found via Chrome, Chromebooks offer two primary sources for software. Those are, of course, Android apps and Linux software. Gaining access to either is a fairly straightforward process since both are readily available on all modern Chrome OS laptops, desktops, or tablets.

The first type of app requires no additional adjustments at all. Instead, Chromebooks include an installation of the same Google Play Store found on Android smartphones. In most cases, the same apps available on iOS are available there too. That means that one of the first steps users will want to take is to install their favorite apps.

That’s accomplished simply enough by opening the above-mentioned Play Store. Typically, the Play Store is found either in the app launcher or on the shelf by default. Installed apps appear in the app launcher behind the circle icon on the Chrome OS shelf. Most Android applications are completely compatible with Chromebooks.

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Linux software is also available on all modern Chromebooks. Although the feature is still in beta and primarily intended for running IDEs and other developer tools, it can be used far beyond that. It’s also almost as straightforward as installing an Android app.

First, the Linux feature needs to be turned on. The quickest way to accomplish that is to click or tap on the time segment of the shelf and then do the same on the gear-shaped settings icon. Within the settings window, there is a “Linux (Beta)” option in the left-side pane. Clicking or tapping on that will navigate settings to the appropriate card.

On the Linux card, a “Turn on” button is prominently featured. Clicking or tapping to turn on the feature will bring forward a windowed installation walkthrough.

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Once that tutorial has been followed, Linux apps with the “.deb” extension can be downloaded via Chrome. In this example, the popular gaming platform Steam is being downloaded directly from the source site. More advanced users can utilize the now-included Linux terminal to download apps just as with any Linux distro.

Upon downloading the file, that will appear in the Files app — typically in the Downloads directory folder. To install the apps, those files need to be downloaded to the Linux directory or moved there. A right-click on the installation file via either holding down “Alt” and clicking or by clicking with two fingers will reveal the file’s context menu. An option appears that reads “Install with Linux (Beta)” and tapping or clicking on that will launch the installer.

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Once the app is installed, it will appear in the app launcher just like any Android application.

Getting the most out of your Chromebook’s limited storage

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Most modern Chromebooks pack a microSD card slot for extra storage space, along with sizeable internal drives

Most modern Chromebooks come with a fair amount of storage and those that don’t typically feature a microSD card slot. So that’s going to be the most obvious way to get the most out of that aspect of a Chrome OS gadget. Fortunately, it’s a fairly cost-effective way to add more room for apps and media.

It’s also easy enough to take advantage of Google Drive to expand storage capabilities for any files that aren’t really needed on-device. That’s built right into the Files app, which can be found in the app launcher. Generally, Google Drive is located at the bottom of the list of directories found at the left-hand side of that app’s UI.

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Adding more storage via other services is relatively easy too. There aren’t many options available on that front just yet. So tapping into Dropbox or other popular services is relegated to the web interface. But more localized cloud services and setups can be accessed by opening the Files app.

Tapping or clicking on the three-dot menu at the top-right-hand side of the UI reveals the option to “Add new service” and under that submenu is the option to “Install new service.”

The services found there, including some unofficial workarounds for mounting Dropbox among others, are installed and run just like any other application.