6 ChromeOS Tips to Make Chromebook Sparkle

The ChromeOS hit the tech world a few years ago, first as a stand alone OS and then on the Chromebook CR-48 from Google, but not many people even know about it. We recently reviewed the Samsung Chromebook at Notebooks.com and liked it. So we thought we’d share a few tips for using the machine and ChromeOS more efficiently.

We were a little apprehensive of the ChromeOS and the Chromebooks that run it. Could someone really enjoy using a computer that only ran a browser and simple web apps enough to make it worth $200-$400? The system surprised us. We found ChromeOS quite useful for web-centric tasks in spite of the flaws in this $250 piece of hardware.

See out video review of the Samsung Chromebook XE303C12.

We present these six tips to help users get the most out of their $250 ultra-portable notebook. Most of these will work on other ChromeOS machines too.

Set Up ChromeOS

chromeos help videosa

These videos show up on the first boot and help new users learn ChromeOS.

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Setting up a Chromebook couldn’t be much easier. It’s far simpler than a Windows or Mac machine. In just a handful of steps a user goes from boot to fully ready installation with all their apps and settings ready to go. Notice in the screenshot below how the system begins syncing apps as soon as the user logs into the OS.

chromeos syncs apps on first start up

It takes about five to ten minutes at the most, depending on the number of web apps a person uses. Here’s the list of steps to take:

  1. Start the machine using the power button in the upper right of the keyboard.
  2. Choose a language, keyboard and connect to Wi-Fi.
  3. Accept the terms of service.
  4. Sign into a Google account, preferably one connected with Google+.
  5. Select a profile picture using one of the included shots, a Google+ profile picture represented by the blank image of a person’s silhouette next to the camera button or take one with the webcam.
  6. Learn to use ChromeOS and the Samsung Chromebook from the getting started screen.
  7. Change important settings like Time Zone.
  8. Connect Bluetooth devices if needed.

That’s all!

Customize Key Settings

Check surprise me to use random desktop backgrounds in chromeos

Check surprise me to use random desktop backgrounds in ChromeOS.

To change important settings from step 7 above, click the time in the lower right. Then click Settings. We recommend setting the following:

  • Set wallpaper choose “Surprise Me” in the lower right of the wallpaper dialogue box to get a variety of attractive desktop backgrounds (see image above)
  • Select always show the Bookmarks bar on the main settings screen after clicking the time as prescribed above
  • Adjust the Trackpad speed to the user’s liking
  • Enable the “Enable tap to click” setting from the Trackpad Settings button so the user doesn’t need to push on the clickable trackpad all the time
  • Enable “Require password to wake from sleep” for better security when stepping away from an open Chromebook
  • Click Advanced Settings to show more and change them as preferred
  • Enable the “Use a web service to help resolve spelling errors” to get a live spell checker while typing anywhere online

Set the time by clicking the time in the lower right corner and then click the date in the resulting pop up. Choose the right time zone and select 12 or 24 hour clock as desired.

chrome os apps button

This is the ChromeOS button to show web apps, like the Windows Start Menu,

Finally, make sure to go to the Chrome Web Store, accessible via the apps button on the toolbar. It looks like a grid of 9 tiny gray boxes (see image above). Below we’ll suggest some useful apps to get things done.

Install Useful Web Apps

chromeos web app store

The Chrome Web App store lists hundreds of useful and fun apps or games to install and run inside the ChromeOS browser. Here’s a few we think users should grab as soon as they’re ready to set some up on their computer.

  • PIXLR Editor – great online picture editor
  • Picasa – also can edit images but not as well as PIXLR, however it’s great for organizing images and sharing them online
  • Feedly – useful for reading RSS feeds
  • Evernote – best note and personal data syncing service around
  • Angry Birds – an addictive game
  • Kindle Cloud Reader – use the Chromebook to read Kindle books
  • We Video – useful online video editor great for trimming short clips
  • Netflix – streaming movie and TV shows over ChromeOS
  • Until AM – great for mixing tunes at a party like a DJ with drag and drop functionality
  • Chrome Remote Desktop – log into other computers running Chrome browser
  • Stitcher – listen to podcasts or music from Stitcher radio service
  • DictaNote – speech recognizer app for ChromeOS
  • Zoho Writer, Sheet and Show – better online Office replacement than Google’s

Move Files From Chromebook to Google Drive and Back

chromeos file browser

Find the ChromeOS Files app, which looks like a tiny blue file folder. Open it up to show all the files in Google Drive and the Downloads folder. Select a file and drag it using the touchpad. To drag and drop on the touchpad, press and hold on the file name or icon and then drag it over to the other folder.

The user can back up files from the local storage to their Google Drive folder doing this regularly. Store files locally by going the other direction, from the Google Drive folder to the Downloads folder. If a user plans to work outside of Wi-Fi for a while, this can make sure the files will remain available.

Connect to Projector or TV for Presentations

We love using the Chromebook for presentations since it’s so light and portable. Connect an HDMI cable to a projector, monitor or TV and go ahead and present. The system extends the desktop to the external display by default. However, some people may need to adjust the screen size due to something called overscan, which means the image on the computer display doesn’t fit on the external display. Things on the edges get cut off.

adjusting overscan on chromeos

Overscan results when the external monitor cuts off the edges of the screen.

Once the cables get connected, open the settings. The system usually opens the display settings automatically, but if it doesn’t, then click on the time in the lower right corner and choose Settings. Scroll down to the Device section and click on the Display Settings button.

Screenshot 2013-09-06 at 3.36.51 PM

From within Display settings, adjust the options as needed. To mirror, meaning showing the same thing on the computer display and external display, select it from the Options buttons. Click it again to go back to extended settings. Use the other options to change the display’s resolution and the orientation. The overscan button opens a box that lets the user adjust the overscan issue mentioned above.
chromeos display settings dialogue box

 

To change these options for the Internal Display, click on the Internal Display at the top of the box. For the external select it, represented by the word Samsung in the image above, since we plugged the Chromebook into a Samsung TV.

Now fire up the presentation from whatever software used to show it.

Erase Chromebook to Return to Factory State

chromebook reset

ChromeOS lets users quickly erase their systems to return them to factory state. This makes cleaning up the system so the user can sell it or give it away very easy. It also helps clean out the junk if the system doesn’t run correctly.

For those who think this will take forever, like it does with Mac or Windows, think again. Since all the settings and bookmarks get stored in the cloud, the user can do this in about thirty minutes, resulting in a perfectly working machine with all their files running. If a person wants to erase it without reinstalling their apps and settings, it won’t take thirty minutes.

Every Chromebook handles this differently. Google offers the steps on a help page titled “Wipe device data.”

With a Samsung Chromebook like ours it’s as simple as pressing ESC + Samsung Chromebook Refresh key + POWER. The refresh key sits next to the right arrow key in the top row.

The screen will show a yellow exclamation point. Then hit the CTRL + D keys to begin dev mode. Hit  ENTER and the screen shows a red exclamation point. Hit CTRL+D and then ENTER again and the device will delete everything on the machine and restore it to factory settings. Google claims it takes about fifteen minutes. That’s correct.

When the Chromebook finishes, press the space bar and then ENTER. The machine restarts.

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