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Discover your Chromebook’s hidden features with these 5 tips

Chromebooks and other Chrome OS devices are great for cheap, easy-to-use access to the web. But as a stand-alone platform, Google’s Chrome OS hasn’t been around for all that long. If you’re a new user, there are plenty of nooks and crannies of the operating system that you’re not familiar with. Here are a few tips that will get you to “power user” status in no time.

A built-in shortcut map

We could fill up an entire post with Chrome OS’s many keyboard shortcuts, but why bother? You can see all of them for yourself at any time almost instantly. Press Ctrl + Alt + ? on your keyboard to see a pop-up map with all of the keyboard shortcuts available. You can open this tool at any time, on any screen in Chrome OS.

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To see modifier keys, just hold them down: hold down Ctrl to see all the Ctrl + [key] functions, hold down Ctrl and Shift for all the Ctrl + Shift + [key] shortcuts, et cetera. Remember that since all the apps and extensions in Chrome OS are running as a function of the Chrome browser, shortcut keys won’t change from app to app like they do on Windows or OS X. To close the shortcut map, just press Escape.

Make your own web apps

A lot of popular websites and web services (including practically everything from Google) are available as Chrome apps, which are usually just separate Chrome windows without the tab or navigation bar. If one of your favorite sites doesn’t have one of these apps, you can roll your own with a built-in tool.

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In a standard Chrome window, navigate to a page you want to use as an app. Click the menu button (the one with three horizontal bars to the right of the URL bar), then click “More tools,” then “Add to shelf.” This will put a shortcut in the taskbar and the app tray with the page’s favicon, or just a letter if the page doesn’t have one. Right-click or Alt-click the new shortcut, then click “Open as window.”

chrome app window

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Now whenever you click that shortcut in the task bar or search menu, it will open in its own minimal window with no tabs or URL bar. It’s a great way to separate tools or sites that you use often from primary Chrome windows. You can still get to the site by typing the URL bar in a normal tab. If you want to remove the shortcut, just right-click it in the apps tray or search bar and click “remove from Chrome.”

Adjust resolution and zoom

If you find text or images a little too hard to see on your Chromebook (especially on newer high-resolution screens), you’ve got a couple of options. Open Chrome’s primary menu by clicking on the clock in the lower-right corner, then click “Settings.” Click “Display settings” to start.

chrome resolution

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On this screen you can change the resolution of your monitor. Unlike Windows or OS X laptops, Chromebooks don’t actually change the resolution being fed to the screen itself. Instead they change the virtual resolution, which keeps all portions of the interface sharp but renders them larger or smaller. If you want to make everything on your Chromebook bigger, including menu bars and app shortcuts, click the “Resolution” drop-down menu and choose a lower value. The screen will change immediately, so try a few different values to find one that’s comfortable for you.

If Chrome’s menus and other interface elements look alright but you want to change the scale of text and images on websites, go back to the main Settings menu, then click “Show advanced settings.” Scroll down until you see “Web content.” Here you can change the font size and page zoom manually — selecting font alone will change text size, but zooming in or out will make entire pages large or smaller.

chrome zoom

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These values in the Settings menu control sizes across all web pages. You can customize the zoom on individual pages even more. Just press Ctrl and the plus or minus buttons in the main Chrome window to make text and images larger or smaller. To get back to the default zoom level, press Ctrl + 0 (zero).

Multitask like a pro

Chrome excels at single dedicated tasks, but sometimes you just want to use that windowed interface for all that it’s worth. Chrome has a little baked-in functionality that makes it easy to split the screen in two and put one tab, browser window, or app on either side. In fact it works a lot like Aero Snap in Windows 7 and later: click and drag the title bar of any app or tab to one edge of the screen, then release the mouse or trackpad button. The window will automatically fill half of the available space. Do the same with another app on the opposite side of the screen and the two of them together will take up the entire viewing area. It’s perfect for copying information or taking notes.

chrome multitask

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Want an even easier way to achieve this? Hold down the Alt key and press the left or right bracket button, [ or ]. The active window will automatically snap to the corresponding edge. Repeat the command and it will shrink further, taking up only about one fifth of the screen’s width. Press Alt and the opposite bracket key and you can bring the window back into the full view. Practice these commands and you’ll be able to create an optimal window layout in seconds.

Get your Caps Lock back

By default, Chromebooks replace the Caps Lock key in the standard keyboard layout with a Search button that activates the Google Search popup. If you rely on a conventional Caps Lock key (or you just like shouting at people with all-caps text), there’s an easy way to get it back. Go back to the Chrome settings menu by clicking the clock in the lower left corner, then clicking “Settings.” Click “Keyboard settings.”

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The first option is “Search.” Click the drop-down menu and you can re-assign the button: disable it entirely, create another Escape, Ctrl, or Alt key, or set it to Caps Lock to match standard keyboards. Make your selection, then click “OK.” Congratulations! you now have your Cruise Control for Cool button once again.