9 must-have apps and tips for your Chromebook

These are some of the apps and tricks that will make you a Chromebook pro


As Chrome OS is maturing, it is becoming a direct competitor to not only desktop OSes such as Mac OS X and Windows, but also to iOS. Once I got hold of the ASUS Chromebook Flip, I started using it more instead of my iPad; when I am not on my desktop I am with my Chromebook Flip. Here are some of the apps and tricks that I use to continue my workflow.

#1 Text

This text editor is my favorite ‘app’ for the Chromebook because most of my writing is done and saved in .txt formats, to avoid any compatibility issues or vendor lockin as I move across operating systems and platforms.

It has a modern, minimalistic UI and one feature that I like the most is the ability to save documents wherever I want (something that’s quite painful on my iPad). As I have previously explained, I have a file server (powered by Ubuntu Linux) where all my files reside and I can easily work on those stories right from my Chromebook using apps like Text. I put Text on par with Sublime Text, ByWord and iWriter (for those who are on Mac OSX or iOS platform).

If you need a Markdown editor, you can also try StakEdit and similar app.

As you start using such apps, my only advice to you would be to avoid those apps that save your files on their cloud, behind their logins. I have seen cases where people have lost files. Use whatever app you want as long as the file is saved in a standard format and on a drive that you can access without that app.

#2 Google Docs

Google Docs comes into picture when I need to collaborate on works, especially when working with my editors. OK, I must admit that it’s not as feature rich as is Microsoft Office (which I haven’t used since 2009), but at $0 cost it does a fine job as a word processor, collaboration and storage tool.

One feature that I like the most is the ‘Suggestion’ mode, which works more or less like ‘track-changes’ on LibreOffice or MicroSoft Office to see the changes made by the other parties working on the documents. You can accept or decline changes to the documents.  Then, you can always see the version history and revert to any previous version of the document. You can also use it to make some documents public in read-only mode, which will be accessible to anyone.

The ability to comment within a document makes it easier to discuss points with collaborators and have them sorted out then and there without having to email to each other. And then there is always the option to chat with other collaborators for further discussion.

#3 AirDroid

I have both iOS and Android devices, and I am growing extremely frustrated with the airtight, totally locked down approach of iOS. In addition to crippled access to the file system there is no way to access the iOS device over wireless other than iTunes; so if you have a Chromebook, iOS devices won’t work. However, if you are on Android, there is a great app called AirDroid that can connect your Chromebook with your Android device over the wireless network. Not only can you access the full storage of your Android device from the Chromebook, you will also be able to manage apps and share documents and links between devices.

#4 Send to Android

If you don’t want to keep the two devices connected over wifi through AirDroid, there is a nifty tool by Google called ‘Send to Android’. Once you install the app on the Chromebook and are logged into the same Gmail account that you use on your phone, install the app on your mobile device. Then you'll be able to ‘push’ stuff like maps, links, selected text and phone numbers to your Android device.

#5 Google Photos

Google Chromebooks have many image editing and image processing solutions. If you are looking at image storage solutions then there is nothing more organized and better than Google Photos. There are two options with Google Photos - either store your images in the original format, which will count against your storage space or let Google compress your images into their high definition format, which will give you infinite storage space.

That’s about storage, how about editing these images? It really depends on what you want to do with your images. Google Photos has some neat image editing capabilities, thanks to Google owned Nik Software. However, to be able to edit images, you need to open the photos from photos.google.com, instead of from the Google Drive. Then there are third party apps such as Polarr, Pixlr and Sumo Paint, which turn your Chromebook into an image editing platform.

#6 Google Hangouts

Skype used to be the most used app for me as my family is spread across the globe and it was extremely inexpensive to stay connected with them. But in the post-Snowden era, amid revelations that Microsoft probably works closely with NSA and Skype calls can easily be intercepted, I stopped using the service. Not to mention that despite paying for the calls I am showed unrelated ads on the Skype window. That's where Google Hangouts comes into play. It is more or less platform independent and you can also also make phone calls through it. The international calls are extremely cheap and calls within the US are free. Unlike Apple’s FaceTime it’s not locked into one platform; you can use it from any OS.

#7 Work with Google Drive

While I recommended above to avoid apps which save your files on their own cloud and instead choose the local stores. However, there is a flip side keeping your files away from the cloud: If you are not saving your data on a local server, you also run the risk of losing such files if you lose your Chromebook. In cases like these you can use the apps that work with Google Drive. Even if an app doesn’t offer any integration with Google Drive, such as Text, you can still save files to Google Drive. Alternatively, you can also use third party cloud services or self hosted cloud services with Chromebook to sync your data.

#8 Work offline

Gone are the days when you had to be online to use the Chromebook (sorry, Microsoft for the Pawn Star smear campaign). Today a majority of apps support offline mode. Which means you can continue to use these apps even when you are not connected to the internet; the files are synced once you are online.

It’s very easy to find the apps that have this capability, when you search for any app on the Web App store select the filter ‘Works Offline’ from the left sidebar and it will show all the offline apps. You will also notice a ‘thunderbolt’ icon next to such apps; so if an app has that icon it means it supports the mode.

As a policy I only use offline apps for work because they allow me to work directly from the local storage, even if I am connected to the web. So none of my work gets stored to any cloud service.

#9 Go offline with Gmail and Google Drive

Most Google apps support offline mode; though you need to enable it from the settings. If you are travelling and want to be able to reply to previous emails during the flight you can do it now, as you would do with email clients like OutLook. Go to Chrome Web Store and search for ‘Gmail Offline’. Once installed, open the app and enable the ‘Allow Offline mail’. Alternatively, you can go to ‘settings’ in the regular Gmail and go to ‘Offline’ tab which will ask you to install the Offline app. I wonder why Google doesn’t offer the capabilities with the regular Gmail app.

To use Google Drive/Docs offline, open Google Drive and then choose ‘settings’ from the gear icon top right. Then check the ‘offline’ box, now your documents will be available offline on the device.

Important Tip: Enable the offline mode for such apps at least an hour prior to going off the grid so that Google can download the data to the local machine.

Also keep in mind that there are certain features not available in offline mode, such as creating new folders etc. Only Docs, Sheets, Slides and Drawings currently support the offline mode.

That’s pretty much most of what I do on my Chromebook.  What apps you need really depends on what you do. So if you are using a Chromebook or planning to buy one and have some queries regarding your use-case, feel free to post a comment below and I will try to come up a solution for you.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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