Settings on Chrome OS in 2021: Everything you need to know

Settings on Chrome OS in 2021: Everything you need to know

If you recently switched from a Mac or PC to Chrome OS, you’ve probably noticed the setup is a bit different. It’s natural to want a few tips and tricks when migrating to a new operating system and UI. The good news is that Chrome OS is incredibly user friendly and very powerful. Whether you’re a developer or casual user, the customization available is truly impressive. Some of the basics like taking a screenshot or setting up notifications are also a bit different on your Chromebook. In this article we’ll take a look at how to set up the settings on your Chromebook, Chromebox, or tablet running Chrome OS from start to finish.


This article is organized into four distinct parts. First, we’ll take a look at the basic menus presented when booting your Chromebook for the first time. In this section we’ll also explore basic settings to change or double-check after walking through the initial boot menu. Next, we’ll discuss a few tips, tricks, and settings that are useful for everyone new to Chrome OS.  The third section of this article focuses on tips and tricks specific to users migrating from PC to Chromebook. You might consider skipping this section if you’re switching from a Mac. Finally, we’ll discuss tips and tricks useful for former Mac users.

Basic Chrome OS set up in 2021

Before we get started, make sure your Chromebook has a full battery. If you don’t have much charge on your Chromebook at the moment, it’s probably worth connecting to a power outlet. The steps below detail the full initial boot menu, and include some additional tips for after you exit the walk-through.

  • Power on your Chromebook.
  • Enter the email address associated with your Google account. Note you don’t need to enter the domain name at the end.
  • Select Next.
  • Enter the password associated with your Google account.
  • Select Next.
  • Note if you’re using two-factor authentication with your Google account, you’ll need to enter the verification code in this step.
  • At this point you’ll be offered the opportunity to review what automatically syncs to your Chromebook. We recommend checking the Review sync options following setup option.
  • The next screen presents the Google Play terms of service. Make sure to select More and scroll down to read all of the terms and see more options. Google Play screenshot on Chromebook
  • You can choose to disable Google Drive backups, but this probably isn’t a good idea unless you have another backup solution in mind. You’ll also have the option to disable location services. This is a personal preference, but if you want to use Google services like Maps, it’s best to leave this enabled.
  • We recommend checking the box to Review your Google Play options following setup to check out important permissions later on.
  • Now, select Accept.
  • Next, set up your Google Assistant with voice match. If you use an Android phone the voice match is likely already complete.

Google Assistant Chromebook setup

That concludes the initial setup, but there are quite a few more options and settings to explore. You can choose to take a tour of your new machine, or exit and look at the settings manually.

Chromebooks come with some Android apps pre-installed, and these need updates. Click the time in the bottom right hand corner of your Chromebook.

Google Play Updates shown on Chromebook

You can choose to either click Update all in the notification, or open the Play Store and choose individual apps to update. From here, you can install Android apps from previous devices, or download any new interesting apps that catch your eye.

Be sure to log into all of your favorite social media apps or Chrome extensions, and you should be good to go for basic use.

Recommended Settings and tips for all new users

There are some fundamental things that any new Chromebook user should be aware of. Basic tasks like taking a screenshot, managing files, or changing scroll direction are important for all users. In this section we’ll also take a look at several options within the Settings menu that you should be familiar with. If you’re migrating from a PC or Mac, you may want to also read through the tips for moving to Chrome OS from your previous operating system, at the end of the article.

Taking a screenshot

If you want to take a screenshot of your entire screen on a Chromebook, press Ctrl + the Show windows button (Ctrl + F5 on a Windows keyboard). To capture a partial screenshot, press Shift + Ctrl + Show windows (Shift + Ctrl + F5 on a Windows keyboard), then click and drag your cursor over the exact area you want to capture.

Caps Lock key replacement

You may have noticed that Chromebooks do not have a Caps Lock key. You can capitalize letters using the Shift key as usual, but you can also press Launcher+Alt to enable Caps Lock.

remap keys for capitalization in Chrome OS

Change scrolling direction

You prefer scrolling set so when you swipe down, you scroll down the page. This is very natural as it’s how smartphones and tablets behave with touch. It’s easy to change the scroll direction on your Chromebook. To do this, click the time in the bottom right hand corner, and click the Settings icon. Scroll down and select Touchpad. Under the scrolling option, select Enable reverse scrolling.

enable reverse scrolling in Chrome OS

Finding system specifications

Both Mac and PC users have convenient ways to locate a full list of their system specs. This is also possible on Chrome OS with a little extra work. To access the System Page, open a Chrome browser on your Chromebook and in the browser bar, type chrome://system. Hitting enter will display a long list of all the system specs you’re used to on your previous device.

system specs on Chrome OS

Locating and managing files

Chromebooks are built for the cloud, and local storage works a bit differently. Your information gets saved within the Files app instead of on your Desktop or Documents folder. You can use the Launcher to access that app quickly and then search for what you need. All downloaded content will appear in the Downloads folder, but you can also add subfolders for easy storage.

If you plan to use your Chromebook as your main device, we recommend using a cloud service like Dropbox or Google Drive as your primary storage solution.

Files app on Chrome OS

Customize your dock

Organization is important for any workflow. You can pin apps to your dock (at the bottom of your screen) for easy access and use. At the bare minimum you’ll want to keep Chrome, Gmail, Files, and likely Youtube in the dock. If you use your Chromebook for work, you may also want some productivity apps like Docs and Slides. Remember you can also pin Android apps — a good Twitter app like Albatross for Android might come in handy.

pin an app to dock in Chrome OS

Tips for switching from PC to Chrome OS in 2021

There are a few key things you might be looking for when you switch from a PC to a Chromebook. Changing common settings and organizing files are fairly basic tasks. On Windows you probably know exactly where to go for both of these tasks. Chrome OS is organized a bit differently. In this section we’ll take a look at three of the most substantial changes coming from a PC to Chrome OS.

Locating applications

On your PC, you undoubtedly used the Start menu to access all of your apps and programs. On the Chromebook, you can access both Chrome and Android apps via the Launcher. The Launcher is a button located at the bottom of your Chromebook. The Launcher is accessed via either clicking on the button, or swiping up from the bottom dock if you have a touchscreen device. From the Launcher menu you can access all of the popular apps installed earlier, including Google apps like Gmail and Youtube.

Enabling right-click

Right-click works a little differently on a Chromebook than on a PC (where you typically hit Shift + F10). You can either press the touchpad with two fingers to open the right-click menu (as you might on a Mac), or you can click ‘Alt’ and use just one finger on the touchpad. Once you do, you can scroll, moving left and right to move horizontally, or up and down to move vertically.

Learn new keyboard tricks

One thing PC users will notice right away is the lack of function keys. Indeed, Chromebooks also don’t have a Print Screen key. Luckily, it’s incredibly easy to take a screenshot in Chrome OS, as we’ve seen. On your Chromebook you’ll notice several new shortcut keys at the top of your keyboard — these adjust volume, brightness, and control window operation for apps. The good news is Windows shortcuts for copy, cut, and paste still work the same on your Chromebook.

Tips for switching from Mac to Chrome OS in 2021

While macOS and Chrome OS have a lot in common, both being Linux-based, there are still some important differences. Some of the keys you’re used to on your Mac are missing on Chrome OS, and it also takes some adjustment to get used to cloud storage.

Below we’ll look at the three most important changes when moving from macOS to Chrome OS.

Command key replacement

The Command key is an integral part of keyboard shortcuts on macOS. In Chrome OS, the Ctrl key is equivalent to the Command key. Perhaps the most annoying thing is the Ctrl key is a bit further to the left, making it a little more difficult to reach. If you want to remedy this situation, use Chrome’s versatility to swap the Ctrl and Alt key functionality.

To do this, click the time in the bottom right-hand corner, and click the Settings icon. Scroll down to Keyboard, and remap the keys, setting Alt to Ctrl and Ctrl to Alt.

switch ctrl and alt keys on Chrome OS

Viewing all open browser windows

Zooming out on all available windows is a feature all Mac users are accustomed to. In Chrome OS it’s incredibly easy to navigate through browser clutter. To switch between several tabs fast, you can swipe with three fingers to the right or left (or up or down depending on if you have reverse scrolling turned on). This feature makes it easy for you to get a sense of everything you’re working on. From there, you can organize and close windows.

Downloading new apps

Loyal Apple users know to head to the App Store on Mac or iOS to download brand new apps. On Chrome OS, native apps are cloud-based. This means productivity apps like Gmail and Google Docs live and store items in the cloud. Newer Chromebooks also support Android apps, downloaded via the Google Play Store. This opens up a wide array of possibilities, with millions of productivity apps and games available. Both web apps and Android apps support shortcuts and are easily accessed via the Launcher.

Play Store shown on a Chromebook
You’re now ready to begin using your new favorite Chromebook in style. With this light cloud-based operating system, you’ll get great battery life and the versatility to use any Android app. At this point your Settings should be tuned just enough to get you started, but there are a lot of other tricks still to learn.

Be sure to check out our guides on other Chrome OS shortcuts, find out how to run Linux apps with ease, and check out some awesome docks for your new machine. What’s your favorite feature of your Chromebook? Let us know in the comments.

About author

Jeff Springer
Jeff Springer

Applied mathematician with a love for Android. I am interested in inverse problems for imaging and integration with camera software for mobile phones.

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