How to switch to Chrome OS: Storage, settings, and more!

How to switch to Chrome OS: Storage, settings, and more!

Are you looking to make the leap to Chrome OS? If so, there are some things you need to know before making the switch. Most likely, you’re coming to Chrome OS from a Mac or Windows PC. Chrome OS is a bit different since it’s a primarily cloud-based operating system. This means some of your previous ideas about required hardware specs go out the window. In addition, you don’t need nearly as much built-in storage as you’ll store most files in the cloud.

Finally, some of the keyboard shortcuts and apps you’re used to may need slight adjustments when moving to Chrome OS. The good news is once you get things set up properly, Chrome OS is easy and fun to use.

Let’s take a look at everything you need to know to make the switch to a new Chromebook.

Understand required specs for Chrome OS

Chromebooks can get by with a fairly low-powered CPU. For Chromebooks under $300, aim for an Intel Celeron processor, preferably the newer N5000 although an N4020 or N4010 are also solid options. There are also excellent ARM processor options such as the MediaTek Helio P60T or MediaTek MT8173C.

While the CPUs at this price point are not high-powered, they’re very battery efficient. You should expect to get excellent battery life with any of these options. If you’re spending more than $600 on a Chromebook, focus solely on Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processors. Look for 10th- or 11th-generation processors, with consideration for 8th or 9th generation processors if the discount is significant.

Most modern Chromebooks come with 4 GB of RAM at a minimum. Some older models still feature 2 GB of RAM, but we don’t recommend devices with less than 4 GB of RAM. If you buy a Chromebook with 2 GB of RAM, you’ll notice that opening several browser tabs will cause your device to become sluggish. Of course, you can find Chromebooks with significantly more than 4 GB of RAM as well. Determining how much RAM you need comes down to how you’ll use your Chromebook on a daily basis.

It’s important to realize the price will generally go up as you increase the amount of RAM you require. Most Chromebooks under $300 will feature 4 GB, with exceptional deals occasionally featuring 8 GB. If you’re buying a Chromebook over $300, it’s ideal to look for a model that has 8 GB if possible. Overall, 4 GB of RAM is enough for a Chromebook, but 8 GB is ideal.

Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 in red

Many budget Chromebooks start at 32GB of eMMc storage. At the end of the day, 32GB of storage is just not enough for a Chromebook in 2021, unless you’re only using cloud storage. Otherwise, the minimum storage you should consider on your Chromebook is 64GB. There are quite a few excellent options under $300 that feature 64GB SSD storage. Those looking to use a Chromebook as their primary computing device should opt for a minimum 128GB of storage.

Keep in mind that 128GB options are likely to cost over $400, so these will not fall into the budget Chromebook category. The Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 (pictured above) is a good example of a Chromebook featuring all of these ideal specs.

    Galaxy Chromebook 2
    With the Galaxy Chromebook 2, Samsung removed a few premium features but also drastically reduced the price. As the first Chromebook with a QLED display, this machine still packs plenty of power and style for most users.

Choose a cloud storage solution

Moving to Chrome OS means committing to cloud storage at some level. If you can, it’s nice to move absolutely everything to a cloud storage solution. Those that feel a complete move to the cloud sounds scary should opt for more built-in storage when they select a Chromebook. There are several excellent cloud storage services out there, but Google Drive makes the most sense. Of course, if you’re already locked into Dropbox, Box, or Microsoft OneDrive, these are all accessible on your Chromebook as well.

Before you make the move to a Chromebook, back up all your files to your chosen cloud service. This may require a small subscription fee if you have a lot of files to store, but in the end the simplicity and ease of use make it worth the cost. Using a cloud service also allows access to your files across all of your devices, not just your Chromebook.

Google Drive
Google Drive
Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free+
Box
Box
Developer: Box
Price: Free
Microsoft OneDrive
Microsoft OneDrive
Price: Free+

Learn Chrome OS settings and menus

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 don’t 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 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. Organizing your dock is especially important if you connect to an external monitor via docking station.

pin an app to dock in Chrome OS

We also have a number of useful tips specifically for users coming from macOS or Windows. Check out our full guide to settings on Chrome OS for more recommendations on setting up your new Chromebook.

Learn Chrome OS keyboard shortcuts

We have a full guide on Chrome OS keyboard shortcuts, but there are a few basic ones to master right away.

  • Take a screenshot: Press Ctrl + Show Windows 
  • Take a partial screenshot: Press Shift + Ctrl + Show windows , then click and drag.
  • Take a screenshot on tablets: Press Power button + Volume down button.
  • To access more screenshot features: Press Shift + Ctrl + Show windows , then select a screenshot feature from the toolbar.
  • To access more screenshot features on tablets: Press and hold the Power button and then select “Screen capture,” or, select time and then select Screen capture.
  • Turn Caps Lock on or off: Press Search + Alt. Or press Launcher  + Alt.
  • Lock your screen: Press Search + L. Or press Launcher  + L.
  • Sign out of your Google Account: Press Shift + Ctrl + q (twice).
  • See all keyboard shortcuts: Press Ctrl + Alt + / (forward slash).

You can also remap keys in Chrome OS, which is an excellent way to take back the missing Caps Lock key. Remapping and other advanced options are covered further in the full guide.

Expand your app selection with Android and Linux apps

If you use an Android phone on a daily basis, you’ll already know how to install apps from the Play Store. On the other hand, the process might be a bit new for those using an iPhone as their daily device. Installing apps from the Play Store is very similar to the process for Apple’s App Store for iOS or macOS.

Play Store on Chrome OS

How to download Android apps on your Chromebook

  • Turn your Chromebook on and log in.
  • Open the app drawer. Either tap on the Launcher icon, or swipe up from the bottom.
  • Find the Google Play Store app and open it.
  • Search or browse for your app of choice. If you’re looking for options, see our list of best Android apps coming up in this article.
  • Click on Install.
  • Wait for the app to install, and it will appear in your app drawer shortly after.

We recommend downloading Microsoft Office, Netflix, and Twitter to get started. Check out our full guide to Android apps on Chrome OS for more app suggestions.

Twitter
Twitter
Developer: Twitter, Inc.
Price: Free
Netflix
Netflix
Developer: Netflix, Inc.
Price: Free+

Linux apps on Chrome OS

What exactly can you accomplish running Linux apps? Chrome OS by default is a cloud computing platform, which leaves out some desktop-class apps you might see on a Mac or PC. For instance, if you need to run Photoshop natively, that’s not possible on your Chromebook. Video editing is also quite difficult by default on Chrome OS. Both of these problems are addressed by Linux apps.

In addition, if you’re a developer, you undoubtedly need Linux for coding tools. While not all Chromebooks support Linux apps (there are some baseline system requirements), most modern Chromebooks will have the option available. In this guide we’ll walk through precisely how to enable and install Linux apps on your Chromebook, and run down the best Linux apps available on Chrome OS.

How to enable Linux apps on Chrome OS

As mentioned before, you need to check that your Chromebook actually supports Linux apps first. To do this :

  • Open up the Chrome OS settings (by clicking the time area in the lower-right corner of the desktop and then clicking the gear-shaped Settings icon).
  • Click on the Advanced tab and select Developers.
  • Turn on the Linux (Beta) option seen in the menu below. Currently Linux is in beta testing on Chrome OS (as it has been the past three years), but Google says it will exit beta soon.

Linux Beta on Chrome OS

The process for downloading and installing Linux apps is a bit technical, but is covered in our full guide to Linux apps on Chrome OS.

That’s everything you need to know to move over to the ever versatile Chrome OS. The grass is indeed greener on this side, and you can make the switch with just a few simple steps. Make sure to choose the cloud storage solution that’s best for you and back up all files before you buy a new Chromebook.

When you’re ready to start shopping, check out our lists for the best Samsung Chromebooks, best Acer Chromebooks, and best HP Chromebooks. If you have any other questions about your move to Chrome OS, drop them in the comments and we’ll get back to you.

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.