Ultimate Chromebook Setup Guide

Congratulations! You got yourself a brand new Chromebook!

Getting a new computer has always been exciting, and a little frustrating. It’s usually a whole day event getting your files moved from one computer to the next, getting all the settings on the new computer just the way you like them. Often times the new computer has an entirely new operating system that you’re just not used to (Windows 8 anyone?).

Luckily, you won’t have to deal with all that nonsense, because you got yourself a Chromebook.

Before I get into setting up your new Chromebook, let me take a moment to briefly describe what a Chromebook is, and how it may differ from the computers you’re used to using.

Skip the introduction, and get right to the setup

A Chromebook is a laptop device that runs Google’s Chrome OS operating system. This is not Windows, and this is not a Mac. It’s also not Android, as many people assume. This is a desktop/laptop operating system that Google designed, and is modeled after their Chrome web browser.

For the most part, if you already use Google Chrome as your default web browser (and statistics say that you probably do), then you should feel right at home using a Chromebook. Chrome OS is essentially the Chrome web browser, modified to work as an operating system. It’s very simple to use, and doesn’t come with any obnoxious bloat ware like a Windows or Mac machine.

Chromebooks typically have very small local storage. A 16GB SSD is very popular among Chromebooks. Many have 32GB SSDs. Very few have any more than that. This is because Chromebooks are designed for the “cloud”. If you don’t know what the cloud is, it’s literally just the internet. “Cloud” storage simply refers to you storing your files online somewhere, like in Google Drive, or Dropbox, or OneDrive. The idea behind Chromebooks is that you store your important files safely on Google Drive, and have very little need for local storage. That way, if your Chromebook becomes damaged beyond repair, you won’t have lost any important files because they will all be backed up safely in the cloud rather than on your local hard drive, and lost forever.

Now that the introduction is out of the way, let’s walk you through setting up your Chromebook for the first time.

For the purpose of this setup guide, I’m going to assume you haven’t even opened your Chromebook yet, and are reading this from some other device eagerly anticipating opening your Chromebook for the first time.

Signing into your Chromebook

Go ahead and open the lid.

The first thing you’ll be asked to do, is to choose a WiFi network, and sign into it. Here’s what that first screen should look like:

Once you’ve done that, It will do a quick check for updates, and then ask you to sign into your Google account, like so:

If you don’t have a Google account, there will be an option to create one. You’ll also be asked to choose an avatar. You can snap a quick picture using the web cam, or select a stock image.

The Chromebook Desktop

Once you’re signed in, you’ll be looking at the Chromebook’s desktop, which should look something like this (you’ll probably have a different wallpaper):

You also probably won’t have as many apps on the bottom shelf there as I do. You’ll have a few tho. The first one in the bottom left corner is your app launcher . This is how you access any apps you may have installed. It’s kind of like the Start button of Windows, or the Apple icon of a Mac. You can also access this by pressing the Search button on your keyboard, which is where the Caps Lock is on other keyboards.

If you click this, you’ll see a window that will show you a few of your most used apps, and an option to view all your apps, as well as an option to do a Google search. When you do a search from this screen, you can search for apps you’ve installed, apps you want to install, or anything else you’d like to search Google for. Here’s what that screen will look like:

You’ll see a few other apps down there in the app shelf as well. Chrome, and Gmail for sure. Probably Google Drive. Maybe Calendar. You can put any app you’ve installed down there in the app shelf by searching for the app, right clicking (two finger clicking on the touch pad) on the app icon, and selecting pin to shelf:

Clicking on one of those apps in your app shelf does what you would expect, it opens that app. Most of the time it’s just a web app (like Gmail.com or Facebook.com), and will open a tab in your Chrome browser. Sometimes it will open in it’s own window. This is still technically a web app, but sometimes the developer likes to make it open in it’s own window so it feels more like a traditional application. You can force an app to open in it’s own window if it doesn’t already, by right clicking (two finger click) on the app icon, and selecting Open as window.

For an example of an app that opens in it’s own window, search the Chrome Web Store for an app called CodeAnywhere, and add it to Chrome. Then open it. (Feel free to remove this app by right-clicking and selecting “remove”. This is a good opportunity for you to see how easy it is to add and remove Chrome apps).

You’ll notice that you cannot add items to your desktop. This is by design, and will likely never change. Trust me, you’ll appreciate it. Finding your apps is so simple, there’s no need to add a bunch of shortcuts to your desktop. The quickest way to open an app, is to hit the search key (where the Caps Lock used to be) and start typing the first 2 or 3 letters of the app, then press enter.

For instance, if I wanted to open the Pandora app, I would hit the search key, type “pan” and hit enter. That’s very quick, and easy, and didn’t even require me to move my hands off the keyboard. Of course you can achieve the same thing using your mouse if you would like, by clicking on the app launcher in the bottom left corner, clicking all apps and scrolling through your apps until you find the Pandora app.

And as I said before, you can also pin the Pandora app to your shelf if you plan on opening it a lot.

The Chromebook Keyboard

Now that we have a feel for the Chrome OS desktop, let’s take a look at your keyboard. You’ve probably already noticed that it’s different from your typical Windows/Mac keyboard.

The biggest difference, is the lack of F keys at the top. Instead of F1, F2, F3 etc, you’ll see a series of helpful buttons which are half the reason Chromebooks are so awesome.

Starting from left to right, the buttons are as follows:

Browse back – Performs the task of browsing back one page in your Chrome browser
Browse forward – Performs the task of browsing foward one page in your Chrome browser
Refresh – Refreshes the current tab in your Chrome browser
Fullscreen – Puts your Chromebook in Full Screen mode
Multi window – Shows you all the windows you currently have open, allowing you to select the one you want to view
Brightness down – Lowers the brightness of your screen
Brightness up – Increases the brightness of your screen
Mute – Turns your volume all the way down
Volume down – Turns your volume down
Volume up – Turns your volume up
Power – Powers your Chromebook on/off

Another thing you’ll notice is there’s no caps lock button. Instead, there is a search key. This button opens your App drawer (same as clicking the icon in the bottom left corner of your app shelf).

Other than that, your keyboard should look the same as any other keyboard.

There are a lot of helpful keyboard shortcuts available to you in Chrome OS. Many are what you would expect (such as ctrl + c or ctrl + v). But there are also many new ones you’ve not used before. To see all the keyboard shortcuts available to you, press ctrl + alt + ?. This will open a shortcut wizard that shows you all the different shortcuts available. To see what kind of shortcuts are available using the ctrl button, simply press and hold the ctrl button when looking at this shortcut wizard, and it will show you. Press and hold ctrl and shift, and it’ll show you all the ctrl + shift shortcuts. When you’re done, you can press esc to close the keyboard shortcut window.

The Chromebook Touchpad

Your touchpad will probably not be anything new or exciting for you. Drag your finger across the touchpad to manipulate the cursor on the screen. You can tap on the touchpad, or press down until you hear a “click” to click on things. Use two fingers, and tap simultaneously to simulate a “right-click”.

Here are some more Chromebook touchpad gestures:

Move the pointer Move your finger across the touchpad.
Click Press or tap the lower half of the touchpad.
Right-click Press or tap the touchpad with two fingers. You can also press Alt, then click with one finger.
Scroll Place two fingers on the touchpad and move them up and down to scroll vertically, or left and right to scroll horizontally.
Move between pages To go back to a page you were just on, swipe left with two fingers. To go forward to a page you were just on, swipe right with two fingers.
See all open windows Swipe up or down with three fingers. (If you have Australian scrolling turned on, swipe up; if you have traditional scrolling turned on, swipe down.)
Switch between tabs If you have multiple browser tabs open, you can swipe left and right with three fingers to quickly move between tabs.
Drag and drop Click and hold the item you want to move. While holding, move the item. Release your finger to drop the item at its new location.

Chromebook Settings


Now let’s talk about some of the settings available to you.

There are actually 3 different ways to access your Chrome settings. Two of them you might already be familiar with if you’ve used Chrome on Windows/Mac/Linux.

Method 1: Click the 3 vertical dot icon in the upper-right corner of your Chrome browser window, and select Settings.

Method 2: Type chrome:settings into your address bar and hit Enter.

Method 3: Click on the bottom right corner, where it displays the time and your avatar, and click the settings icon (it’s a typical gear icon).

Most of the settings here will be the same as any Chrome browser, but given that this is more than just a browser, there will be some additional options, such as display, sound and keyboard/mouse options, which we’ll talk more about later.

The first thing you’ll probably want to be familiar with is how to connect to different WiFi networks, that way you can take your new Chromebook to Starbucks right away and show it off.

To connect to a WiFi network, click in the bottom right where it displays the time and your avatar. If you’re already signed into a WiFi network, you’ll see Connected to [network-name] (see image below). If you’re not already connected to a WiFi network, it will say No Network. Either way, click on it. This will show a list of WiFi networks that are in range. Select the one you want, and enter the password for that network. Sometimes it won’t ask for a password right away, and instead will display a small popup in the bottom right corner that says something to the effect of “sign into [x] network”. Click on that to open the sign in page. This is usually how it will go down at a coffee shop, like Starbucks. If you’re connecting to your own home network, you will likely just click on the WiFi network, type in your password, and you’ll be good to go.

At any time you can switch to a different WiFi network that’s in range by doing the same steps.


Another thing you’ll want to do while you’re sitting at Starbucks letting strange hipsters admire your Chromebook is to connect your Bluetooth headphones. To do this, make sure your Bluetooth headphones are turned on, and then click in the bottom right, and select the Bluetooth option.

Bluetooth may be disabled. If it is, simply click the little switch icon to enable it. You should then see a list of nearby Bluetooth devices. Select the one you want, enter the password if required, and it should connect.

If you need to disconnect a device, or “forget” the device, then after you select Bluetooth, click the settings icon.

This will take you to more advanced Bluetooth settings, where you can search for new devices to connect to, or remove devices that are already connected.

Display Settings

To change your display resolution, navigate to settings using one of the 3 methods above, and scroll down until you see Display settings under Device.

Click the Display settings button and choose your preferred resolution from the Resolution drop down.

You can also change your screen’s orientation, and alignment from this same screen.

If you have an external monitor plugged in, this is also where you would go to manage that. You can choose between extending your screen, and mirroring your screen. You can arrange them side by side, and select the resolution for each individual screen.


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