Did you recently get your first Chromebook, whether for the holidays or as a self-gift to improve your work-from-home setup? Here are some of the best apps to use on your new Chromebook across the web, Android, and Linux.
Chrome OS is fairly unique in that it offers more than one “ecosystem” of apps. The core of Chrome OS is the Google Chrome browser, which supports web apps of all varieties as well as the thousands of Chrome extensions in the Chrome Web Store. Over the past few years, Chrome OS has also gained support for Android apps from the Google Play Store, as well as full desktop Linux apps for power users.
That being the case, the best apps to install on your new Chromebook may be found in the web browser or may be installable from the Google Play Store.
Our first essential Chrome OS app is actually built into the OS, but you need to install the matching app on your Android phone. With Google Messages, you can read and reply to SMS/MMS/RCS messages through a web app. Chromebooks actually offer a slightly better Google Messages integration, as you can get notifications for your messages without needing to keep the Google Messages window open.
To get started, make sure you’ve installed Google Messages on your Android phone and set it to be the default messaging app. Next, open the Settings app on your Chromebook. In the Connected Devices section, click “set up” to connect your phone to your Chromebook, and Chrome OS will walk you through the steps.
It’s easy to underestimate the power of the modern web, but these days tasks that would normally need full-blown desktop apps can now be done right from the browser. Photopea, a free replacement for Photoshop, is one of the best examples of this.
Photopea can seamlessly open up Photoshop PSD files or edit any sort of image you may wish to throw at it. In all honesty, Photopea is an indispensable tool in my personal Chrome OS app arsenal, and I find myself using it every day for various photo editing tasks.
Though Photopea is free, the app is supported by ads. If you wish, the ads can be removed with a Premium account — $9 per month or $40 per year — which also includes double the editing history.
These days, it’s important to keep connected with the ones you love, regardless of the distance. One of the best apps for video calling on Chromebooks is Google Duo, which makes it easy to make video calls with your friends and family across Android, iOS, and web browsers.
Google Duo is completely free and all calls are secured with end-to-end encryption. Duo can also make calls to your Google Home speakers and smart displays, if you ever need to phone home while on the go.
That said, not everyone uses Google Duo. Thankfully, most video calling options like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Discord all offer web apps that will work great on your Chromebook.
If your Chromebook comes with stylus support, then Squid is an absolute must-have app. Available for free in the Google Play Store, Squid is optimized to make taking handwritten notes easier and faster than most any other Chromebook app.
What really makes Squid impressive is its ability to let you draw and write over an imported PDF, perfect for filling in paperwork digitally. Unfortunately, the PDF features will cost you a one-time fee of $4.99 or you can subscribe to Squid Premium for $1 per month to unlock other features like helpful templates to draw on.
It used to be the case that Chromebooks were simply not good for gaming, but over time that’s gradually changed. Most recently, Chromebooks have become fantastic gaming machines, thanks to cloud streaming services like Google Stadia.
Stadia allows you to buy AAA games — like Cyberpunk 2077 — which are played on Google’s servers and streamed over the internet to your Chromebook, or other devices. You don’t need any special hardware or accessories beyond your built-in keyboard and mouse. Stadia also has some entirely free-to-play games like Destiny 2 that you can try out to see if your connection is good enough for game streaming.
Of course, Stadia is not right for everybody, and there are other Chromebook-compatible cloud streaming apps that may make more sense for you. If you already have a library full of PC games, GeForce Now can stream many of those games to your Chromebook. Or, if you’re more of an Xbox gamer, Xbox Game Pass streaming is set to gain a web app sometime early next year.
Other Noteworthy Chromebook Apps:
- Your favorite streaming apps: No matter where you listen to music or watch movies & TV shows, you can access your favorite services on Chrome OS. For most services — be it Spotify, Netflix, Disney+, etc — using the Android app instead of the web app will allow you to download content to play when offline.
- VLC: Chrome OS comes with a decent built-in video player, but it lacks some features of even the most basic player like making a playlist or tweaking play speed. VLC for Android is one of the best apps for playing videos on a Chromebook, being able to play essentially any kind of video file or stream.
- Android Studio: One of the biggest benefits of Chromebooks gaining Linux support is that it opens the world of development to more devices and therefore more people. If your new Chromebook has an Intel or AMD processor, you can install Android Studio to get started with making your own Android apps.
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