If you’ve either bought a new Chromebook or are thinking about buying one knowing what they can do is always handy.

First, the question who am I and what do I know? What you’re going to read here is my subjective view of how I use my current HP Chromebook X2 (UK) it’s my 3rd Chromebook from the very early days before Android Linux Containers and Touchscreens I’ve been sold on the platform essentially because of its simplicity and the understanding that most of my online life was wrapped up in the web.

You may have a very different experience and that’s fine, life is about choice, and if the ChromeOS platform isn’t for you something else will be.

I do however hope that the following helps someone enjoy this platform as well as I do currently.

Native, Android and Linux

So, something to know, Chromebooks come in shapes, sizes and price bands from 200 to 1000 (that could be GBP or USD, right now its a like for like 🙂 )

Not All Chromebooks are born equal and you WILL get what you pay for, so a 2 year old 2Gb ram 16Gb Storage model for 200 might not (ok, let’s be honest, won’t) give you the experience you’re looking for. That being said you don’t need to spend up towards 800+ to get a good experience

Circe 500 seems to be the sweet spot, with 4Gb ram really being the minimum you should be looking for,

The reason for this is Chromebooks have broken out of the Chrome Browser only shell and most of the new Chromebooks now support Android Apps, and some of the 500+ newer ones are also supporting a Linux Shell codenamed Crostini. More about that later.

Running Native when possible

While this opens up a wealth of options to you for supported platforms, on a single device a core very simple to manage OS based on the Chrome Web browser, layered on top the Entire Andriod/Google Play eco-system, or Debian Linux Apps in Containers there are some things worth considering..

I’m going to provide a suggestion here. While you may have a favourite app on your Android mobile device or tablet.

On the Chromebook where possible, use the webpage.

There are a couple of reasons for this the main one of which is although Android Apps are supported and in the main work. turns out not all app developers scale their Android Apps well.

There is also the Chromebook will do its best where possible to provide you a more web app like experience. By this I mean it will, especially if you own a Tablet or 2 in One, format the screen in such a way that the tabs and address bar disappears and the screen works like a full-screen application.

A couple of great examples of this are Feedly and Flipboard

Running what you can natively in the browser also saves space as you don’t need to install the app they save battery as some poorly written Android Apps WILL kill your battery.

What’s also interesting is many of the google staples like Keep, Photos and Drive are great in the web browser however and I’m guessing this is because of history some like Maps and the Office apps are way better as apps.

Android Apps which add value

With such a long list of services which I’ve suggested are better off using through the browser, Why bother using Android Apps? Well, there are some Android Apps where the development has over time produced an App which scales well and does add value being an App rather than a Web page.

I will also say here, I will pay for apps if I think it’s worth it, there are people behind these applications with bills to pay and if we don’t help pay for the apps then they will go away. So don’t expect free all the way down here..

Newton

Newton Mail – Email App for Gmail, Outlook, IMAP – Apps on Google PlayNewton is a subscription-based app that supercharges your email with power features like Read Receipts, Send Later…play.google.com

Newton died and has in the last couple of days been resurrected hopefully for the long term. Newton is not cheap it’s 50 (again, exchange rates not a thing here. GBP or USD). Many will baulk at the idea of spending that much on an email client.

If all you use is Gmail, then I’d totally agree with that statement, even more so if you only use a single Device.

Where Newton comes into its own as a mail client is the simple, yet something surprisingly no other mail client does. You Log in to the Newton Cloud and like magic all the multiple mail clients you setup appear. Not like every other mail client where I have to set up each device individually with Work accounts, and several other mail addresses. Set up once, done on any device you install Newton on. If you use a lot of mail accounts and a lot of devices this is worth 50 on its own.

Newton also manages read receipts better than most, it has a good calendar app built in. It also from the sake of the Chromebook scales VERY well onto larger screens.

Aquamail

Aqua Mail Pro – Apps on Google PlayAqua Mail Pro is an unlocker key for Aqua Mail, which turns the FREE version of the app into Pro. The advantages of…play.google.com

If spotting a 50 is too much for 12 months then maybe the 10 needed for Aquamail pro might cut it. Prior to Newtons rebirth, this was the mail client I’ve been using. its got loads of options, the development team have done a good job of letting the user choose how this app works not restricting them to a developers vision. It supports all the main mail providers and systems out of the box.

Like Newton the app itself scales on larger screens really well, it’s not a battery hog either unlike Outlook.

Something which however IS worth knowing is the Chrome Web store has a Web app that says its a free pro version of the Aqua Mail app. I could not get this to work for the life of me.. It may be because if 2FA all my mail accounts.

Solid Explorer

Solid Explorer File Manager – Apps on Google PlayThis is Solid Explorer File and Cloud Manager Please note that this is a 14 day trial version If you own the Solid…play.google.com

ChromeOS comes with an app called Files for, as the name would suggest managing your files. It’s basic. Over the years Google has added plugins for it to reach out to other systems like SSH, OneDrive, NFS mounts and the like. Its flaky at best.

I’ve substituted Solid Explorer as my Files app

Its one of the few low power hungry File management apps out there and out of the box the developers get that on a larger screen two panels should be automatically available.

The App connects to the usual local suspects like SMB, SFTP etc and again the paid version attaches without dropping or much fuss (unless you have Advenced security enabled on Google as I do) to Google Drive, OneDrive, OneDrive for Business etc.

It’s quick as well

JuiceSSH

JuiceSSH – SSH Client – Apps on Google PlayThe all in one terminal client for Android including SSH, Local Shell, Mosh and Telnet support.play.google.com

ChromeOS with Linux enabled can and will let you SSH into remote devices, it falls short right now if you’re doing this in tablet mode because the virtual keyboard in the Linux shell doesn’t work.

JuiceSSH, however, is a bit more, you can predefine logins, and set up lists of remote sites if you need to. The virtual keyboard works in full-screen tablet mode and there is a nifty shortcuts bar for pipes and other Linux keyboard staples.

Pay for the app and additional features appear the handiest of which is the ability to sync and keep in sync your login credential and remote location libraries over devices.

Squid

Squid – Take Notes & Markup PDFs – Apps on Google PlayNew: We partnered with Google to bring incredibly fast, low-latency ink to Squid on the Google Pixelbook and Samsung…play.google.com

If your Chromebook comes with a stylus (or if you want to use your finger on a touch screen to write) I’ve personally found Stylus to be the best featured and easiest to navigate note taking app. there’s a really good free version and 1.99 unlocks additional features such as pens and saving formats.

The app works really smoothly with little lag on the HP Chromebook X2 (the only one I’ve used it on) and I like the simplicity of just a bit of (digital) paper there.

OneNote

Microsoft OneNote – Apps on Google PlayCREATE YOUR WAY Type, hand write, draw and clip things from the web to get your thoughts down into your notebook. Use…play.google.com

I’m a heavy Onenote user, I’ve found it to be far easier to use in my productivity workflow than Evernote. I like the ability to use my stylus with the App and that I can sync notes across multiple devices quickly.

While the Android app isn’t as full-featured as the OSX/Win desktop app version, when in meetings and on the go its got enough in it to be more than useful.

Maps

Maps – Navigate & Explore – Apps on Google PlayNavigate your world faster and easier with Google Maps. Over 220 countries and territories mapped and hundreds of…play.google.com

While I could use maps.google.com there is something about the desktop/ app version of Maps which just feels better. Like most of the google apps design has taken place to work with the scaling of desktop sizes and the maps app works really well on the Chromebook, it feels just more snappy and intuitive than the website for some reason.

Malwarebytes

Malwarebytes Security: Virus Cleaner, Anti-Malware. Block scams and protect your privacy. Our powerful app scans for…play.google.com

The Android world is still the wold west, I read daily about apps with some form of malware or problem appearing on the App store (and the apple one). My preference for Malware bytes is it’s unobtrusive, it’s not a battery hog and it does work. Again you can use the free version, I’ve opted for the subscription service for database updates quicker and again because if you pay for software it doesn’t start having to use ads as a payment method.

Pocket Casts

Pocket Casts – Apps on Google PlayWe love podcasts, so we made a podcast player that is full featured, beautiful and easy to use. We’re no strangers to…play.google.com

Pocket casts is another interesting one, I’ve got this here first because its hands down the best podcast app on the Android platform, nothing comes close to my requirements.

It does, however, have a really good website at

https://play.pocketcasts.com/web/user/sign_in

The App, however, is better for offline listening and downloading the content as I’m catching trains a lot and the UK rail network wifi can be dicey at best. Also when flying the offline capability of this app is an essential need. (and a good reason to get extra storage on your Chromebook)

OpenVPN

OpenVPN Connect – Fast & Safe SSL VPN Client – Apps on Google PlayWHAT IS OPENVPN CONNECT? OpenVPN Connect is the official VPN application for Android developed by OpenVPN, Inc. It is a…play.google.com

I have listed OpenVPN as I use it a lot to get connected back home, however, unlike earlier iterations of the VPN connectivity on ChromeOS which were terrible. Most VPN’s supported through Android apps work well.

I use OpenVPN, VyperVPN, CiscoAnyconnect weekly and never have a problem with any of them.

If you’re using an Android VPN on your phone, it will work on ChromeOS 70 or above.

DroidEdit

DroidEdit Pro (code editor) – Apps on Google PlayDroidEdit is a text and source code editor for android tablets and phones with the following features: ★ Syntax…play.google.com

And then there is Droid edit, a great little text editor, with on the pro version remote GitHub support. It’s simple, quick and does what it says on the tin. It’s nice to use on the larger screens as well.

ChromeOS Extensions and Apps

Within the Browser itself, there are some browser extensions on the Chrome Webstore https://chrome.google.com/webstore/category/extensions which can provide a lot of value.

Bitwarden

Bitwarden – Free Password ManagerA secure and free password manager for all of your devices.chrome.google.com

I’ve included this because if you don’t use a password manager then I’d strongly recommend this one. Transparent code audits, cost-effective and works well in the Chrome browser.

OneNote Clipper

OneNote Web ClipperSave anything on the web to OneNote. Clip it to OneNote, organize and edit it, then access it from any device.chrome.google.com

If you’re using OneNote as an app, then using the clipper in the browser is a no brainer.

Save to Google Drive

Save to Google DriveSave web content or screen capture directly to Google Drive.chrome.google.com

With many Chromebooks offering a 100Gb of drive storage for a year seems a shame to waste it.

Office Online

Office OnlineView, edit, and create Office files in your browser.chrome.google.com

Not only does this extension provide you with quick access to recently edited documents you’ve been using as part of Office365. If you click on a PPT, DOC . or XLS file in the Files app on the Chromebook, they will immediately open in the web-based editor for the document.

Grammarly

Grammarly for ChromeEnhance your written communication everywhere you type!chrome.google.com

It’s not possible for me to live without this app, I cannot spell for toffee and this plugin picks up a huge number of my spelling/typing errors. Unfortunately this only assists in the browser, unlike the OSX/Win version which will help in apps as well.

However, it’s still free and useful for staving off those trolls who would rather note a spelling mistake than comment on the content itself.

The Linux Shell

The last area the OS provides as an abstracted layer is the Crostini Linux Container. Installed through the ChromeOS settings menu enabling this option provides the OS with an abstracted Debian Linux container. Think of this as a Linux Bubble.

Within this bubble, you can run a command prompt (bash) and for the most part, consider it a Debian Linux install. Applications can be installed using Apt using the command “sudo apt install <application>” and if the application isn’t in the supplied repositories then you can download a .deb file using chrome to the Linux Folder and install from the Linux command line.

If any of the last two paragraphs sound like gibberish, don’t worry you probably don’t need Linux. However, the feature was I guess added mainly to entice Developers over to the platform and as such its pretty easy to get a Linux dev environment up and running quickly here.

NOTE: If you are using a tablet, at time of writing Chrome7.1 had a bug where in tablet mode the virtual keyboard didn’t work with Linux apps.

Some Applications I do use in the Linux Container bubble are:

Signal

Unlike Telegram and Whatsapp, Signal doesn’t have a web app any more, so if you want to use on your Chromebook the Android one didn’t at the time of writing scale well. In order to get around this, I’ve installed the Linux version from here: https://signal.org/download/

curl -s https://updates.signal.org/desktop/apt/keys.asc | sudo apt-key add -
echo "deb [arch=amd64] https://updates.signal.org/desktop/apt xenial main" | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list.d/signal-xenial.list
sudo apt update && sudo apt install signal-desktop

Seems to work really well

VSCode

Download Visual Studio Code – Mac, Linux, WindowsVisual Studio Code is free and available on your favorite platform – Linux, macOS, and Windows. Download Visual Studio…code.visualstudio.com

I’m a scripter not a developer and I love Visual Studio code, its quick, easy and works well for me. It has plugins for things like Docker, Jenkinsfiles, Packer, Bash, Powershell and much more.

So when I enabled the Linux Container on the HP X2 this was the first thing I installed and it works like a charm.

Docker

This for me is a bit of a holy grail, as it allows me to do lots of work. However, and it’s a BIG however this might not work for everyone. It is very very much a work in progress right now and at the time of writing although you can do a “sudo apt install docker” it seems to only work with the Made by Google devices.

If you are running the HP Chromebook X2, again at the time of Writing on ChromeOS71 in stable this works and will install a working docker.abiosoft/crostini-dockerDocker for Crostini with fixed binariest that work – abiosoft/crostini-dockergithub.com

Useful command line tools

Git, Nano, Zsh, htop, traceroute, nmap, tcpdump

Knock yourself out, there are a myriad of useful command line tools for Linux..

Useful Hardware

Once you’ve got your ChromeOS sorted out, your apps installed it’s possible you might start looking for some hardware to use with the device. Most of the Chromebooks i have used will connect to an external monitor (2 in my case) and mice or keyboards are a very personal choice. So I’ve listed some hardware here which can expand the use of the Chromebook

Wifi Dongle

While you can use a Chromebook offline, like every other system its better with Internet. There are not many LTE/4G Chromebooks out there so a Dongle or Mifi Device is needed. Or….

This little beauty, its a 4G Dongle at its heart which also doubles up as a MIFI device for 10 devices. In the UK couple this with a three PAYG sim, and pay 35quid and you’ve got 1 month of unlimited Europe and USA roaming upto 4G speeds..KuWFi 150Mbps Unlocked Pocket 4G WiFi Router Network Hotspot 4G/3G/2G WiFi Router Wireless Network…4GU 907 is not only a modem or a router, it is a real UFI, just like HUAWEI E313 1. You can use it in cars via standard…www.amazon.co.uk

ChromeCast VideoChromecastStream your favorite entertainment to your HDTV. Chromecast works with apps you love to stream content from your Pixel…store.google.com

30 Quid gets you wireless HD streaming of apps from your Chromebook to your TV or stream your Chrome browser to your TV. Coupled with the Wifi device above and hotel rooms if you travel a lot, you could watch your own content on the Hotel tv..

USB Storage

While most Chromebooks still come with a tiny disk and most support SD cards in one guise or another. The OS still isn’t amazing at supporting this from the Android or Linux side. it’s coming, soon ChromeOS72, 73 and 74 all seem to work on resolving this.

I did spend some money however on an 240Gb M.2 SSD HDD and Enclosure (cira 50quid) which I store all my ISO’s, App Installers and non-sensitive data on which is useful as a roving backup as well as you can point the downloads directory of the browser to an external data source if you’re downloading something very large.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B078WYS5K6/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o03__o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1Transcend CM80S M.2 SSD Enclosure KitTranscend M2 22802260 USB31 UPGRE KIT SIL TSCM80S Components SSD Solid State Drive swww.amazon.co.uk

Conclusion

So is ChromeOS and the Chromebook for everyone? No

Do you need Android apps and Linux apps? No

Can you get by in just the browser? In most cases, I’d say yes.

Are there good Android apps for Chromebooks out there? 100% yes

This is a solid OS and as I’ve said before don’t be tricked into thinking you need the internet or its useless, that’s not true any more than it is for most people and Windows.

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