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One of the biggest criticisms aimed at Google’s Chromebooks is that they are online-only machines – ergo, no Internet, no point.

How true is this statement? Is a Chromebook without a connection akin to a car without an engine, or can the device still operate as a valuable and efficient productivity hub?

Native Google Apps

Given so much in modern computing relies upon an Internet connection, casual users are bound to feel a sense of disconnect when offline – regardless of whether they are using a Chromebook or a traditional operating system.

In terms of basic productivity, the Chromebook is just as useful without an Internet connection as a Windows or Mac. Google’s office suite (Google Docs, Sheets, Slides and Drawings) can all be set up for offline use – thus enabling you to view, edit, and create files when you’re on-the-go. The offline setup is both fast and easy, and can be done entirely through Google Drive by clicking on ‘Offline’ in the ‘More’ menu.

Setting up offline access also protects you against a sudden loss of Internet or an intermittent WiFi signal by syncing your files with Google Drive at every opportunity, meaning there is no risk of data loss when a connection is dropped and you can continue to work seamlessly.

Gmail-offline-setup

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Gmail’s dedicated offline Take Gmail Offline With The Offline Google Mail App [Chrome] Take Gmail Offline With The Offline Google Mail App [Chrome] Offline Google Mail for Chrome allows you to use Gmail without an Internet connection. Read, search, and send emails – all offline. When you do connect to the Internet, Offline Google Mail synchronizes with your... Read More app allows you to read, search, archive, and respond to emails. Actions will be queued and automatically synchronised with your account at the next available opportunity. Mac users will be familiar with the concept from the Mail app, but it’s worth mentioning that Windows has no similar default feature, and would require you to use a desktop email client to achieve the same results. Again, setup is fast and simple, just follow Google’s instructions.

The final native productivity app with offline capabilities is Google Calendar. This allows you to view two months’ worth of events, respond to invitations, receive reminders, and create new events when disconnected. To set it up, choose ‘Offline’ from the gear icon in the top right and follow the on-screen instructions.

Chrome Web Store

There is a world of interesting software available beyond the default Google productivity apps. The Chrome Web Store has an entire section dedicated to Offline apps that store data locally and interact more fully with your Chromebook’s hardware.

Highlights include Google Keep (an excellent note-taking app Simple Notes On The Go: Google Keep For Android Reviewed Simple Notes On The Go: Google Keep For Android Reviewed There are some amazing note-taking apps out there, but here's one that merits a closer look: Google Keep, a note-keeper which has both a great-looking Android app and a slick webapp. Read More ), Workflowy (a clutter-free and highly effective project management tool Zen-Style Listing And Project Management with WorkFlowy Zen-Style Listing And Project Management with WorkFlowy Read More ), Pocket (an app for saving interesting content to read later Pocket 5 For Android: A Polished Way To Save Content To Read Later Pocket 5 For Android: A Polished Way To Save Content To Read Later The Web is full of cats. Seriously, they're everywhere. So are other silly memes and many other things conspiring to steal your attention. So how do you make time to read the good stuff? Read More ), and Google Play Books, which doubles as an e-reader.

chrome-web-store-offline-apps

By delving a bit deeper into the offline section of the store you can find news and weather apps such as the New York Times, The Economist and Weatherbug, image editors like Pixlr, Reddit clients, language learning software, PDF converters, code editors, and games such as Angry Birds, Tetris and Solitaire.

All of these combined make for a rich offline experience, both regarding productivity and entertainment. Indeed, it could be argued that the diversity of applications allows for an even richer experience than is possible when offline on a Windows or Mac machine, especially since they will automatically sync whenever possible.

Chromebook Media Player

The Chromebook uses a built-in media player for playing your video and music files. When offline, these can be opened from either the local hard drive or an external drive such as a USB stick.

Chromebook-media-player

In principle this gives a Chromebook the same functionality as a PC, Mac, or tablet – though in reality the playable files are limited to .3gp, .avi, .mov, .mp4, .m4v, .m4a, .mp3, .mkv, .ogv, .ogm, .ogg, .oga, .webm, and .wav. For most users this allows the playback of almost every file that they are likely to possess, though power users may find it a bit limiting.

Linux

If you are still not satisfied with the functionality of a Chromebook you can dual-boot an alternative Linux operating system How to Install Linux on a Chromebook How to Install Linux on a Chromebook Do you need Skype on your Chromebook? Do you miss not having access to games through Steam? Are you pining to use VLC Media Player? Then start using Linux on your Chromebook. Read More . If you have a machine with Intel architecture, this will enable you to install countless applications that suit your every need. Users with ARM-based devices may find their options more limited, as most Linux software is designed for Intel machines only.

Linux-launch-chromeos-shell

Last Resort

If you absolutely must get online, remember you can always use your mobile device as a Wi-Fi hotspot 3 Foolproof Ways to Create Your Own Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot for Tethering in North America 3 Foolproof Ways to Create Your Own Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot for Tethering in North America Do you want to give multiple wireless gadgets on-the-go internet access? Are you sick of getting ripped off by wireless hotspot tethering? There’s a variety of technologies that can help you – the two most... Read More . This isn’t recommended for prolonged usage, however, as Wi-Fi tethering is both a drain on your data-plan and battery life. Obviously, if you do use your phone as hotspot in a public area, please ensure you set a password for your network.

Have Your Say

Do you know some apps that improve a Chromebook’s offline functionality, or do you think the Chrome Web Store is a fad that will be usurped? Are Chromebooks the future of personal computing, or can you simply not be persuaded that they’re anything more than a glorified web browser? Let us know in the comments below.

Image Credit: Offline by EssG via Flickr

  1. S.K.
    December 5, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    I thought when I took the cloud computing plunge that I was ready. I did a lot of research and stewed a lot of my anger towards microsoft, and then read a little about SD card hacks.

    I've had my chromebook for a week now, and all I'm doing with it is researching how to make it more functional offline, to the point where I'm just minutes away from trying to set up a dual boot Linux OS.

    I was not ready for the cloud.

  2. Gb
    April 7, 2015 at 9:38 am

    I've had a Chromebook for almost a month now and really like it though it has not yet matured to the point that it can replace my ps laptop for serious photo editing and even sor Skype. I helped a friend fix his Windows eight computer yesterday afternoon. A hp update wiped out all his email and mail client settings. Should I share similar stories? Nah, all I can say is I grow each day to despise the Windows OS ; Apple is off the charts with pricing. I can do on.

    Hello Chromebook.

  3. Sarah
    December 18, 2014 at 12:31 am

    I bought a chromebook for my studies and i was really desappointed when i realised that we can't insert a video in a presentation. Google slides really su*ks. We can insert a video only from Youtube (!), implying that Internet is necessary... and my video are not from youtube but from me. So I had to go on my Mac ' boyfriend to create a presentation on Libreoffice. That fail for google... Don't buy a chromebook until they fix there ego issues.

  4. Bill M
    March 10, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    I am a PC user but I have 2 chrome books in the house and they work perfectly. All this offline talk is just people looking for a reason to dislike Google is all. I mean 99% of people I know do EVERYTHING via online I mean where could you possibly be that you can't get a wifi signal or what would you need to do that requires a laptop?
    And I don't wanna hear the Adobe Photoshop excuse because I am the only person in my circle who even uses it and that is sparingly at best (nothing I couldn't do without an alternative probably)
    Almost every place I go has Wifi now. And like the author said you can tether your chromebook. Imagine someone making that argument about their phone "oh it doesn't work off line" well Sherlock it wasn't really meant to either but I don't see people saying the same about phones.
    Tablets are the same way (besides the Surface but obviously they are so popular they won't be around much longer) Anyways not to rank but the argument isn't much of one. Its like saying you won't buy an Android phone because there isn't an Apple logo on the back It's all an excuse.

  5. Clyde A
    March 10, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    I would give a Chromebook a try. I think that there should be a way for people to try out a Chromebook before they decide to buy.

    • Daniel Price
      March 10, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      I think you probably right, given they are such a leap into the unknown. V difficult to implement in practice though. If you have a Windows 8 machine you can run what is essentially the Chrome OS through the browser...

      Daniel

    • Bill M
      March 10, 2014 at 11:45 pm

      There is actually, try out Joli OS its the same thing pretty much. you can download and run it from a USB stick or CD rom.

  6. Brawdan
    March 10, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    I can still do more with my Surface RT. Oh, and guess what, there are more apps too!!!

  7. Allanah King
    March 8, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    Thanks for your reply Daniel,

    Your response lead me to another question. If I allow off line access to my work Google Docs will I get access to every single shared file of the organisation- even ones that were made before my time working with them?

    The mind boggles!

    • Daniel Price
      March 10, 2014 at 10:25 pm

      My guess would be you will only get access to the ones that have been specifically shared with you account. It depends how your IT dept manage it.

      Daniel

  8. M. Scott Adams
    March 8, 2014 at 2:21 am

    Just this past year, I made the transition from MS Excel & Co. to Google Docs. While there are hiccups and limitations in Google Docs, the simple fact of how perfectly integrated the suite is with the cloud makes an absolute universe of difference- especially as I've bought into the Android ecosystem on my cell. I know that Microsoft's been pushing for deep web-based integration with Windows 8, SkyDrive & Co., but it just doesn't come off as nearly as seamless an experience. I've started to suspect recently that, if there's not already 'something' to Chrome OS, then there will be soon, by which I mean, "something that makes Google's approach to an operating system more compelling than traditional approaches." I can imagine an OS in which the Internet isn't as separate/distinct an experience as it is now, a blurring of the lines. If my run with Google Docs is any indication, it'll be a really beautiful experience.

    I honestly do believe that Chrome OS's day hasn't even come close to arriving.

  9. Allanah King
    March 8, 2014 at 12:50 am

    I have a Chromebook but am wary of using the off line apps- in particular Google Docs off line because I have multiple accounts- work and home. How does this work. Does the Chromebook keep the account separately or does everything get all jumbled up- where are the off line files? Are they in different file folders with different accounts? I tend to just add accounts to the the one log in rather then logging in and out of each user account so how does this work???

    Thanks for any help you can give me

    • Daniel Price
      March 8, 2014 at 7:52 pm

      Hi Allanah,

      It is my understanding that any files will be synced to the profile with which you are signed in.

      To ensure you don't get files mixed up you'll need to log out and log in again as a different user. That said, I read recently Google are going to change that so you can do exactly what you ask - sync to different accounts through one log in.

      Daniel

  10. Ed
    March 7, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    Google shot themselves in the foot when Chrome OS first came out as a "browser OS" and was advertised as an OS for your online life. It seems to be much more than that these days.

    I'm looking forward to the day when the Chrome Web Store is changed to the Chrome "App" Store and Chrome Web Apps are simply called Chrome Apps and offline access is a requirement.

    We have been tied to a virtually one-option OS ecosystem for far too long.

    Choice is good. Competition breeds innovation. Bring on more Chromebooks, more Macs, and more Linux distros. Windows can stay too.

    • Daniel Price
      March 10, 2014 at 10:27 pm

      I don't think that day is too far away Ed! I think we'll definitely see the Android Play Store and the Chrome Web Store merge too...

      Daniel

  11. bt
    March 7, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    I rather just buy a proper computer.

    • Daniel Price
      March 7, 2014 at 7:20 pm

      Hi bt,

      What do you feel are the main differences? Unless you are using highly specialised programs there is very little that a Chromebook can't do, and even then you could install Linux...

      I still use a Windows machine as well, but my Chromebook is now my main casual computer and my travel companion.

      Daniel (Author)

    • Bruce
      June 10, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      I bet you don't own one BT and you've listened too much to Microsoft's anti-Chromebook ad. You have to learn to do some things differently, to live outside the box but Chromebooks are highly capable.
      http://www.techsupportalert.com/content/best-free-online-applications-and-services.htm
      There are many advantages to a small, stable, and secure operating system with a conventional and useful desktop. Windows could learn a lesson from the Chrome OS.

    • yaseerr
      August 30, 2014 at 11:38 am

      You can even work offline on Google Drive, How to view/edit all the documents offline on Google Drive, Check Out Here - http://goo.gl/1CJ0df

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