No Internet on the go? Don’t worry, you can still have a productive day on your laptop if you do a little prep work.
Chromebook user or not, as long as you’re a Chrome user, you can install offline extensions (and apps) for common tasks like note taking and editing PDFs.
We’ll show you some of those extensions today, right after we introduce you to the most important extension of all: My Cats New Tab. It displays wallpaper images of adorable furballs in every new tab, even when you’re offline. The extension also gives you a to-do list, a music playlist, and weather info. We had you at cats, didn’t we?
For To-do Lists: Dayboard
If you use a task management service like Wunderlist, Todoist, or Any.do, install its Chrome extension to keep your to-do list handy. If that extension doesn’t work offline, install a backup — nothing fancy, just a quick way to copy-paste your tasks for the day before you leave a WiFi-enabled zone.
We recommend Dayboard for its simplicity and ease of use. Dayboard adds a to-do list to Chrome’s New Tab page. You can list only five tasks at a time, which means that you have to weed out the unimportant ones.
Momentum is another excellent New Tab extension. It comes with a beautiful image, daily focus, to-do list, and a quote to inspire you. It’s the start screen we keep coming back to despite so many gorgeous new tab extensions being available on the Chrome Web Store.
If you’d like to leave the new tab alone, install Todo.txt to manage your task list offline. The extension goes with the Todo.txt method, which involves using a text file to track your tasks. Gina Trapani, the founding editor of Lifehacker, uses this method to get things done.
For Storing, Viewing, and Editing Documents: Google Drive & Co.
Google has standalone apps for editing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. You know them as Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides (in that order). They all work even without an Internet connection.
If you want to view and edit Microsoft Office files from your computer when you’re offline, get Office Editing for Google Docs, Sheets & Slides. It’s a much lighter solution if you don’t want to install Office on your desktop. You can save the edited files back to their original Office format or convert them to the corresponding Google Drive format.
For Managing PDFs: Kami
This is one popular Chrome app for working with PDFs — it has four and five star reviews all the way. You can use it to view PDFs, split and merge them, add text and voice annotations, and convert handwritten text using Optical Character Recognition (OCR).
The extension doubles up as a viewer for other file types like Microsoft Office documents, spreadsheets, and presentations as well as image files like JPEGs, GIFs, and PNGs. And it works with Google Drive!
For Flowcharts and Diagrams: Draw.io Desktop
LucidChart may be the diagramming app that everyone recommends — it makes a great alternative to Microsoft Visio — but its Chrome desktop app is quite buggy. We’d like to suggest a better alternative: Draw.io. It’s free, doesn’t need you to sign up, and works well for diagrams and mindmaps. If you need some extra power, such as data visualization, go with Gliffy.
Have I mentioned how much I enjoy @drawio today? Because, it's all kinds of awesome. Especially for AWS diagramming.
— Eric Wright (@discoposse) July 1, 2016
For Coding: Caret
We listed Caret as one of the four best text editors for your Chromebook. Caret works offline and has tabbed editing, syntax highlighting, keymappings, full-text search — the works. If you’re a fan of Sublime Text, you’ll feel right at home with Caret, although you’ll miss the split screen editing feature that comes with the former.
Before you settle on Caret as your offline code editor, check out Zed Code Editor and Carbon [No Longer Available]. They aren’t as feature rich as Caret is, but they’re solid apps. You’ll love them if you appreciate apps that keep things simple.
Picked up a Chromebook today, pretty interesting. Zed code editor is pretty solid, I def like the ability to access/commit to #github.
— DPCobb (@Dan_Cobb) January 18, 2016
For Writing and Note Taking: Writer
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to writing apps in Chrome. Writer tops our list of all-time favorites. It gives you a customizable, distraction-free environment to wrangle with the written word, in Markdown and in plain text.
You can use Writer to take notes, keep a journal, write articles, compose emails, and so on. It allows you to export your documents as PDFs or text files, directly to Dropbox, Evernote, or Google Docs. The Pro version of Writer gives you features like revision history, real-time word count, and thesarurus access.
If you don’t want to install Writer, check out the apps below. They’re not perfect, but some of them come close.
- Google Keep – Chrome sign-in required
- Litewrite – sidebar for notes à la Simplenote, a remote storage option, no Markdown support, occasional sync issues
- Papier – text editor in a new tab, no sign-up required, word counter
- Calmly Writer – cloud backup, word counter, typewriter sounds, link and image embeds, a special font for users with dyslexia
- Quiet Writer – beautiful solid backgrounds, word and character counter, basic font customization (beware of accidentally clicking on the clear button; it’s placed right beneath the fullscreen button)
Among the dedicated Markdown editors that work offline, the feature rich StackEdit is the most popular one. If you love clean, simple interfaces, you might prefer Mado over StackEdit. It’s a pity that Mado doesn’t have a cloud backup option yet. If you don’t like StackEdit or Mado, try Minimalist Markdown Editor.
A word about reading articles when you’re offline: there are some read-it-later Chrome extensions with offline support, but they don’t seem reliable. If you want a solution that won’t gobble up your saved articles and spit out a big nothing after browser updates and crashes, go with Pocket.
For Word Count: Word Count Tool
You’ll need this extension if your text editor doesn’t come with a word counter. It’s super easy to use: install Word Count Tool, select a bit of text, and click on Word Count Tool in the right-click menu. This displays a fly-out box with the word count, character count, the number of unique words and a few other details.
For Countdowns: Timer
Timer has no complex settings for you to deal with. You install the extension, set a time, start the timer, and get to work. You can set the duration of the countdown in minutes, and start, stop, or reset the timer. That’s about it.
If you’re looking for a time tracking solution, check out TrackingTime. Skip that in favor of Plus for Trello if you’re a Trello user. This extension has everything from built-in timers to reports to board burndowns.
For Nature Sounds: Relaxing Sounds
Until the amazing Noisli gets offline support, you’ll have to make do with Relaxing Sounds to listen to nature sounds while you’re working. This extension allows you to combine five different sounds to come up with a sound sequence of your own. The extension’s biggest annoyances? The short loops and the shadiness of the permissions required during installation.
If you’re content to listen to the sound of the rain while working, try Rain sound instead of Relaxing Sounds.
For Editing Images: Polarr Photo Editor
What I loved about the Polar Photo Editor app is that it shows you, step by step, how you can edit an image for best results and why you need to make specific changes. To access this walkthrough tutorial, click on the bright yellow Show me how to improve this photo button that you can see at the top while viewing one of the default images.
Polarr has all the important features that you expect from a decent image editor — adjustment settings, filters, history (with unlimited undo!), import/export options.
Piconion is another offline image editor worth installing. It’s great if you want an app with a Photoshop-like interface.
For Calculations: FlatCal
You have limited choices for an offline calculator. That shouldn’t be a problem because the best of the lot, FlatCal, works without a glitch. You can pick from a basic calculator, a scientific one, and a minimal, search-box-type interface from the extension’s settings. FlatCal’s default theme looks nice, but you can switch to a different theme preset if you like.
Here’s an interesting tidbit: FlatCal was made by a 15-year-old developer.
For Text Expansion: Auto Text Expander
There’s no reason to torture your fingers into typing more, is there? Keep Auto Text Expander handy for expanding and replacing text when you type. It doesn’t work with certain web apps though. For example, with Google Hangouts and Google Docs.
— Ray Birks (@raybirks) June 24, 2016
Use Auto Text Expander’s macro feature to create a shortcut for pasting clipboard content and the current date and time as shown below. Back up your text shortcuts to local storage, just in case you ever have to deal with data mishaps.
For Email: Gmail Offline
Gmail Offline seems to the be only Chrome extension available for accessing your inbox when you’re offline. That’s not much help if you use a Chromebook and don’t have a Gmail account, unless you have found some clever hack that we don’t know of. Have you?
Some of these apps have limited features, so you might want to use them only as stopgaps when you’re out of an Internet connection.
Also, if you’re worried about loading up and slowing down Chrome with so many extensions, enable them only when you need them. The smartest way to do this is with a Chrome extension to manage your Chrome extensions. That’ll allow you to enable and disable extensions in groups.
Which offline Chrome app or extension do you consider indispensable? Tell us about it in the comments.