You’ve just bought a new Chromebook. Great! Now what? What apps do you need to install to turn it into a productivity powerhouse? It’s hard to know where to begin — the Google Web Store boasts more than a million apps, extensions, themes, and games.
I’m here to help. It doesn’t matter whether you’ll be using your new machine for work, games, streaming video, or listening to music, there are some apps that every user needs to have.
Here are my top 10 essential apps to install on a new Chromebook.
Note: Gmail, Google Calendar, Keep, Drive, Play Music, Hangouts, Remote Desktop, and Maps come pre-installed so have not been included in this list.
VLC needs no introduction. It’s been the Swiss Army knife of media players for more than 15 years.
If you’re a video junkie, it’s a must have. It can play almost every video or audio format you can throw at it, it can read network streams, and can even play DVD ISOs.
The Chromebook release isn’t quite a feature-packed as its Windows and Mac counterparts, but it has an equalizer, filters, and a media library, it supports gesture controls, and can display subtitles. It’s more than enough for the vast majority of users.
Best of all, it’s completely free.
2. Black Menu
Do you remember when Google’s suite of apps was available in a black drop-down menu? Black Menu restores the functionality by adding a clickable icon alongside the search box.
It’s a godsend. The Chrome App Launcher is one of the operating system’s weakest aspects and can be frustrating to use. Given 95 percent of your time on a Chromebook will be spent in the browser, Black Menu can speed up your workflow significantly.
The app follows the current Google aesthetic principles of “Material Design” and includes links to the Play Store, Gmail, Maps, Translate, YouTube, and Drive. You can customize the menu further with your most-used Google apps.
Yes, Chromebooks ship with the Google productivity suite, but anyone who’s spent a lot a time switching between Google’s products and Microsoft’s ubiquitous Office suite knows that formatting, images, and fonts can often go awry.
Add Office Online to eliminate the problems. The app lets you use Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Sway without needing to install the full Office package. Any work you produce in the app automatically syncs with OneDrive.
Torrent software has a bad name thanks to its association with piracy, but everyone should have a torrent downloader installed on their machine. BitTorrent technology remains one of the fastest and most reliable ways to download large files quickly.
JSTorrent runs on both ARM- and Intel-based Chromebooks, can handle multi-gigabyte files, and saves all the downloaded content straight into your computer’s Download folder.
It costs $2 but is worth the money. It’s got 4.5 stars from more than 3,000 reviews!
You should only download this app if you’ve got an Android phone.
It’ll display any notifications from your device in your Chromebook’s own Notifications window, it’ll let you send and receive text messages from your machine, and it works with your existing phone number.
For the app to work correctly, you also need to install the Android version on your smartphone.
If you want to do some video editing on the fly, install this app.
It comes with two editing modes: Novice and Advanced. Whether you just want to add a soundtrack to that hilarious video of your grandmother dancing around the Christmas tree, or you need to split, splice, and add themes to a professional video for work, WeVideo has you covered.
You can add text and music, insert transitions, drag and drop clips onto a storyboard, add animations to slideshows, and a whole lot more. All the content automatically syncs with Google Drive.
There are more 100 free effects and audio excerpts for all users, though the free version will add a watermark to your finished product.
7. Personal Finance
Personal Finance is an easy-to-use household budgeting app. It’s not as powerful as some of the sector’s biggest names like Mint and Quicken, but it gets the job done.
The app lets you organize all your expenses using tabs and folders, and you can share accounts with friends and family on a case-by-case basis. Importantly for a finance app, it works offline. You can even make edits when you’ve not got a connection and all the changes will be synced next time you go online.
And you don’t need to worry about security: the app encrypts all the data before uploading it to Google’s servers.
How do 20,000 free movies sound? That’s exactly what StreamDor gives you.
Don’t fret: there’s no illegal content here. All the titles are publicly available movies that SteamDor’s community has lovingly curated. Sure, you’re not going to find the latest blockbusters, but if you’re a dedicated cord cutter, the app is a vital weapon in your armory. New content is being added every day.
And just because there are 20,000 movies, don’t worry about finding something to watch — you can filter by year, genre, country, and language.
I’ve already introduced you to a video editor. Now it’s time to install a photo editor.
A few years ago, the Chrome Web Store was a wasteland if you wanted a high-quality editor for your Chromebook. That’s not the case anymore. There are lots of options for you to choose from.
My personal favorite is Polarr. It offers an impressive array of features, including color masking, multiple brushes, support for RAW files, and endless filters, effects, and adjustment tools.
If you’ve got a different favorite, make sure you let me know in the comments.
Yes, Chromebooks come with a built-in calculator. But it’s not very powerful: if you’re a math and statistics nerd, you need something better.
As you might notice from the equation in the screenshot above, math isn’t my strong suit!
What Apps Have You Installed?
I hope my list of 10 apps is enough to get you up and running. I’ve tried to include a broad range of functionality so you’ll be able to find something useful no matter what you interests.
Of course, there are lots more excellent apps we could add to this list, and that’s where you come in.
Which apps are on your essential list? What features make them so unique? Let me know your suggestions and recommendations in the comments below.