Using a Chromebook Offline

Mythbusting

When you weigh up the pros and cons of buying a Chromebook, the topic of offline access is often hotly debated. Many people think that using a Chromebook offline is impossible, but that's not true. In fact, there is a lot you can do with a Chromebook when you are offline, and it's probably more than you think. Here's what you need to know.

The Chromebook Desktop: Screenshot by Jonathan Wylie
The Chromebook Desktop: Screenshot by Jonathan Wylie

Taking Google Drive Offline

Google Drive is a secure online space that lets you store all your files in the cloud. It also lets you create and edit all kinds of files thanks to Google's free and easy to use productivity apps. The anywhere, anytime access is a big selling point of Google Drive, but it is even more appealing when you learn that you can access and edit many of your files while offline.

To get started, all you have to do is make sure your Chromebook is online or connected to WiFi. Then launch the Drive web app. The first time you do this, Drive will automatically begin indexing all your files so that they are available for offline use, and that is all there is to it. The whole process is automated for you on a Chromebook.

The next time you are offline and need to access your Drive files, simply launch the Drive app, or open Chrome and go to http://drive.google.com.

Video: How to Enable Offline Drive Access on a Chromebook

What Can You Do in Google Drive Offline?

You can do more than you might think. You can view all your Google Docs, Spreadsheets, Presentations and Drawings. You can also edit Google Docs, Presentations, Drawings and anything created in the new version of Google Spreadsheets.

However, you cannot view or edit Google Forms, or access any of the other files you may have uploaded or saved to Drive, e.g. PDFs. videos and image files.

Access to Drive files when offline

Documents
Spreadsheets
Presentations
Drawings
Forms
View
View
View
View
n/a
Edit
Edit
Edit
Edit
n/a

Using Gmail Offline

Want to use your email offline like PC users do with desktop apps like Outlook or Thunderbird? You can, and it is easy to set up. Simply visit the Chrome Web Store and install the free Gmail Offline web app.

Next, launch the app from your App Launcher and choose to Allow Offline Mail when prompted. The app will then launch a split-screen view of your Gmail account with email messages listed on the left, and the message on the right.

When using Gmail offline you can read, reply, archive and search through your mail. Of course, the mail you send does not really go anywhere until you are connected again, but as soon as you find the Wi-Fi you need, your sent emails will quickly be dispatched and everything will sync up with your online Gmail account.

The Gmail Offline Web App
The Gmail Offline Web App | Source

Offline Web Apps

Gmail is not the only offline web app that is available for your Chromebook. In fact, there is an entire section of the Chrome Web Store dedicated to offline apps. There are other apps from Google that work offline like Google Calendar and Google Keep (a note taking/reminder app).

However, there are also a wide variety of third-party apps that also work offline. Popular apps include Angry Birds, the Kindle Cloud Reader, Pocket, Cut the Rope, Calculator, Wunderlist, Workflowy, Snagit and many more. You can find them by navigating to the Chrome Web Store, selecting Collections on the left-hand side, and then Offline.

The Chrome Web Store collection of offline apps: Screenshot by Jonathan Wylie
The Chrome Web Store collection of offline apps: Screenshot by Jonathan Wylie

Standalone Desktop Apps

There is also a new breed of desktop apps that are perfect for the Chromebook. These standalone apps, sometimes referred to as packaged apps, do not run inside the Chrome browser. Instead, they launch in their own window and work independently, much like native Mac or Windows apps. Best of all, they work whether you are online or offline.

So, if you want a decent offline photo editor, try Pixlr Touchup. Need to create some diagrams or flowcharts offline? Try gliffy or Lucidchart. There are also task list managers, weather apps, and games. The selection is not as large as standard Chrome web apps, but it is a fairly recent addition and more apps are in development.

Chrome Desktop Apps in the Chrome Web Store: Screenshot by Jonathan Wylie
Chrome Desktop Apps in the Chrome Web Store: Screenshot by Jonathan Wylie

Offline File Viewers

What about files you have downloaded from the Internet. Will those work offline? Indeed they will. Chrome OS has a number of built-in viewers and players for music, video or image files that you may have downloaded to your Chromebook's hard drive while surfing the web.

These files are stored in the Files app, under Downloads. Here you can view and edit photos, listen to music files, view PDFs and Microsoft Office files, or watch videos. Simply double-click on the downloaded file to open it, and Chrome OS will do the rest. You can also access files you have stored on an SD card or USB flash drive by connecting those to your Chromebook and transferring the files to your device.

The Chrome OS image viewer: Screenshot by Jonathan Wylie
The Chrome OS image viewer: Screenshot by Jonathan Wylie

Viewing Websites Offline

If you plan ahead, you can even take the web with you when you are offline. Chrome apps like Pocket allow you to save entire web pages offline so that you can read them at a more convenient time. Usefully, it also work offline, so you can access your curated reading list of web articles when you know you will not have a Wi-Fi connection.

Best of all, Pocket works on all your devices. So, if you find an article on your iPad that you want to read later, you can save it to your account and it will sync to your Chromebook for access later. You can also save to Pocket from mobile apps like Flipboard, Dolphin and Twitter.

Video: An Introduction to Pocket

The Always On World We Live In

Offline capabilities are more important to some people than others. After all, if you really think about it, how much do you really do on a computer when you do not have an Internet connection? Are there really all that many times when you are stuck without access to Wi-Fi?

For those rare occasions, using a Chromebook offline is less restricting that you may be led to believe. So, if you are getting on a long-haul flight, or planning a camping trip for the great outdoors, remember to pack your Chromebook!

© 2014 Jonathan Wylie

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Comments 6 comments

parrster profile image

parrster 2 years ago from Oz

This was really interesting. I've been tossing up whether to get a chrome book, and offline capability was the big question. You've answered it, so thanks for that. Does your expertise extend into hardware? Any advice on what Chromebook to get?

Voted up and useful


Jonathan Wylie profile image

Jonathan Wylie 2 years ago from Iowa, USA Author

By and large, the best ones to get are the ones with Intel processors, because of battery life and processing power.

The Acer C720 is pretty popular right now, and comes with the option of a touchscreen, even though Chrome OS is not really touch optimized per se. However it may be about to be replaced by the new Acer C200 that has an Intel i3 processor.

Samsung are releasing a couple of versions of the Samsung Chromebook 2 soon. It is available for pre-order right now and one should ship in May. It has some significant updates over the previous model including a high resolution screen.

Lenovo have a couple of Yoga Chromebooks coming that look interesting because the touchscreen folds back to turn it into a hybrid tablet device. No word on price yet though.

In terms of build quality, the Dell Chromebook is maybe the best there is. Dell have been making computers for years now, so have taken a lot of that expertise and applied it to their first Chromebook model.

I guess at the end of the day the big differentiators are price and screen size. Maybe this article will help you decide: http://goo.gl/wt9BNy


parrster profile image

parrster 2 years ago from Oz

Brilliant! really appreciate your help.


Jonathan Wylie profile image

Jonathan Wylie 2 years ago from Iowa, USA Author

Thanks parrster. Glad it was useful for you! :)


Lisa 23 months ago

Thanks Jonathan -- I found this information really really clear and helpful. I'm in the category of "needing to replace an outdated Dell and don't have the money to do so (maybe $300)," so the Chromebook seems a good option.


Jonathan Wylie profile image

Jonathan Wylie 23 months ago from Iowa, USA Author

Thanks Lisa. In that price range Chromebooks are always an option, but there are several Windows laptops you can get in that price range now if you prefer to stay with Windows. See this article for more info: https://turbofuture.com/computers/Are-Chromebooks-...

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