Essential Apps for New Chromebook Owners

Google, in association with Samsung and Acer, is launching the new Chromebooks today, a set of notebooks that run Google’s cloud-based operating system. If you’ve already seen all the coverage of what exactly the Chromebook is, including on AppStorm, you’ll know that a Chromebook has no local storage, and all applications are in fact web apps, just like the type we review here.

The Chrome Web Store is, as Jarel Remick explains, a marketplace for web applications that puts regular apps into a marketplaces with ratings and reviews. If you’re a new Chromebook user (or, anyone who’s started using the Chrome browser), today’s review might help you in choosing which apps should be your first install and could be the ticket to replacing a traditional computer.


Google Docs

If you’re looking to get any generic productivity done – such as word processing and spreadsheeting – Google Docs is the best option for you. Docs is Google’s own productivity suite that features word processing, spreadsheet and presentation tools of mediocre quality. They aren’t that fantastic, but they certainly do the job well.

Now, one of the biggest concerns for the Chromebook is what if you’re out of WiFi range and you end up with no 3G service? Luckily, Google has plans to bring offline functionality to Google Docs soon which should be of a massive help to those who need a reliable machine.

Price: Free



Editor’s Note: And what a change a couple weeks can make since this article was originally written. Apple has now decided to kill off their MobileMe services in lieu of iCloud. Additionally, it’s now uncertain if iCloud will only offer email services for native apps, or if they will offer rich web apps as before. For now, looks like Google remains the king of the hill for email.

MobileMe is Apple’s own service of email, calendar, online storage and device tracking web applications. If you’re not a fan of Google’s version of these services, Apple offers a better looking version for consumers willing to pay $100/year for the pleasure.

MobileMe has it’s own email, calendar and contacts clients alongside a storage service, named iDisk, and “Find my iPhone”, a service for tracking/wiping/locking iOS devices that have been lost or stolen. Of course, MobileMe has a beautiful online facade, but it’s oriented for use on native clients on any other platforms you use, like your iPad or iPhone.

Price: $99/yr – now discontinued



Unfortunately, there’s no Photoshop or GIMP available for the Chromebook so owners will have to look into online alternatives if they want to do any image editing. Obviously, the same power of these native tools is not available, but there is some relief in the light apps available online. Anyone who’s looking to blur, sharpen, crop or otherwise lightly edit their images can do so in the Aviary web application. Simply upload your image, manipulate it with the sixteen tools available and then redownload.

If you feel like doing a little more advanced editing, the Phoenix editor features much more advanced tools including layer editing. It’s still not Photoshop standard, but as good (if not better) as other medium-power apps like GIMP.

A lot of people edit images, but Aviary does have homes for slightly less popular editors like audio editor Myna. This set of tools are quite frankly amazing and will feel very much at home on your new Chromebook.

Price: Free



It’s hard to ignore the juggernaut of social media with one of 13 people in the world (over half a billion people) being on Facebook alone. Other countries have their own popular social networks, and it all adds up to an enormous market for apps like TweetDeck. If you didn’t know already, TweetDeck is a Twitter client that organises your social streams into multiple comments.

Don’t let the name fool you, however, as TweetDeck also monitors your Facebook and Foursquare feeds making it more of an aggregation tool than anything allowing you to conserve the time you waste freely on them.

Price: Free


Google Talk

Chromebooks come equipped with a webcam that’s ideal for video chat. Naturally, Google released one of the first Chromebook-oriented web apps that runs on it’s Google Talk service, allowing Chromebook owners (and anyone using the Google Talk service on any platform) to text or video chat.

Of course, Google Talk is not limited to just intra-Chromebook conversation. A Chromebook user can text or video chat with another Google user on their PC, their Phone or wherever.

Price: Free



JayCut isn’t on the Chrome Web Store, but I couldn’t find anything of equal standard to compete with JayCut on there. We can all find ourselves needing a video editor at some point, whether it be to edit together the trailer for our hit movie, or just to string together some holiday snaps.

The light editor that is JayCut is based in an iMovie-ish interface, completely online where you are invited to upload clips and edit them together on a real timeline with overlay text and some backing music.

Price: Free



Nope, Apple doesn’t care for you cloud-based citizens of the web just yet which means there’s no iTunes for you. As is the nature of the Chromebook, your music needs are most likely only going to be fulfilled if you decide to stream your music. Of course, Rhapsody is a major contender with ten million songs available on demand.

You may get some idea of having local-ish storage on your Chromebook as Google rolls out it’s music service that’s currently in beta, should you have a large music collection on another computer. Otherwise, you might have another option as Apple prepares it’s own online music service that’s apparently due to be integrated into one of our earlier mentions, MobileMe.

Price: $10/month after free trial



While Mac owners enjoy the benefits of iPhoto’s photo management tools, those using a Chromebook must resort to a web app. In this case, you might find it convenient to share your time with Picasa, Google’s photo management tool.

Picasa’s online site features the ability to upload photos, organise them into albums and even play slideshows full screen. When you combine this right into your Chromebook, you should feel right at home when showing off your snaps from your vacation to New York, or when presenting images of your new offices to your shareholders.

Price: Free


New York Times

Most of us like to know what’s going on in the world, and turn to media organisations to help fulfil our desires. Already publishing applications for major mobile platforms like iOS and Android, the New York Times have a Chrome Web Store-listed app of their own that reorganises their website into a grid of stories, with filterable sections.

Of course, if you don’t feel like the New York Times is your news source of choice, there are also Chrome web apps for the Huffington Post, USA Today and NPR, plus a bunch of RSS apps that allow you to tailor your news.

Price: Free



The calculator is a simple utility, but most within reach of a computer or a smartphone will opt for a soft, virtual one over the traditional device. Obviously, a Chromebook will lack some of the built-in accessories that a Windows or Mac PC has but the abundance of free replacements offer some resolution.

It’s quite simple. The calculator does calculating and nothing else, making it so straightforward that you need to install it.

Price: Free


I’ve been writing this roundup with the aim of finding replacement web apps to cover the tasks the native apps that reside in my MacBook Air’s dock undertake. Of course, you will never (or at least, not in the short term) get the power of Photoshop or Final Cut in a web application but these are some of the compromises you make when you invest only $350-$400 in a notebook.

As a secondary computer, though, a Chromebook can be a great choice and hopefully these apps restore some faith in an entirely cloud-based operating system. We’re interested to know your thoughts about the Chromebooks. If you’ve picked one up today, or plan to buy one in the near future, let us know what you think of it!