How to be ready for offline work with a Chromebook

Adjust some settings, install an extension, select files, and you can work without an internet connection on a Chromebook.

Photo and illustration: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

Chromebooks are designed to work best with an Internet connection. Start your system, open the Chrome browser and you will be able to access all the resources on the web. Google designed Chromebooks to be fast, secure, and easy to use. System updates that are installed with a reboot are measured in seconds.

You can also do a lot with a Chromebook offline, including working with Gmail, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawings. But since your device assumes an internet connection, you need to take a few steps to make sure your apps and data are available offline. To prepare your Chromebook for offline work, be sure to the system is up to date and Conected to internet. Also make sure you have logged into your Chromebook with Google account that you plan to use offline, then explore the various settings and features that allow you to work offline, as described below.

Note: If you use a Google Workspace account, be aware that an administrator can prevent offline access to data and applications. So if you use your Chromebook with an account associated with work or school and any of the settings are not available, check with your Workspace administrator.

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Gmail offline

Go to Gmail Offline Settings and check the box next to Enable offline mail (Figure a). If desired, change the amount of mail to make it available offline. Select Save. Then go to your inbox, then press Ctrl + D to bookmark and return to your synced mail when offline. Wait until the system displays the circle with a check box to indicate a successful sync (Figure I, above). Go back to the bookmark you created earlier to read, reply to, or write Gmail when you’re offline. Mail that you “send” while offline will be stored in your outbox and sent when you reconnect to the Internet.

Figure a

Gmail screenshot |  Settings |  Offline with the box checked.  Store email from the last 90 days selected and the option selected to Keep data offline on my computer.

First, enable offline mail.

Google Calendar offline

Go to Calendar | Settings | General | Offline and select the box next to Enable offline calendar (Figure B). Wait until the system displays the circle with a check box to indicate that recent files have been synced with your system. When you’re offline, go to Google Calendar to show all synced events and details.

Figure B

Screenshot of Google Calendar |  Offline |  Activate the selected offline calendar box.

Then turn on offline calendar access.

Google Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides and Drawings offline

Follow the link to Google Docs extension offline, select Add to Chrome, then choose Add Extension to complete the installation. If the system shows Remove from Chrome (Figure C), you already have it installed.

Figure C

Screenshot of the Google Docs Offline extension, which indicates that it has been installed by more than 10 million users.

Install the Google Docs Offline extension from the Chrome web store.

Also, go to Drive | Settings (gear in the upper right corner) and check the box next to Create, open and edit your recent Google Docs, Sheets and Slides files on this device offline (Figure D). Again, wait until the system displays the circle with a check box to indicate that recent files have been synced to your system (Figure I, bottom).

Figure D

Screenshot of Google Drive |  Settings |  General |  Offline with the checkbox next to

Enable offline settings for Google Drive.

On a Chromebook, you have two ways to select specific items for offline access: Google Drive on the web or the Chrome Files app (Figure E). While in Google Drive in Chrome, select (single click) a file or folder, then select the three vertical dots menu and adjust the slides available offline to sync the item offline. To check available offline files, select the offline status indicator (the circle with a check mark) and move the slider to the right.

Alternatively, from the Files app on your Chromebook, select (single click) a file or folder, then move the slider next to Available Offline to the right. To check items available offline from the Files app, select the offline bookmark icon (at the bottom of the left-side menu) in Google Drive.

Figure E

Screenshot of Google Drive, with 5 of 6 files in a folder available offline (left) and a right-click menu showing the

On a Chromebook, you can make files available offline from Google Drive on the web (left) or from the Chrome OS built-in Files app (right).

To create a new item (that is, document, sheet, slide, slide, or drawing) offline, go to Google drive and select the + New button, then choose the type of document to create (Figure F). As you work on your file, the system will display a Saved to this device indicator to the right of the file name (top left) as you make changes.

Figure F

Screenshot of Google Drive with + New selected and Google Docs |  The blank document menu option is displayed.

You can create new Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawings offline on a Chromebook.

Now, you have completed the basics. When you are connected to the Internet, your system will sync recent files from Gmail and Drive and make them available for offline access.

Offline web pages

When you are online with an article or post that you want to read later displayed in your browser, select the star icon (at the top right) and then choose Add to Reading List to save the content offline (Figure G, top). When offline, make sure the bookmarks bar is displayed (Shift + Ctrl + B), then select the Reading List (on the right side of the displayed bookmarks). Select an article from the list to read (Figure G, bottom).

Figure G

Screenshot with selected star and both

Select the star and then choose + Add to Reading List (above) to save web articles to read. Access the list from the right side of the bookmarks bar (bottom).

Android apps

Many Chromebooks allow you to install Android apps, and many Android apps store data for offline use by default. google calendar, Google Keep and Google Tasks (Figure H) all sync data and work offline. In particular, while the Google Calendar web app is read-only, the Google Calendar app for Android allows you to create and edit appointments and then sync when you reconnect to the internet.

Figure H

Screenshot of the Android Calendar (left), Keep (center), and Tasks (right) apps installed and active on a Chromebook.

Install Android apps, such as Google Calendar, Google Keep, and Google Tasks, to take advantage of these apps’ ability to sync data offline.

Synchronize before disconnecting

As a precaution, I recommend that you check the sync status (go to Gmail and Google Drive in Chrome and make sure the circle with a check mark appears, as shown in Figure i) immediately before logging out to make sure your details are up to date. Similarly, for Android apps, open the app and give it time to sync before disconnecting from the internet.

Figure i

Screenshot of the circled, underlined check mark displayed both in Gmail (above), to the left of the email count indicator (in the upper right area of ​​the page), and Google Drive ( below), to the left of the help circle with the question mark indicator.

Check the sync status of Gmail (top) and Drive (bottom). If the system displays animated arrows, instead of the circled, underlined check mark, it indicates that a sync is in progress.

Once you’ve completed all of the steps above, you can disconnect your Chromebook at any time: click the time (bottom right), select Settings (the gear wheel), then move the slider next to Wi-Fi to the left (that is, Off).

What is your experience?

If you use a Chromebook, how often do you use it without internet access? Do you actively disconnect it so you can get work done? Has offline access to data and applications been helpful when traveling? Are there specific Android apps that you use when offline? Let me know how you use your Chromebook without internet access, either with a comment below or on Twitter (@awolber).

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