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Chromebook 101: what’s different about the Chromebook keyboard?

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What are those new keys about, anyway?

chromebook keyboard

One of the first shocks that you may experience when you buy your first Chromebook probably comes when you look at the keyboard. Where is the Caps Lock key? What (if you have a Pixelbook) is that strange-looking key between the Ctrl and Alt keys? What is that strange key in the top row that looks like a square with two straight lines next to it?

Google has tweaked the keyboard of its Chromebooks in ways that emphasize the way in which Chrome OS differs from Microsoft Windows and Apple macOS. And what makes things even more confusing is that the layout of the keyboard can vary depending on the model of Chromebook you are using. For example, if you are using a Pixelbook, you may have a couple of extra keys. In addition, a key that has a “search” symbol on it in most Chromebooks may have a round “status” symbol on it in a Pixelbook.

This is a quick primer to explain what those differences are. While your Chromebook may differ slightly, this should help in providing a reference until you are used to your new keyboard (or until you remap the keys so they fit your preferences).

Chromebook keyboard
A typical Chromebook keyboard, highlighting some of the special keys that are usually not found on Macs or Windows laptops.

The top row

Instead of the usual numbered function keys (F1, F2, etc.), Google has substituted a row of various dedicated keys. This is what each is meant for, from left to right:

  • Esc (Escape): the usual get-out-of-trouble key
  • Back: go back one page
  • Refresh: refresh your page
  • Full Page: toggle the current page to take up the full screen
  • Show Windows: show all the open windows on the screen; if you have more than one virtual desktop, they be shown on top of the screen
  • Brightness down
  • Brightness up
  • Play / Pause
  • Mute
  • Lower volume
  • Raise volume
  • Power (Pixelbook Go) or Open the status area (Pixelbook 2017)

Other keys

Between the Tab and Shift keys on the left of the keyboard, where the Caps Lock usually resides, you may either have the Launcher key or the Search key, depending on your system. The former launches the Chrome OS app drawer; the latter brings up a search box.

Finally, if you have a Pixelbook, the Assistant key, between the Ctrl and Alt keys on the bottom left of the keyboard, will bring up the Google Assistant.

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