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

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


What are those new keys about, anyway?

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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 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 how 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. Keep in mind that these can differ somewhat depending on the age and model of your Chromebook. In fact, you will probably not have all of the keys listed here. Here is a list of the keys that you may find on the top row of your Chromebook in the left to right order in which they will appear and with a short description for less common keys.

  • Esc: the usual get out of trouble key
  • Back: go back one page
  • Next: go forward one page
  • Refresh (circle with arrow): refresh your page
  • Full page (square with small out-facing arrows): toggle the current page to take up the full screen
  • Show windows (a square with two lines on the right): show all the open windows on the screen; if you have more than one virtual desktop, they will be shown on top of the screen
  • Brightness down
  • Brightness up
  • Play / Pause
  • Mute
  • Lower volume
  • Raise volume
  • Lock screen: a quick way to go back to your lock screen

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.

Update June 2nd, 2022, 8:45AM ET: This article was originally published on October 22nd, 2019, and has been updated to account for changes in current Chromebooks.