Chromebooks burst on the scene in 2011, offering users the promise of excellent processing power at an affordable price, thanks to the hard drive space and lack of bloatware. The slick Chrome OS and ability to work primarily online, coupled with the lower price tag, made adoption in the educational sphere widespread even while most business users continued to stick to the PC or Mac paradigm. But now that's changing, and business-focused Chromebooks are gaining traction among SMBs that want to manage costs without sacrificing on performance.
The increase in cloud-based business apps and Chrome apps that can work offline is gradually making the lack of traditional storage space on Chromebooks less of a concern for business users. These apps are our current favorites for transforming affordable Chromebooks into business machines at little or no cost to the user.
1. G Suite
If you're looking to sidestep Microsoft products, the Google apps that make up the G Suite are the most logical alternative. Google Drive is excellent for storing and sharing work with your team, no HDD or SSD space necessary. Google Docs is a fine word processor. Google Calendar isn't as business-friendly as Outlook's calendar, but with a little effort it works well enough, and Google Hangouts is excellent for text and video chatting.
Google Sheets, Google's answer to Excel, is the weakest link in Google's line of apps. Sheets is fine for basic spreadsheet needs, but if you're used to the fluidity of scrolling through large worksheets, you'll be annoyed at how Google Sheets doesn't scroll, but rather skips frames. There are just enough minor differences (like how pivot tables are created) in Sheets versus Excel that Microsoft power users may find it difficult to adjust. Certain formats in Excel are totally distorted when imported into Sheets, so if your team is working with lots of outside businesses that use Excel, Office 365 may be worth the subscription fee.
This Chrome app is currently in beta, but its positive early reviews and excellent functionality make it worth adopting, even if all the kinks aren't worked out yet. Squid (formerly named Papyrus) is a note-taking app that's ideal for touchscreen and stylus Chromebooks. You can choose the types of paper to take notes on, cut or copy and paste items between notes, scroll and pinch-to-zoom using touchscreen, organize notes in notebooks, import images, and more. Squid can also be a teaching or presentation tool if you share your screen, and everything you do during a single session can be exported to a PDF, which makes following up and providing notes to team members easy.
If your team is heavily focused on design, you'll probably want to invest in a subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud, but if all you need is access to an easy image-editing tool, Polarr fits the bill. This user-friendly app offers offline photo-editing tools (a rare feature) to Chromebook users. Its built-in features, like the ability to save preset filters and roll back changes to quickly compare the original image with the edited version, make Polarr ideal for editing newbies. The power to make gradient and brush-based edits and to tweak exposure and contrast appeals to savvy editors who are used to granular design control options.
Ultidash is a Chrome extension that brings productivity and organization to Chromebook users in a well-designed package that screams business. Through Ultidash, you can create to-do lists in customizable formats, block specific websites to eliminate time-wasters, and even track daily activity and productivity. In addition to these pragmatic organization tools, Ultidash makes it easier for users to visually customize the Chromebook experience by changing backgrounds, selecting custom greetings, and customizing the way date, time, search, bookmarks and calendar events display.
While it's often touted as an educational tool because it works with Google Classroom, Kami offers great functionality to business Chromebook users. Kami is a free PDF and document annotation markup tool that's ideal for revising documents, inserting digital signatures and highlighting items. Plus, Kami was designed with Google users in mind, so it integrates flawlessly with all other Google products, making it easy to share annotated documents and signatures with your entire team via Google Drive. The fact that Kami can run offline is another major bonus of this handy tool, especially for Chromebook users who often feel tethered to an internet connection.