Chromebooks are built to be easy to understand and simple to navigate. A big part of that navigation lies in the powerful, flexible trackpad that rests just beneath your Chromebook’s keyboard. This input method wields a lot of power over Chrome OS, but just because Chromebooks are meant to be streamlined, simplified computers, that doesn’t mean they come entirely without a learning curve. With that in mind, we wanted to put together a simple, quick guide to all the things you can do with your Chromebook’s built-in trackpad.
Before we get rolling, a quick note on settings. In your device’s settings menu, you can head to settings > device > touchpad (or mouse and touchpad if you have a mouse connected) and you may decide to turn on tap-to-click, tap-and-drag, and reverse scrolling. For this post and video, you just need to know that a tap on the trackpad or a physical click of the trackpad mean the same thing and both work if the option is turned on. Reverse scrolling is also a bit of a choice depending on what feels natural to you, but I leave it turned on as I like the content on the screen to move in the same direction of my fingers when scrolling like we are used to on phones and tablets. Now, let’s dive in.
As you would expect, one-finger gestures are pretty simple. With one finger on the trackpad, you can move you mouse cursor around the screen and select items like apps, web links, and system settings. Additionally, you can click to grab open windows and drag them around the screen with either a physical click and drag or a double-tap and drag if you have the tapping options enabled.
As we add in another digit, the gestures get a bit more complex. With two fingers on the trackpad, the most useful gesture is definitely the scrolling movement. Depending on your reverse scrolling setting we mentioned earlier, the behavior of this gesture will vary. Either way, though, placing two fingers on the trackpad and moving in any direction will move the content on your screen as long as that content is scrollable. Take this post you are reading for example. With two fingers on the trackpad, you can slide up and down to move the content around with ease.
Additionally, with two fingers you can perform a pinch-zoom motion that will zoom in on web content and other app content where allowed. With content zoomed in, the two-finger scroll becomes handy to move you around the screen in any direction to see your now-zoomed content: up, down, left or right.
Finally, with two-finger clicks or taps, you can bring up a context menu similar to a Windows right-click or Android/iOS long-press. The content in the context menu will differ from app to app, but if you are looking for extra options, it’s always worth a two-finger tap/click to see if any extras are hiding beneath the surface.
One bonus move that still only works on Chrome and web apps (not Android apps) is a two-finger swipe left/right to go forward/back in web content. It’s a handy trick that we left out of the video since it doesn’t work system-wide.
When moving into three-finger gestures, things get even more complex. These gestures are more about multitasking productivity and feel more like additions than requirements. First up we have tab scrubbing. The idea here is simple: when in Chrome and you have open tabs up top, you can slide three fingers left or right and move through those tabs effortlessly. It’s insanely helpful and a feature you’ll definitely miss if you get used to it and move back to a Windows or Mac laptop.
Next up is overview mode. While there is a dedicated keyboard key for this on Chromebooks, the three-finger swipe up is way quicker in my opinion. With this gesture, you can invoke your overview mode and see all open windows at once on your desktop. If you have a lot going on or just can’t find that one window you need, this is very handy and a gesture I use countless times on a daily basis.
Finally, with the same three fingers, you can perform a click that will close any tab you are hovering. If you need to quickly shut down a handful of open tabs in Chrome, a three-finger click will close any tab you are hovering without having to get the cursor directly over the little X up top. It sounds small, but this gesture is very useful.
Finally, we have our final four-finger gesture. With the overview mode mentioned above, you can create Virtual Desks that allow you to set up three additional workspaces. Think of it like having three extra monitors virtually on your Chromebook. When you have these active and are ready to move from one to the next, there are keyboard shortcuts and an ability to click into the desks from the overview mode, but by far the most satisfying method is a four-finger swipe left or right on the trackpad.
With this quick gesture, you can move seamlessly from one workspace to the next with a flick of the wrist. There’s even work being done to make the animations faster and the transitions between your desk smoother. As this come to Chrome OS in the next few updates, the four-finger gesture to switch desks will be as beneficial as ever.
So, that’s it! Get these gestures down pat and you’ll be a master of the Chromebook trackpad in no time. While many of these are fun to do, the bulk of them are helpful, too. You’ll be far more productive and nimble as you move through the OS if you know these shortcuts like the back of your hand. There aren’t many, so I’d highly recommend committing them to memory, using them often, and getting more done in less time as you do.