The best Chrome flags to try on your Chromebook (Spring 2021)

The best Chrome flags to try on your Chromebook (Spring 2021)

There are several additional features and tweaks in Chrome OS 90 that are not yet part of the default experience. They are likely not stable enough for everyone while they’re still in development. Google tucked some of these experimental features behind a page — and you can enable them right now. Activate these switches, or “flags,” by typing chrome://flags in Chrome’s URL bar and hitting enter. Here is a list of low-risk flags we’ve tested that we recommend trying out.

New media controls UI on the Chrome OS shelf.

  • chrome://flags/#enable-show-date-in-tray

date os90

Show the date on the Chrome OS system tray.

  • chrome://flags/#enable-cros-ime-system-emoji-picker
    • Google is experimenting with a dedicated emoji picker for Chrome OS that actually isn’t frustrating to use with a mouse. You can also search for emoji using the large search bar — a functionality missing from the old implementation. To make picking emoji less annoying, enable this Chrome flag.

emojipicker_os90_win

The experimental emoji picker in Chrome OS 90.  

  • chrome://flags/#enable-notification-indicator

apppaging_hero_v2

Notification indicators are superimposed on apps on your Chromebook.

  • chrome://flags/#enable-desktop-pwas-attention-badging-cros
    • This Chrome flag extends the chrome://flags/#notification-indicators feature to web apps that use push notifications. Enable this flag to add notification dots for web apps, too.
  • chrome://flags/#ash-enable-pip-rounded-corners
    • Did you know rounded corners are easier on your eyes than sharp edges? Rest your eyes a bit by enabling picture-in-picture rounded corners.

chromeos_pip

Rounded corners make picture-in-picture look much nicer.

  • chrome://flags/#stylus-battery-status
    • It’s frustrating to find out about your digital pen’s battery is low when you least expect it. To keep track of its battery, you can enable this Chrome flag. Its battery level will show up in your stylus settings, although currently it just shows just high and low power.

stylus_battery_os89

Digital pen’s battery in the stylus tools

Improve productivity in Chrome OS

Chrome OS has several useful hidden tricks up its sleeves to enhance your productivity.

  • chrome://flags/#show-metered-toggle
    • Your Chromebook gives you different options for connecting to the web, but not every network provides unlimited data access. Chrome OS used to let you specify a rate-limited network, but it went away due to pending issues. Enable this Chrome flag to bring the toggle back.
  • chrome://flags/#enable-launcher-app-paging
    • Moving apps to different pages in the Chrome OS launcher feels slippery and unpolished. To improve the launcher’s usability, Google is working on a new paging UI, making it easy to see where your app icons are going when moving them around. Enable this Chrome flag to see some of its improvements to the launcher.

launcher visual affordance

Launcher app paging makes dragging apps to different pages less frustrating.

  • chrome://flags/#global-media-controls-picture-in-picture
    • Chrome OS 89 launched with better media controls, but it doesn’t offer a quick and easy way to activate picture-in-picture. Enabling this Chrome flag puts a picture-in-picture button in the media controls so you can quickly break videos out into a floating window.

Chrome productivity enhancements

Google Chrome is naturally the tightly integrated default web browser in Chrome OS. Here is a list of flags that enhance the web browsing experience.

  • chrome://flags/#copy-link-to-text
    • Sharing a block of text you’ve found online is a hassle, especially if it’s hard to find on a particularly long webpage. By enabling this flag, you can create a link that takes you directly to that text. Highlight a selection of words, right-click, and select “Copy link to highlight.”
  • chrome://flags/#permission-chip
    • Permission requests for things like notifications can be intrusive and distracting. Enable this Chrome flag to activate a more modern, less annoying permission prompt.

permission_chip

Permission requests are a lot less annoying with the new design.

  • chrome://flags/#enable-accessibility-live-caption
    • Google announced Live Caption for Chrome OS 90, which generates real-time captions with accuracy. The feature is slowly making its way to users, but if you don’t want to wait, enable this Chrome flag. To transcribe audio, click “Manage accessibility features” in Chrome OS settings, select Captions, then toggle on Live Caption. English is the only language supported for now.

livecaption cros demofix scaled cropped

Live Caption for Chromebooks transcribes audio in real-time — and it works offline, too.

  • chrome://flags/#tab-hover-card-images
    • If you have a lot of tabs open, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between them. Enable this flag to show a preview of the web page when hovering your cursor over a Chrome tab, which is useful for quickly finding tabs.

tab hover card

Hovering your cursor over your Chrome tab will show a preview of that tab.

  • chrome://flags/#enable-desktop-pwas-tab-strip
    • Chrome OS launches PWAs into a single app window, which is annoying if you want to be productive. Enable this flag to add Chrome’s tab strip to PWAs to help speed up your workflow with multiple Chrome tabs.

tabbed pwas

Tabbed PWAs in Chrome OS makes it easier to multitask.

  • chrome://flags/#enable-desktop-pwas-tab-strip-link-capturing
    • Currently, launching a new tab in a PWA will create a new Chrome instance, breaking your focus. Enable this Chrome flag to fix links in PWAs.
  • chrome://flags/#intent-picker-pwa-persistence
    • Need a certain PWA to launch after clicking on a link? Enabling this Chrome flag will allow you to prefer launching a PWA from your Chromebook.
  • chrome://flags/#enable-desktop-pwas-remove-status-bar
    • When hovering a cursor over links, Chrome displays a URL on the bottom left — even web apps. If you’d rather this not be the case so that web apps look more like native ones, enable this Chrome flag.
  • chrome://flags/#avatar-toolbar-button
    • If you manage your Google Account often, enable this Chrome flag to put a convenient shortcut to your Google account settings on the Chrome toolbar.

chrome avatar pic

Avatar toolbar button in Chrome provides easy access to your Google account.

Improve scrolling in Chrome

Does scrolling feel rough when browsing through webpages using Chrome? Thanks to Microsoft Edge developers, the scrolling experience will be much smoother with these flags enabled.

  • chrome://flags/#percent-based-scrolling
    • For the next step in porting Microsoft Edge’s scrolling improvements into Chrome, the Edge developers introduce percent-based mouse scrolling. This system fixes an issue where free-floating scroll wheels (like on a Logitech MX Master) would not correctly scroll. Enable it to improve the free-floating scroll on Chrome OS.

Get better Chromebook performance

Working with a slow machine is frustrating, especially when the battery doesn’t last very long. One of your Chromebook’s strengths is its lightweight nature, making the system feel more agile than most. There are a few flags that could speed up your Chromebook, but they may introduce security issues.

  • chrome://flags/#scheduler-configuration
    • Chrome OS disabled hyperthreading on a few Intel-based Chromebooks because of an MDS vulnerability with the CPU. Check Cog to see if it disabled a few of its cores. If the performance loss from the deactivated cores is too significant for your use-case, enable the flag to get the cores back – with caution.
  • chrome://flags/#spectre-v2-mitigation
    • Recent Spectre variant 2 mitigations from Intel reduce the chance of your Chromebook being exploited by malicious actors. However, they could cause significant performance slowdowns on your machine. Deciding between speed or security isn’t easy, but if you need better CPU performance, you can disable this Chrome flag — with caution.

Improve Chrome’s performance

The Chrome web browser is agile and robust, but some people complain about their Chromebook’s performance. These sets of flags should slightly improve Chrome’s performance.

  • chrome://flags/#turn-off-streaming-media-caching-on-battery
    • Previously, Chrome caches media content to disk during acquisition and playback. Keeping the disk active increases power consumption and can prevent specific lower-power modes from being engaged. Enable this Chrome flag to prevent caching certain media content to disk to improve battery life slightly.
  • chrome://flags/#tab-groups-collapse-freezing
    • Chromebooks with low RAM can run into performance hitches with several Chrome tabs opened in tab groups. Enable this Chrome flag to sleep tabs collapsed inside a tab group, reducing memory usage.

That’s about all the useful flags in Chrome OS 90 that we recommend trying. I cannot wait for these features to roll out to everyone, and I’m excited to see Chrome OS grow even further in the coming weeks and months.

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