Because of the confusion about the need for always-on connectivity and the resulting hesitation surrounding Chromebooks, we felt it appropriate to spend a bit of time on the issue separately from everything else.
It is true that in order to harness the full power of a Chromebook, you need to be connected to the web and logged in to a Google account. However, there is quite a bit you can do offline, and more apps are coming that will let you do even more.
First, though, let’s differentiate between the three sorts of apps you can use on a chromebook. First, there are “apps” that, as we mentioned earlier, are basically just links to websites, and those obviously don’t work when you’re not online.
The second type of chromebook app works ideally when connected but offers some functionality when not. These include Google’s pre-loaded Docs, Sheets, Slides, and a few others, as well as quite a few apps found under the “Offline Apps” section of the Chrome Web Store.
The possibilities for what you can do may surprise you. For example, you can open up a file (or create a new one) from Google Docs
, because those items are synced locally to your computer. Thus, you can get a lot of work done offline, and when you’re back online, the changes will sync.
Using Google Docs offline
Or if you want to waste a little time, you can install Angry Birds to play offline and game away with no connection, which is ideal for, say, a long car ride. You can also work on your calendar, read the news, edit and organize photos, play music and movies, jot down notes, and so on. The third type of app also works offline, with the difference being that they also run outside of the browser.
The linchpin of this offline functionality, at least as it pertains to the user experience, is Files. As the name suggests, this is a basic file management tool, and it has two main sections: Google Drive and Downloads. The Downloads folder is a repository of downloaded files, sure, but it’s also where Chrome OS stashes any local files such as screenshots and the like. Under the Google Drive area, you can see all your Google Drive files, and there’s an Offline area within that so you can see which files you have synced to your local storage. You also have Shared With Me and Recent tabs, which is a simple but welcome bit of organization.
Further, any storage device you connect to the chromebook will show up as an accessible drive under Files, so you can easily expand your effective storage capacity beyond the 16GB that the Acer C720 offers.
Even though it’s clear that chromebooks offer quite a bit more in terms of offline functionality than many might think, they’re not without drawbacks. For example, if you need to use a piece of software for work that doesn’t have a web-based version or an app in the Chrome Web Store, you’re out of luck. Further, there have always been issues with formatting in Word, Excel, and other Microsoft Office documents displaying correctly in Google's alternatives, and it’s not likely that will go away anytime soon, so if you collaborate with others that frequently use Office documents, you’ll certainly run into problems at some point.