Are Chromebooks Useless Without Internet?

Chromebooks have become somewhat infamous due to their overdependence on the internet for many cloud-based services, tools, and web apps. Also, Chrome OS is a cloud-first operating system, so you may wonder if Chromebooks are really useless without the internet. 

Unlike MacBooks and Windows laptops, Chromebooks don’t have conventional desktop or PC software that functions offline by default.

A Chromebook with a no WiFi symbol next to it.

Chromebooks With No Internet

Chromebooks aren’t useless without the internet, as you can use many apps and tools offline. You can access emails, listen to music, play games, work on various documents, watch movies, etc. However, most offline activities need some presetting.

Chromebooks have a feature called Launcher, which is to Chrome OS what the Start button is for Windows.

However, this Launcher is basically a portal to the web apps on a Chromebook. Also, you can access the pre-installed apps, such as the following:

  • Chrome browser.
  • Google search bar.
  • Google Keep.
  • Calculator.
  • Files.
  • Gallery.

You can open the Chrome browser or access the Google search bar offline, but you can’t use either without the internet. In contrast, you can use the other pre-installed apps offline. 

You can open Files to access documents, music, videos, etc. These files may be downloaded to your Chromebook or stored after transferring them from another device.

The Calculator works offline, and so does the Gallery app. 

The Gallery app can facilitate the following tasks without the internet:

  • Play and manage media.
  • Open and edit photos.
  • Play music (from Files).
  • Review, edit, and sign PDFs.

The Gallery app is an elementary photo editing tool. The limited features may not impress most users. You may need the internet if you have to use a more advanced photo editing tool. Or you can transfer files to a system that has better software.

You can use a Chromebook’s Bluetooth and USB ports to share or transfer files. Such data or file transfers among compatible devices don’t require the internet.

Also, Google Keep is available for offline use to write some notes. You can also edit and read old notes, provided they are already saved. Your edits will sync later when you connect to the internet or Wi-Fi.

Considering these basic functionalities, you may be inclined to conclude that Chromebooks are not particularly useful without the internet.

However, if you prepare for offline use in advance, a Chromebook can facilitate various activities, from entertainment to productivity.

Games

You can play dozens of games on Chromebooks without the internet. For example, you can play Angry Birds 2 in offline mode.

Basically, if a game app available on the Google Play Store supports offline gaming, you can play it on a Chromebook without the internet.

While you can’t use Google Stadia anymore, you can play games on Chromebooks with Steam Link.

More importantly, you can play games on Steam Link offline, but you must be online to enable this mode after opening the app.

The Steam menu on the top left corner has the Go Offline option. Once you click it, many up-to-date games will be available without the internet.

However, you won’t have access to the server browser feature, and your friends can’t join your gameplay. 

Several games and some features of those available may not work in offline mode. Also, Steam will remain in offline mode until you choose to Go Online.

You can’t enable either the offline or online mode without access to an active internet connection.

Gmail

You can access Gmail offline with a Chromebook and perform the following tasks:

  • Read emails.
  • Reply to emails.
  • Search emails.

You must first enable offline email through Gmail settings. You will find the Offline option after you click or tap on the gear icon in Gmail and access the settings. Tick the box to enable offline access and choose the settings you want.

You can decide how many days of emails you want to keep available in the offline mode. You can usually select one of the following:

  • 7 days.
  • 30 days.
  • 90 days.

Any new email or reply you initiate will go to an Outbox folder, and subsequently, the messages will be sent when your Chromebook connects to the internet again.

However, note that Gmail offline doesn’t work if you use the Incognito mode.

Whenever you enable any app for offline use, such as Gmail, you should bookmark it or create a shortcut.

You can pin it on your Chromebook shelf for easy and swift access. This shelf is for frequently used apps and any that you may manually pin for convenience. 

Google Workspace

While Gmail is an integral part of Google Workspace, I have to segregate the productivity tools in this section, as they may be more extensively and critically utilitarian for many users.

You can use the following Google Workspace tools on a Chromebook without the internet:

  • Drive.
  • Google Docs.
  • Google Sheets.
  • Google Slides.

A few Google Workspace features aren’t available offline due to their inherent dependence on the internet, such as the following:

  • Chat.
  • Forms.
  • Meet.

Different ways exist to enable offline access to Google Drive and productivity tools. Here are your options:

  • You can enable Google Drive’s offline mode from its settings. You must be signed in with an active internet connection to do this. Google Drive may take a while to complete the process to be available offline. Your recently opened files will be saved and available for offline use, including editing. The edits will be synced later when you are back online.
  • You can choose to make individual files available offline, including Docs, Sheets, and Slides. This manual process is fitting if you don’t know for sure whether all the files you need were recently opened or not. You may use the Chromebook Launcher and Files to select the documents or spreadsheets. Alternatively, you can do so from Google Drive.
  • You can download the Google Docs Offline Chrome Extension on a Chromebook to work on documents without the internet. Open any file you want access to, check the document status at the top, and turn on the offline mode. Documents without such access will have the status reading, ‘This document is not ready for offline use.’

Once a file or your Google Drive is available offline, you can use the Launcher and Files to open the document to read, review, edit, etc.

You must check the Offline drive in Files to access those made available without the internet.

Most affordable and mid-level Chromebooks don’t have enormous storage space, so you may want to review the number of files and web apps you can access offline.

You may have to free up some space periodically if you need to use a Chromebook offline frequently. 

Microsoft Office

You can’t use Microsoft Office in the following versions on a Chromebook, be it online or offline:

  • Android versions of any Microsoft Office tool.
  • Desktop Office version for Mac and Windows.
  • Microsoft 365 desktop version for computers.

You can use Microsoft 365 apps on a Chromebook, which include the following:

  • Excel.
  • OneDrive.
  • OneNote.
  • PowerPoint.
  • Word.

These productivity tools are in the form of progressive web apps (PWA). You can use them on a Chromebook through the Chrome browser.

Also, you can bookmark or pin them to create a kind of shortcut. You will need a Microsoft 365 subscription to access all the features of Office tools.

Once you have Microsoft Office or 365 on a Chromebook, you can use the web apps offline to work on a document, spreadsheet, etc.

However, you must have a downloaded version of any existing document or file on your Chromebook, or it should be open before you go offline. 

If you have Microsoft 365 pinned to your Chromebook shelf, you can open it and create a file offline.

You won’t be able to use any template because such features require the internet. Also, you won’t have all the fonts and some functions that require the full version of every web app.

There’s no auto-save when you use Microsoft Office offline on a Chromebook. You must save the changes, which will sync with the online document later when you are online.

Likewise, you can open an existing file saved to your Chromebook drive to view and edit it offline. If you need to open a file from Google Drive or OneDrive, it must be opened once online before offline use.

There’s another way to work on Microsoft documents or files with a Chromebook without the internet.

You can get the Office Editing for Docs, Sheets & Slides extension on a Chromebook to work on Microsoft files using online and offline Google Workspace productivity tools.

This extension enables you to do the following with or without the internet:

  • Access and edit Office files.
  • Convert files to Office formats.
  • Save files as Google Docs, Sheets, etc.
  • Share the files to collaborate with others.

Microsoft Outlook

Like Gmail, you can use Microsoft Outlook offline. You can open the Outlook web app on your Chromebook using the Chrome browser when you are online. The following path will enable the offline mode of Microsoft Outlook:

  • Settings.
  • Options.
  • General.
  • Offline Settings.

After you check the box and save the setting, you can perform the following tasks with Outlook offline:

  • Read messages.
  • Reply to messages.
  • Send new messages.
  • Respond to meeting requests.
  • View and edit your calendar.
  • View and edit your contacts.

These offline tasks will require disk space, so you must have enough storage on a Chromebook’s drive.

Offline Apps

If an app or extension you get from the Chrome Web Store has an offline mode, you can use it on your Chromebook without the internet.

The same applies to apps you may get on the Google Play Store. Several Android apps can run on Chromebooks, and many have an offline mode.

Browsing Without An Internet Connection

You can browse web pages offline, provided you save them beforehand when you are online. Simply right-click on any webpage you want to check out later without the internet and save it as an HTML file.

This file will be saved to your Chromebook’s eMMC or SSD storage. You can save as many web pages as you want as long as space is available in the storage drive.

Checking out saved web pages offline isn’t exactly like browsing online because every dynamic feature dependent on the internet will not work.

So, it is mostly just reading the information on a web page. But what if you want to read something other than web pages, like books? 

Offline Reading

You can read books on a Chromebook without the internet. All you have to do is use a relevant app to download a book and pin it in advance to be available offline.

You can do this with Google Play Books and Kindle Cloud Reader for Chromebooks.

For the Kindle Cloud Reader app, click on the Cloud option at the top, select a book you want to read offline from your library, and right-click on it to download and pin it. With Google Play Books, you hover over a book for the options and check the box next to Make Available Offline.

Play Music

You can play music on a Chromebook without the internet using the following mediums, among others:

  • Saved files.
  • Spotify.
  • YouTube.

You must subscribe to the premium version of Spotify or YouTube to play music offline.

You will need the YouTube Music Android app for a Chromebook. YouTube Music doesn’t support offline playback for Chromebooks, even if you have a premium subscription. 

Watch Movies

Like playing music, you can watch movies on Chromebooks without the internet. You can buy a movie or television series on Google Play Movies and download it. Here are the steps:

  1. Go to Launcher and open the Google Play Movies app.
  2. Select the movie or show you want to watch offline.
  3. Click on the download option next to the movie or show.
  4. A movie or show is downloaded once you see a checkmark.

You can also watch movies or shows offline on your Chromebook with Netflix. Here’s how:

  1. Go to the Chromebook Launcher and open Netflix.
  2. Go to the menu to select Available for Download.
  3. Look for the movie or show you want to watch offline.
  4. Select the download option and let the process complete.

Furthermore, you can watch video content in various file formats on your Chromebook without the internet. You can store such content in Files and use the VLC media player for Chrome OS.