Productivity apps are the cold call to reality that summer is ending and it’s time to think about academic tasks. But don’t think you need to spend your all-too-tight cash reserves on pricey desktop software to get your schoolwork done. Between the Chrome browser’s ubiquity on PCs and the surging potency of online capabilities, Google’s Chrome Web Store plays hosts to a legion of superb web-based applications that can tackle practically any productivity challenge.
These 10 Chrome apps will give students (and anyone else!) a well-rounded tool set—one that transforms your browser into a true productivity powerhouse. For even more online awesomeness, be sure to check out PCWorld’s guide to 12 robust websites that can replace your desktop software.
Forget what you heard years ago: Google’s suite of online productivity apps is now powerful enough to handle most academic tasks, and if you’re assigned the dreaded group project, there is no better way to collaborate with others in real time.
Even better, Google’s main apps—Docs, Sheets, and Slides—now work offline if you install the Chrome Drive app and enable this capability from the settings. Unless you have some higher-level spreadsheet needs, Drive apps are an excellent (and free) alternative to Microsoft Office (which also calls the Chrome Web Store home, in the form of free OfficeOnline apps).
Kindle Cloud Reader
More and more textbooks are going digital—seemingly by the day—and Amazon’s Kindle platform is dominant. Say hello to the Kindle Cloud Reader app for Chrome. Being able to access your ebooks straight from the web frees you from needing to drag a hard-bound book or tablet with you to class. Who doesn’t like a light backpack?
Importantly, note-taking and text highlighting are supported in the Chrome app, and it’s far easier to do those with a keyboard and mouse than by pecking away on a tablet’s virtual keyboard. Your mark-ups sync across the web and all your Kindle devices, and Kindle Cloud Reader even offers the ability to sync your ebooks locally for offline reading.
My Study Life
My Study Life stands out by providing a blend of calendar/to-do list functionality specifically tailored for students. The Chrome app lets you input specific details of your school schedule—like who teaches a particular class—and create alerts for assignments and exams. You can also track the progress on your assignments, marking them with a completion percentage.
The My Study Life launch screen wraps up this content in an attractive package, providing a nice overview of all the upcoming details for the school week. My Study Life also has an app for Android and iOS that syncs with the Chrome version, so you can stay on top of your workload across mobile and desktop alike.
If you need a note-keeping program for short items, Google Keep is an excellent choice, as the interface is essentially a digital version of physical Post-It notes. Different note colors are available to help you keep things organized, and the service also supports lists. There’s no need to manually save things, ever, as Keep automatically syncs content as you type.
There’s only one big gotcha: While a polished Android version of Keep is also available, it isn’t available on any other mobile platforms. This could be a problem if you need to jot something down spur-of-the-moment.
Evernote can be as all-inclusive or focused as you make it. For some it’s a good place to store screen shots and lecture notes. For others, it’s an all-in-one depository for projects and files, complete with collaborator-shared notebooks and audio clips a-plenty.
The only caveat is that the Chrome version of Evernote isn’t quite as well-designed its desktop counterparts. But if you’re on a Chromebook or simply don’t like clogging up your computer with software, the web app is robust enough, stuffed full of support for note-taking, reminders, audio notes, images, and more. Grab the supplementary Evernote Web Clipper extension for Chrome, and you’ll be able to save chunks of websites in your notes, complete with the ability to annotate and highlight the clipped pages.
Excellent options abound in the world of photo editing, but only one of those options exclusively calls the web home. Pixlr Editor is a fairly powerful photo editor that should meet the needs of all but the most hardcore graphic arts students.
Now, Pixlr Editor is certainly is not as full-featured as PhotoShop, but it’s vastly more powerful than Microsoft Paint, and it can handle the vast majority of tasks well. It even has layer support! Of particular note, Pixlr also offers a Google Drive plugin that lets you choose a photo from your Drive storage, open it directly into Pixlr Editor, and then save it back to the cloud.
Google Calendar does a solid job at keeping a single calendar organized, but keeping track of multiple accounts requires something more robust. Sunrise Calendar can handle multiple Google accounts, along with iCloud and Facebook calendars. Joining a Facebook event and having it automatically show up in your calendar takes pretty much all the pain out of staying organized.
Sunrise, like other offline Chrome apps, functions much like a traditional desktop app—it can be pinned to the taskbar or dock and even runs in its own window. And beyond its rich features, Sunrise sports an attractive minimalist design.
As the name implies, Codeanywhere is a cross-platform coding platform with a solid Chrome app. It enables you to do actual coding work from a Chromebook or keep your work synced up across different computers or applications.
It’s also a good place to start if you’re in the introductory stages of coding or starting a computer science program, as the site is very user-friendly and offers several solid tutorials.
Todoist is a powerful and well-designed task manager-slash-to-do list app, and it’s built from the ground up to be optimized for HTML5. That helps Todoist perform like greased lightning, while its robust core capabilities are augmented by offline capabilities and handy mobile apps.
But consider paying $30 per year for a premium Todoist subscription if you plan to use it often. It unlocks a far more full-fledged feature set, including custom filters, more labeling power, the ability to add attachments and notes to tasks, and features designed to supercharge collaboration. Free is often the best choice for those heading off to college, but the upgrade is worthwhile if you like what Todoist offers.
Gmail is one of the most widely used email services around, but what are you supposed to do when you need that vital assignment email and there’s no Internet access around? Simple: Grab the Gmail Offline app for Chrome beforehand and never worry about connectivity again.
The Gmail Offline interface is a little different, based more around the mobile app than the web app, and it’s still technically a beta product—meaning a few speed bumps are certainly possible. It’s still tremendously useful, though. Gmail Offline saves message drafts and sends them when you’ve regained Internet access. It also stores local, synchronized copies of your mail so that you can search, archive, and read your messages even when there’s no Internet to be had.
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