Web apps come in all forms and shapes, but Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) are some of the best as they’re basically a marriage between native applications and websites. On Chrome OS, they come as close as can be to proper programs, many complete with offline support. If you’re used to working with Windows or macOS, PWAs might make it easier for you to get through your workday at home, but you can also use these on any platform to enhance your productivity.
Look for the plus button in your address bar to add a PWA to your Chromebook or laptop.
It’s also possible to install PWAs on Android (and iOS), which should come in handy for some of the apps presented in this roundup. Visit any of the applications in Chrome or Firefox, tap the three-dot overflow menu on the right, and tap “Add to home screen.” Depending on how well developers implement mobile support, you’ll barely be able to discern these projects from regular Android apps.
Google Drive has only been a proper PWA with an option to create a desktop shortcut since the beginning of this year, following YouTube Music and Google Photos. The Drive app itself is really just a glorified shortcut to the normal Drive experience in your browser window. When you want to edit documents, you’re even thrown into the regular tabbed browsing interface. However, if you’d rather use windows for file management than tabs, the PWA might be for you. Of course, you can also stick with the built-in file manager in Chrome OS to access your Drive.
SimpleNote is my go-to note-taking app for things that need a little more space and formatting option than available in Google Keep. The software relies on markdown for formatting, so you should be familiar with this cheatsheet to add headlines, lists, links, and images. You can even share finished notes as view-only links, making it possible to share pretty notes with clients or coworkers.
If you need to send files to colleagues or clients, Firefox Send is a great privacy-minding solution. You can use it for transmissions of up to 1GB without logging in and 2.5GB when you create an account. The links you send automatically expire after a set amount of time and downloads. It’s like WeTransfer, but you can give it a dedicated spot on your taskbar as a PWA.
Snapdrop is a neat tool if you need to transfer files from your Chromebook to another machine or phone in your network and vice versa. Just open the PWA on both devices, and they’ll be visible for each other. You can then drag and drop any file you wish to send onto the target et voilà, you can download it on the other machine. This might be even more useful once the lockdowns are over, as you can use the app to send files to coworkers using the same network, too.
We’ve already covered 5217 in our work-from-home Android app guide, but the project is also available as a PWA. It’s a timer that has you working fully focused for 52 minutes and take a break for 17 minutes. If you struggle with discipline, this might help you get back on track with time management. There’s also another so-called Pomodoro technique, where you focus for 25 minutes and take five-minute breaks — check out Tomatenow if that’s your jam.
At home, there are a lot of distractions — your kids, your special someone, noises from the neighbors or from the street. You could get a noise-canceling headphone to block these out, but if that’s not in your budget right now, an app like SoundDrown could do the job. It creates a selection of four white noise sounds that vary a little in pitch. It’s possible to combine them as you please. There are many similar services out there that emulate ambient cafe noises, rain, waves, and more, but this one is installable as a PWA. Of course, you can also listen to music that’s not too distracting — personally, I tend to go for lo-fi hip hop or film and game scores while writing.
In contrast to the classic to-do apps like Todoist or TickTick, Redberry uses a more minimalist approach. You can add tasks in the form of a bullet list that’s infinitely expandable with subtasks in the form of indented lists. You can’t add due dates, and you can’t add sophisticated notes, but I personally enjoy this minimalism — I used to work with a Word document in the same fashion a long time ago, and I really like how it forces you to break down your to-do items into easily digestible pieces. The app can be used without an account, but if you want to sync your tasks with other devices, you need one.
Other, more renowned To-Do list apps like Todoist, TickTick, and Microsoft To Do have fully functional websites, too, but they’re not technically installable PWAs (though you can still add a shortcut to them on your Chromebook’s taskbar).
If you have a lot of tasks that repeat after a certain time and would like to keep them in a separate list, The Weekr might be for you. The web app’s interface shows your tasks on the left and gives you a weekly calendar on the right. You can add your to-dos to the panel and create checkpoints below the dates or days of the week when your items are due. The interface isn’t the most intuitive, as you need to hit unbelievably small buttons to edit or save tasks, but once you get the gist of it, it’s not too bad. To use the app cross-platform, you need to make an account.
If you need to edit images on your Chromebook, you can either use the open-source Linux tool GIMP or a web app. Photopea, in particular, is a capable and free alternative to Photoshop. It gives you the same basic tools also available in other image editors and is able to open Photoshop files, so when your coworkers send you their projects, you can still view them. Keep in mind that the free, ad-supported version only allows you to undo a total of 30 steps, so watch out how many changes you make to your projects at a time.
There’s also Pixlr E, which is prettier and even more capable than Photopea. It’s not a PWA, but you can still add it to your taskbar if you prefer working with it.
PhotoStack is a batch photo editor that lets you add watermarks to your images or reduce their quality and change their file format. You can also remove EXIF data, which allows other people to identify which camera you’ve used and even where you’ve taken it (if your camera saves GPS data, that is). Images are processed locally, so your pictures never leave your computer, and you can check out the tool’s open-source code on Github. It’s developed by our own Corbin Davenport.
One more tip: You can turn almost any website into a native-feeling app by clicking the three-dot overflow menu -> More tools -> Create shortcut. Just make sure you check the “Open as window” box in the following dialog. You can add shortcuts like these to your Android phone’s homescreen, too, but they’ll just open in a regular Chrome tab.
Yes, you can give any website a dedicated spot in your taskbar, even Android Police.
Overall, these PWAs should help you recreate some workflows you’re used to from your work Windows or Mac machine. Some might also help you improve focus and block out your surroundings when things are getting too wild at home. If you’d like to find some more not necessarily productivity-focused PWAs, head over to the PWA repository Appsco.pe.