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How to turn your Chromebook into a smart display with Ambient Mode

ASUS Chromebox 4
ASUS Chromebox 4 (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

The best Chromebooks are more than just lightweight laptops with speed and simplicity; they're adaptable devices that help us get through the day. While I don't spend all day chained to a desk with my Chromebook, whenever my Chromebook is plugged in and not actively used, it pulls double duty as a smart display. Because of the integrations with Google Assistant and Chromebook's Ambient Display feature, all it takes to turn this on is a thirty-second trip to the Settings app.

How to turn on your Chromebook's Ambient Mode

  1. Open the Settings app from the app drawer or quick settings menu.
  2. Tap or scroll down to the Personalization section.

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)
  1. Tap Screen saver.

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)
  1. Tap the toggle to turn it on.

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)
  1. Select the Background images you want to use.
  2. To edit which photos you see, tap the right arrow to the right side of the selected source.

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)
  1. If you're using Google Photos, tap the folders you want Ambient Display to pull from.

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)
  1. If you're using Art gallery, tap Earth and space if you only want to see art and landscape images rather than satellite photography.
  2. Tap the Device section.

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)
  1. Tap Power.

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)
  1. Tap the drop down menu next to While charging.

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)
  1. Tap Keep display on.

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Technically speaking, this is all you should need to do. By default Google Assistant is set to keep "OK Google" detection on while your Chromebook is plugged in or charging so that it doesn't impact the battery while you're out and about. Ambient Display will only trigger when your computer is inactive but not put to sleep — which we just set only to occur when it's plugged in anyway.

Good for Chromebooks, best for Chromeboxes

While pretty much any Chromebook from the compact Lenovo Duet to the beefy Acer Spin 713 can take advantage of Ambient Display, there's another subset of Chrome OS devices even better suited to it.

Chromeboxes are the name for Chrome OS desktops, and given the best Chromeboxes received new models this spring, now's the perfect time to try one out for the family computer. Now, you'll have to have a USB microphone for the Chromebox to listen for OK Google, but given that most of us have regular meetings on Zoom, Skype, and Google Meet these days, that shouldn't be an issue.

Blue Yeti

Blue Yeti (Image credit: Blue)

Blue Microphones Yeti ($130 at Amazon)

This USB microphone is one of the most-liked and trusted in the industry, whether you're using it to podcast or just to take meetings where you don't sound like you're underwater. There are four pickup patterns, a headphone jack in instant monitoring, and a mute button on the front.

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.