Google has a dark theme setting in ChromeOS version 104, which, when enabled, changes many interface elements from light to dark. The shelf, launcher, browser tabs, and omnibox all switch to a dark theme. That’s a helpful change from late 2020, when you had to select a custom browser theme as part of efforts to get a similar look and feel.
To access the Dark theme setting in ChromeOS, click on the shelf where the battery status, time, and Wi-Fi indicator are displayed. Select the Dark theme option to toggle the setting between Off and On. When you make the change, the shelf theme and settings will adjust immediately.
But even after you select the dark theme, not every site — and not even every site owned by Google — will reflect your selection. Google’s teams still have a lot of work to do to ensure that every site owned by Google respects your ChromeOS Dark Theme selection. In the meantime, here’s a look at several options available to achieve a dark theme on ChromeOS.
The best sites automatically detect the system theme
As of August 2022, YouTube settings will work exactly as you’d hope. The site’s color scheme matches the device’s theme: when you set ChromeOS to Dark Theme, YouTube displays Dark Theme, as shown in Image A on your left. Select Light Theme for ChromeOS and YouTube will also appear in Light Theme.
Open it by selecting your Google account | Appearance and then choose from the Device theme, Use dark theme, or Use light theme settings.
However, you can manually change the theme if you prefer a theme other than ChromeOS. That’s useful because many people may prefer a light theme for ChromeOS with a dark theme for YouTube videos.
Some sites allow you to select a theme
Google Search offers what can best be called a simple toggle: Dark theme; Dark theme off. That is it. As of August 2022, your ChromeOS Dark Theme setting will be completely detached from the Google.com search theme. Do you want Google Search to appear with a dark theme? You need to go to Google.com, select Settings in the bottom right corner, as shown in Image A on the right, then adjust the option to Dark theme: Customize.
On other sites, such as Gmail, you can apply a site-specific theme. For example, select the gear | View all | Dark | Save to apply a dark theme to Gmail on the web. For more details, see my previous article titled How to reach (mostly) dark mode on a Chromebook: 4 tips.
Using a Chrome extension to darken sites
However, many sites lack an automatically applied dark mode or selectable dark theme. For example, Google Docs and TechRepublic both only appear with a light theme.
One possible way to darken these types of sites is with a flag in ChromeOS 104: type chrome://flags in the browser, then search for Auto Dark and find the setting Auto Dark Mode For Web Contents. If you change the setting to enable, you must select the Restart button to apply the change.
When you do that, every web page you open should be displayed with a dark theme. However, as of August 2022, this setting will not adjust dark text on pages to be readable. For example, traditional black text in a Google Doc remains dark, as do some menus in Gmail. Since this setting obscures content, most people will find this option unusable.
Third-party Chrome extensions like dark reader or nighteye, offer to provide dark mode on every site you visit. Both extensions try to convert Light Theme pages into Dark Theme pages. The default settings for each produce slightly different color schemes.
For example, on a TechRepublic page from a previous article, Dark Reader has given the navigation menu items a white tint (Figure Btop right), while Night Eye has given the same items a purple tint (Figure B, bottom right). The different extensions also change the title and subtitle text to slightly different shades.
Both extensions allow for some customization, so if you’re not happy with the default customizations, you can make changes. Dark Reader is a free, open source extension, while Night Eye offers both a free edition with limited features, Night Eye Lite, and a full paid edition, Night Eye Pro.
None of the above options — the ChromeOS Dark Theme setting or third-party extensions — will darken certain browser-protected pages, such as the Chrome Web Store. Google’s teams need to coordinate internally so that the ChromeOS Dark Theme setting can customize these currently restricted pages.
What is your preference and experience?
If you use ChromeOS, do you usually leave the dark theme on or off? Prefer to apply dark settings or themes to all the sites that offer them? Or do you rely on a third-party extension to achieve a consistent Dark Theme experience in the browser? Message me or mention me on Twitter (@awolber) to let me know what you think about the dark theme in ChromeOS.