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Android Apps on Chromebooks - How Well Does It Work?

mad scientist

Chromebooks are browser-based laptops specifically designed for browsing the internet, as such, they are perfect for precisely that task. They come re-installed with Google Chrome and full support for all its browser extensions. In addition to a web browser, you can install various ‘web apps’ which will run online, but there are very few of these. Having used a Chromebook for 2 years now, I can appreciate the simplicity and reliability of the design. It hardly ever crashes and the battery goes on for ever! Chromebooks have been around for several years now, but outside of internet browsing, they have had very little functionality.

 

Over the last couple of years, Google has been working on bringing Android Apps to Chromebooks to expand their functionality. Under the hood, this means that Chromebooks are essentially running Android 7.1 Nougat and you can even access the settings app. With access to the Google Play store, Chromebooks now have access to a library of over 3 million apps. This now means we can use Chromebooks without internet access to play games, work on documents in Microsoft Word and pretty much anything you can already do with an Android tablet.

 

Which apps are supported?

 

The question of app support is an interesting one. Generally speaking, apps will be compatible as long as the app is designed to work with tablets. Apps designed for portrait screens will only run in portrait mode, but this isn’t so bad because the landscape screen of the Chromebook allows you to run several apps side-by-side.

 

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Another issue with app compatibility is due to the architecture of the CPU. Chromebooks with an Intel processor have an x86 architecture so some apps won’t work (although most will work completely fine). Chromebooks with a Rockchip or a MediaTek processor have an ARM architecture which is the same as most phones. As a result, app compatibility is slightly better.

 

How well do Android apps work without a touchscreen?

 

This is perhaps the biggest hurdle Google has had to overcome. Although some Chromebooks come with touchscreens, such as the Asus Chromebook Flip, the vast majority of Chromebooks do not. The added cost of a touchscreen compromises one of the main features of Chromebooks; the low price tag. In my personal opinion, Google has done an excellent job of making Android apps work well without a touchscreen and overall the experience is quite intuitive.

 

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In the same way you would tap on a button, you can move your cursor and click on it. Clicking the mouse and dragging (as if you were moving a file) simulates a finger swiping on the screen. As a result, all the swiping gestures can be recreated by clicking and dragging the mouse. Given that Chromebooks have touchpads, there are a few handy gestures to do things more quickly. Two finger scrolling in the browser works the same way in apps. Helpfully, there is a setting to invert the direction it scrolls if you’re used to using a different laptop which scrolls in the opposite direction. Many apps have a menu which slides out from the left-hand side of the screen. This can be simply accessed by swiping with two fingers from the left of the touchpad to the centre. It’s very intuitive if you ask me.

 

How practical are Android apps on Chromebooks?

 

Given that Google has done a really good job of integrating Android apps into Chrome OS, I don’t think there will be any reason for people to not be using them. Despite many Chromebooks only having 2 GB of RAM, I found that my device didn’t slow down with several apps and tabs open at once. In terms of usefulness, it depends on who you are, but a lot of my work and hobbies can be done in the web browser. I write all my blogs in Google Docs which works in the browser both online and offline, so I have no need for Microsoft Word anymore.

 

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In my opinion, I think Android app support could be most useful for playing games. Right now there are very limited options for gaming on Chromebooks, but the Google Play Store could completely change that. The issue with mobile games is that they are designed to be played with your fingers as opposed to a keyboard and mouse. I hope that as more Chromebooks start supporting Android apps, the developers will adapt games to be compatible with mice and keyboards. Of course, none of this is an issue if you buy a 2-in-1 Chromebook with a touchscreen which can be used like a tablet.

 

Android app support is still in development

 

Right now there are only a dozen or so Chromebooks with access to the Google Play Store out of the box, most of which are newer and more expensive models. Because my Chromebook is an older model, I’ve been able to gain access to the Play Store by enrolling in the beta program. The beta program lets me use the latest features of Chrome OS while they’re still being worked on. As a result, I’ve run into some serious bugs and glitches, but they were easily fixed with a quick reboot. All the problems I’ve encountered have been reported to Google, so I’m sure these issues will be ironed out before the feature goes live.

 

Screenshot 2017-09-13 at 22.21.10.png

 

Conclusion

 

Chromebooks have always taken a very small proportion of the laptop market, but perhaps the Google Play Store will be a big enough reason to make people switch. The lack of standalone applications has scared some people off, but Android apps could make up for that. What do you think about Chromebooks? Would you buy a Chromebook if you could use it with Android apps?

 

Did you enjoy reading today’s blog? If you did, why not check out some of my others, click the links below:

 

Are We Ready To Say Goodbye To The Headphone Jack?

How To Find The Hidden App Deals On Google Play

I’m Going Where The Internet Isn’t - What Do I Do?

 

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Will is a tech fanatic who likes coffee and music. He posts every Thursday morning.

 


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5 Comments
cicerone

As we already have Android phones and tablets, having done a lot of reading I finally tried a Chromebook about 4 months ago - almost useless. It was a good one with a touchscreen and supposedly on the beta programme for apps (I think it was an Asus flip) but it refused to access the Play store despite several attempts and a lot of research into how and why. Although it was a very nice device in other respects, without the apps it was pretty useless for our needs - eg. the only mail app was Gmail which isn't much use if you have your own email domains.

I'd got it from John Lewis so no trouble returning it, and the person who dealt with it told me that Chromebooks were their most returned computers.

 

Googlehave been forever (in terms of technology cycles) getting apps onto Chromebooks and from Will's article above is clear they still aren't there. I wouldn't be surprised if they drop the project - it wouldn't be the first time (eg. Google Glass). I don't usually see such a bleak picture with things, but in this case I strongly recommend you buy on the basis of what it does out of the box - if it does more that's a bonus!

 

For the record we bought an HP Windows 10 laptop instead - much more expensive but it does the jobs we need doing.

mad scientist

Very interesting @mike_sher, thanks for sharing your experience. To my recollection, the Asus Flip is one of the models which works with Android apps out of the box, although this might not have been the case 4 months ago.

 

I think the issue with Chromebooks is that people expect too much from them. I personally wouldn't be able to use a Chromebook as my only computer, I've got a more powerful desktop computer running Windows for proper stuff. But when I just want to surf the web, write blogs and enjoy a bit of Netflix, the Chromebook is perfect. The 10 hour battery is pretty handy too Smiley Wink

mad scientist

Very helpful info @willp789,

Thanks for sharing. 

guide

Interesting blog. Have thought about getting a Chromebook for a while but I'm not always connected to the Internet so it didn't seem that viable. If they are starting to work with Android Apps out of the box and have full access to Google Play then I may take a 2nd look at them. Currently, use a Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 tablet that pretty much does everything I need it to, so a Chromebook would need to a least the same if not more.

mad scientist

@seanalert you can find an up-to-date list of Chromebooks running Android apps here. If it's on the stable channel then it should work out of the box Smiley Happy