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.
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.
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?
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.
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: