by James A. Martin

Android apps on Chromebook aren’t ready for prime time

Dec 15, 2016
AndroidChrome OSComputers and Peripherals

Acer's new Chromebook R 13 is worth a look, but the Android app experience leaves much to be desired.

At the moment, three different Chromebooks can run Android apps on the Chrome OS. However, that doesn’t mean the apps work well. 

I recently tested Acer’s Chromebook R 13 ($429), and it is among the current crop of Chromebooks that let you install Android apps. Google has a list of current and future Chromebooks that work with Android apps, and plenty more are in the pipeline.

Android apps on Chromebook very much a beta experience

Chromebook support for Android apps is still in beta and requires some setup. For example, you need to switch the Chrome OS to a beta channel (Settings > About Chrome OS > More Info > Change Channel > Beta).

After the Chromebook reboots, you see a Google Play Store icon on the Chrome OS app home screen, though you may need to go to Settings > Enable Play Store to actually use it.

google chrome os home screen Google

The ability to install Android apps on a Chromebook is a cool concept … but right now it’s a decidedly beta experience. Many Android apps you might want are also already available as Chrome OS apps, or they’re otherwise available via the Chrome browser. (Chrome apps are essentially glorified web bookmarks.)

For example, I downloaded Microsoft Word and Dropbox Android apps from the Google Play Store. It’s easy enough to open text files from Dropbox and edit them in the Word app, but saving the edited files back to your Dropbox account isn’t intuitive at all. The Chromebook saved files I edited deep in its folder structure, with no easy way to sync them back to their original Dropbox folders.

Using the online version of Word in the Chrome browser, I had no issues opening files from my Dropbox account, editing them, and then saving them back to their original Dropbox folders. That’s a much better user experience.

Facebook Messenger fail

I also downloaded the Facebook Messenger Android app to my Chromebook, but I was unable to sign into my account. I started to type my email address, which is part of my login, and the cursor kept replicating the letter “j” endlessly. After several tries, I gave up. On the other hand, signing into and using the web version or Chrome app of Messenger was easy.

Dashlane hopes dashed

I use the password manager Dashlane, but the Dashlane Chrome extension doesn’t support Chrome OS. So I downloaded Dashlane’s Android app. I used the app and its associated Android OS browser with some success. However, I couldn’t fill out a form using my stored Dashlane credentials in the Dashlane browser, which was disappointing.

Why buy a Chromebook with Android apps?

Chromebooks have come a long way during the past few years. They’re more secure out of the box than most laptops, and you can get much more done offline these days than in the past.

Acer’s machine is reasonably priced, has a touchscreen that flips back to transform it into a tablet, and its battery lasts for about 11 hours, according to some reviews. It’s a solid choice if you want a Chromebook, and it makes a good secondary computer or something to take to meetings.

The addition of Android app support may eventually be a significant benefit, too. If I were buying a Chromebook, I’d lean toward one that supports Android apps, if only to future-proof the device.

For now, however, you definitely won’t get an awesome Android app experience on a Chromebook.