How to install Android apps on Chromebook

Google Play is now officially available on the first Chromebook device, bringing millions of Android apps to the Chrome OS platform. We'll help you get started.

A nice surprise landed on my Chromebook Flip when I checked for updates late last week. The dev channel running on Chromebook was ready with the much awaited 53.0.x update that brings the Google Play Store to Chrome OS devices. I updated it and I have been running Android apps on my Chromebook Flip since Friday.

Which Chromebooks are supported?

Chromebook Flip [ Find it on Amazon * ] is the first device to get Google Play support. Next will be the Acer Chromebook R11 [ Find it on Amazon ] and Google Chromebook Pixel (2015) [ Find it on Amazon ]. All of these are touchscreen devices, which makes sense since Android is primarily geared towards tablets and smartphones. But, unlike iOS, Android fully supports mouse, trackpad and keyboard so you can use it on non-touch devices. I have been using it on my Chromebook Flip and it works great with the trackpad.

If you don’t have one of the three devices mentioned above, don’t be disheartened. Google has published a very long list of devices that will get Google Play in 2016 and 2017. And almost all Chromebooks will eventually get support for Android.

How to install Google Play Store on Chromebook Flip

To install Google Play on your Chromebook Flip, you will need to be on the dev channel. (Google offers three channels for Chrome OS: stable, beta and dev. Beta and dev are intended for those users who want new features which may still be in early phase of development.)

settings Swapnil

Access Chrome OS settings from taskbar.

To change the channel to dev, go to settings on the right side of the taskbar. On the setting page, click on About Chrome OS. There you will see the currently installed version of Chrome OS. Click on More info…. That’s where you will see the option to change channel, click on it and choose the dev channel.

dev channel Swapnil Bhartiya

Change channels from settings option.

Then click on "check for and apply updates." Once the updates are installed, reboot your system.

If you don’t see the option to change channel, make sure that you are logged in as the primary user (the primary user is the one that logged in to the device for the first time). If you can’t figure that out, you need to do a Powerwash (factory reset). Since Powerwash erases all data from the device, please make a backup of the data that you stored locally in the downloads folder. You will have to do that for all those users who use the device.

powerwash Swapnil Bhartiya

Beware: powerwash will wipe all user accounts and local data.

To Powerwash your Chromebook, go to Settings and click on the "Show advanced settings…" option. Then scroll down to find Powerwash, at the bottom of the page. Once Powerwashed, log into the Chromebook and follow the steps to change the channel.

How to install Android apps

Once you have changed the channel to dev and rebooted your Chromebook. Go to Chrome Web Store and search for Google Play Store, then click on "Add to chrome." 

add to chrome Swapnil Bhartiya

Install the Google Play Store extension on Chromebook.

Then open the Google Play Store and start installing Android apps. Viola!

play store Swapnil Bhartiya

Google Play Store running in Chromebook.

Android apps work in full-screen as well as windows mode so you can use it like a regular laptop.

amazon Swapnil

Amazon Kindle and Amazon Music playing on Chromebook.

I installed Microsoft Word, Outlook, OneDrive, Dropbox, Amazon Kindle, Amazon Music, VLC, Skype, ES File Explorer (so I can mount my NAS server), Netflix, YouTube, Photos, and more. Below you can see some of the Android apps that I installed on my Flip.

android apps chrome Swapnil Bhartiya

What’s working and what’s not?

Almost everything is working, including games like Angry Birds, as well as Netflix and YouTube. But there are some apps that are not yet installable on the device, and there are others that have some bugs.

angry birds Swapnil Bhartiya

Angry Birds running on Chromebook

Apple Music Beta is an example of one app that is not installable on the device (Lucky for me I recently switched from Apple music beta to YouTube Red).

In Microsoft Word there is a bug where if you switch between fullscreen mode and windowed mode the file you are working on closes and you have to open it again.

Adobe’s Photoshop and Lightroom are available but for some reason these are the phone version and not the tablet version — although you can maximize the window to use it as a tablet app. Also, Photoshop runs but crashes when I try to edit any image.

Since upgrading my Chromebook on Friday, I haven’t used my iPad Pro at all. The Chromebook Flip is now capable of doing much more than what my iPad Pro can do.

If you are looking at getting a tablet that turns into a laptop, Chromebook Flip may be the device for you.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

Download CIO's Winter 2021 digital issue: Supercharging IT innovation