If you’re lucky enough to have a modern Chromebook that can run Android apps, you should definitely be taking advantage of this awesome new feature. And if you’re in the market for a new Chromebook, make sure you get one that can run Android apps out of the box. Here are the apps that make it worthwhile.
The State of Android Apps on Chromebooks
Android apps have been available on specific Chromebooks for about a year now. While Google initially anticipated a full rollout by this time, it has proven to be more of a challenge than they originally thought. As a result, Android app availability on Chromebooks has been much slower than originally planned. There are still only a handful of Chromebooks out there than have access to the Play Store, with many more still in the works.
When I first went hands on with Android apps (on the ASUS Flip C100, the first Android device to get access to the Play Store) it was a buggy, mostly unstable experience that ultimately did show a lot of potential. Over the last year it has gotten much better, with the majority of apps—especially ones that are constantly updated—offering a very stable, usable experience.
Since the first test piece, I’ve upgraded my Chromebook to the ASUS Flip C302, which uses an intel Core m3 processor. It’s a great machine, but take note: Intel chips don’t provide as good of an experience as ARM processors do when it comes to Android apps right now. I haven’t had very many issues with mine, but I’d be remiss to not mention it as a potential issue.
Either way, that may be a tradeoff you’re willing to deal with (as I am) since Intel processors typically have much better performance than ARM chips. And like I said, I haven’t noticed a huge hit in my day to day Android app usage, save for a few games here and there which don’t perform all that well.
All in all, I’d say Google is making decent progress with Android apps on the devices they currently work on, though I also understand that the delays in rolling the feature out to more Chromebooks is frustrating to many users, especially ones who purchased a Chromebook with the expectation of being able to access the Play Store before now.
Android Apps vs. Chrome Apps
This is really what we’re here to talk about: the Android apps that you should at least check out on your Chromebook. Some of these apps work better (or at least as well) as their Chrome counterparts, while others are in a class all their own without a legitimate “competitor” in the Chrome Web Store.
And while we’re on this subject, I have a theory that I want to share on why many Android apps work better than their Chrome equivalents. Essentially, Android apps are built for slower processors and oftentimes limited RAM environments. As a result, they’re far more resource aware, and generally make the best on much more limited hardware than Chrome does. Because most Chrome apps aren’t necessarily designed with Chromebooks in mind, but rather Chrome Desktop, they can be a bit more resource needy. As a result, they can easily bog down Chromebooks, since most don’t have the resources that are available on the majority of desktop machines.
But that’s just a theory. I think it’s pretty sound.
Anyway, let’s talk about some apps.
When it comes to getting things done, there are a lot of people out there who think you can’t work from a Chromebook. I beg to differ, especially when Android apps are thrown into the mix. There are a lot of really useful tools on the Play Store, and many of them work very well on Chromebooks. Here’s a quick look at some you should at least consider giving a shot.
- Gmail/Inbox: Regardless of whether you’re a Gmail or Inbox user, both of these Android apps run faster and smoother than their Chrome counterparts on Chromebooks.
- Keep: If you use Google Keep for lists and whatnot, the Android app works great on Chromebooks.
- Microsoft Office: There aren’t official Word, Excel, or Powerpoint apps for Chrome, so the Android apps can be a godsend for anyone who needs these sort of applications. They’re excellent on Chromebooks.
- Google Calendar: Google Calendar on the web hasn’t been updated in quite some time, so it really looks dated compared to other Google apps. The Android app is much cleaner, and I find that I prefer it to the Chrome app for almost all tasks.
- Trello: If you use Trello for any reason, the Android app is so much better than the web app. The web is slow and laggy by comparison, and the Android app is light and snappy. There’s no contest here.
Armed with a few of these, you’ll be plowing through your to-do list in no time.
Let’s be real here: when it comes to photo editing, Chrome isn’t the best platform. There are some really solid tools out there, like Polarr and Pixlr, but that’s about it. Android apps are huge in this area, because there are a ton of great apps out there to get the job done.
The only issue here is that Android apps on Chromebooks still don’t have access to external storage (like SD cards or USB drives), so anything you want to edit has to be saved to internal storage, which can be problematic on the limited storage of most Chromebooks. Fortunately, this is a known bug in the tracker and is supposed to be fixed in (or at least around) Chrome 61. This has already been delayed a couple of releases, so we’ll see.
- Adobe Suite: There are Android apps for Photoshop, Lightroom, and a slew of other related apps (Photoshop Mix, Photoshop Sketch, etc.), so there’s no shortage of powerful editing software for Android. I really wish they’d combine all these into a single, more powerful app though.
- PicSay: This is my go-to editor for quick edits on my Chromebook. Resizing, borders, arrows, and the like are all super fast and easy in PicSay. I highly recommend the Pro version, too.
- Snapseed: This is a solid, well-rounded editor that can do a lot of stuff. And since it’s a Google app, it’s totally free. Definitely a must-have.
You won’t be running full versions of Photoshop or anything, but for the vast majority of users, these apps should cover your bases.
What kind of list would this be without some casual apps? We’re talking about everything that isn’t for productivity here—useful stuff, but not necessarily for work.
- Google Play Music: You wouldn’t believe how much better the Play Music app is than the web on Chromebooks. The web app is crazy-heavy and bulky, but the Android app barely makes a hit on the system. It’s fantastic.
- Google Play Books and Newsstand: Again, these are so much better than their web counterparts, mostly because these services were designed to be mobile first. It only makes sense that the Android apps are nicer.
- VLC: The Chrome OS version of VLC is…less than good. Finally you can have a real video player on your Chromebook with VLC for Android. Yes.
- Pocket: If you use Pocket to keep up store things to read later, the Android app is cleaner and works better than the web interface. At least I think so.
There are a lot more here, but each person’s taste will be different. These are just some of the best arguments for Android apps on Chromebooks in my opinion.
The Chrome OS gaming scene is all but non-existent at this point, but Play Store availability changes everything. There are some truly solid games on Android, and now you can play most of them on your Chromebook.
The only thing here is the Intel factor: not all games work well on Intel Chromebooks, because they’re not optimized for Intel chips. One good example of this is Mortal Kombat X, which is a great game by itself, but runs like complete garbage on Intel Chromebooks. it’s kind of a bummer, but as Android apps become more prolific on Chromebooks, hopefully this sort of stuff will start to get resolved.
Of course, everyone has their own set of favorite games and whatnot, so I’m just going to highlight a few favorites, as well as some generalized ideas you can try out.
- Hearthstone: This game has a very large player base, and it works very well on Chromebooks.
- Emulators: NES, SNES, and similar emulators all work on Chromebooks—pair that with a Bluetooth game controller and you have a killer portable classic gaming rig.
- Rockstar Games: GTA on a Chromebook? You can have it now. GTA III, San Andreas, and Vice City are all in the Play Store and ready for you to download and play.
- TellTale Games: TellTale provides super high quality games, all of which are playable on Chrome OS.
I’ll be real with you here: there are a lot more awesome titles in the Play Store. But gaming is more of a preferential thing, so I’ll let you figure that one out. The point is still the same: gaming on Chromebook is basically a thing now thanks to Android apps. In fact, we have a few more really cool things in the works around Chromebook and Android gaming, so stay tuned for that in the coming weeks. Also, if you’re interested in Chromebook Gaming, there’s a new subreddit dedicated to it. I think that’s cool.
Android apps on Chrome OS have come a long way in the past year, but they still have a long way to go, too. Once Android Nougat starts to run on Chromebooks, one of the key limitations to Android apps should be lifted: window resizing. Right now, apps only run completely maximized, though many will also let you run them in a smaller, pre-sized window. With Nougat, apps will be able to be resized to whatever you want, just like a “real” app window. I can’t wait for that.