One of Google’s most exciting announcements regarding its Chrome OS platform and Chromebook hardware was the support for Android apps. While Chrome OS could already run Chrome browser extensions, web apps, and Chrome apps, the addition of the millions of Android apps has greatly increased the platform’s value.
Many new Chromebooks were made to run the Google Play Store and install Android apps, including the Asus Chromebook Flip, the Samsung Chromebook Pro, and Google’s own Pixelbook. These come with the Play Store pre-installed and ready to go. If yours is one of those, then jump ahead to step one to get started.
If you have an older Chromebook, don’t fret — it’s still possible to get Android apps on your laptop. First, you’ll need to check if your Chromebook is on the list that have access to the Google Play Store in developer mode. Note that if your Chromebook was introduced in 2017, then it’s guaranteed to run Android apps one day. Either way, until Google provides official support for your Chromebook, you’ll need to switch your device to the Chrome OS developer channel to grab the Google Play Store and start installing Android apps. If that’s you, skip down to learn how. For everyone else, lets learn how to get Android apps on a Chromebook.
If your Chromebook already supports Android apps, start here
First, make sure that your Chromebook is running the latest Chrome OS version. You’ll need Chrome OS version 53 or later. Check by tapping or clicking on the status area, tap or click the Settings cog, then select “About Chrome OS” at the top of the screen.
In the “About” window, tap or click the Check for and apply updates button. If there’s an available update, it will download and install. Once it’s finished, tap or click the Restart to update button.
Once your Chromebook is updated, then go to the status area and tap or click the Settings cog. Go to the “Google Play Store” section, and check “Enable Google Play Store on your Chromebook.” You will be prompted to agree to Google’s terms of service — tap or click Agree to continue.
The Google Play Store app will open, and you’ll be asked to accept some additional terms and conditions. Once you’ve done this, you can proceed to step five below to start installing Android apps.
If your Chromebook doesn’t yet support Android apps, start here
Switching to the developer channel puts your Chromebook at the usual risks associated with running beta or preview software. You might experience bugs, things might break, and generally speaking you’ll be largely on your own in terms of support. And here’s a huge caveat: to return to the normal stable channel, you’ll have to Powerwash your Chromebook, which is how Chrome OS says “factory reset.”
In other words, make sure that all of your data is backed up before starting this process. If you’re not comfortable with running unproven software, then remember that the Chrome OS developer channel will maintain your Chromebook on the least proven version available.
Change to the Chrome OS developer channel
Once you’ve decided to take the risk, switching your Chromebook to the Chrome OS developer channel is a relatively simple process.
Step 1: Just tap or click on the status area in the lower-right corner and select the Settings cog. This will open the Chrome OS settings page.
Step 2: Tap or click “About Chrome OS” at the top of the page to check your version number and current channel.
Step 3: Tap or click “More info…” to expand the page and dig down into the details of your Chrome OS installation. Click on the Change channel… button to open a dialog where you can select a new channel for your Chromebook.
Step 4: You have two options, “Beta” and “Developer – unstable.” Select “Developer – unstable” and read the warning notice carefully. If you’re sure you want to proceed, tap or click the Change Channel button.
Step 5: Chrome OS will proceed to update your device and put it into the developer channel. Wait for it to finish, and then tap or click the Restart button.
Open the Google Play Store and confirm your account
Once your Chromebook reboots after applying the update to move you to the developer channel, log in as usual. You’ll now have the Google Play Store (beta) app in your apps tray.
Open the Play Store app, and move through the terms of service, the backup options, and the request to allow Google to gather anonymous location data.
If you’re okay with everything, tap or click the Agree button. The Play Store will be set up and you will be asked to accept the Google Play terms of service. Tap or click “Accept” to continue.
The Play Store will open, and you may be already logged in if your Android account is the same one used to log into your Chromebook. If you’re asked to set up your Play Store account, then follow the instructions.
Download and install your Android apps
The process of installing Android apps from the Play Store on a Chromebook is similar to doing so on an Android device. You’ll find that the Play Store will be formatted as on an Android tablet. Other Android apps will work the same way — an app will take on the tablet user interface if the developer enabled it. Otherwise, they’ll scale to the Chromebook’s larger screen.
To install an app, just locate it in the Play Store, tap or click on its entry, and the tap or click the Install button.
The app will start installing and will pause to ask about any required authorizations. Accept them if requested. One the app is installed, it will show up in your Chrome OS apps tray. Tap or click on its icon to run it.
You can manage Android apps like other Chrome OS apps, with the same window controls in the upper right-hand corner and the arrow key in the upper left-hand corner to allow you to navigate through the app.
The quality of your Android app experience will vary based on your Chromebook, of course. For example, Chromebooks with touchscreens, and particularly 2-in-1s, will provide the best Android app experience. System components like accelerometers will make playing games and other tasks more enjoyable as well. If you haven’t yet purchased your Chromebook, then those are some of the things you’ll want to consider.
In its current stage, whether or not an Android app will install and run on your Chromebook is a bit hit and miss. You’ll need to experiment, basically, and while we found that all of our tested apps installed and ran without issue — including Microsoft Office Mobile apps for Android — your experience will likely vary.
In terms of performance, our experience was generally very positive. We used an Asus Chromebook Flip C302CA to write this how-to, and every app we tried performed well. And all of the expected features worked as well, such as accessing Word documents stored on OneDrive, and downloading Netflix videos to run offline.
Games such as Asphalt 8 ran well, with similar performance to the best Android tablets. The Chromebook Flip C302CA has an accelerometer, and so although steering with the machine was a bit uncomfortable — this Chromebook is small for a 2-in-1, but relatively large and heavy for a tablet — it worked well.
Of course, the Chromebook C302CA is also running with an Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor and its Intel HD 515 graphics. That’s low-end for a Windows 10 2-in-1, but it’s fairly beefy for Chrome OS and Android apps. We expected performance to be good, and it was. If you’re looking to run Android games on your Chromebook, then you’ll likely want to make sure to choose a machine with decent specs like Samsung Chromebook Pro, Acer Chromebook 15, or Google Pixelbook.
Updated on 11/22/2017 by Luke Larsen to include Google’s updated Android support.