How to get Android apps on a Chromebook

One of the most exciting changes Google made to its Chrome OS platform in recent years was the addition of Android app support in 2016. While Chrome OS could already run browser extensions and web apps, the addition of Android apps has dramatically increased the platform’s value.

Nearly all Chromebooks launched in or after 2019 support Android apps and already have the Google Play Store enabled — there’s nothing you need to do. However, there are models new and old that simply can’t run Android apps due to hardware limitations. If you’re not sure if your Chromebook qualifies, Google provides an extensive list. The company says it will continue to “evaluate more devices.”

Keep in mind that not every Android app will run on your qualified Chromebook. Again, this is due to hardware limitations because the developer hasn’t released an app that, for example, runs natively on Intel processors. Also, keep in mind that Android apps consume local storage, so be wary about downloading all your favorites. These apps cannot be sideloaded to an SD card.

Read on to find out how to get Android apps on a Chromebook. If your device doesn’t qualify (yet), then we’ll suggest an alternative.

Update Chrome OS

Chromebook Check Version Number

First, let’s make sure that your Chromebook is running Chrome OS version 53 or newer. It’s probably running Chrome OS 88, but it doesn’t hurt to check.

Step 1: Click the Quick Settings Panel (system clock) followed by the Settings cog on the pop-up menu.

Step 2: When the Settings window opens, select About Chrome OS listed on the left.

Step 3: On the right, you’ll see the platform automatically update if a newer version is available. If it doesn’t automatically update, click the Check for Updates button and restart as requested.

Enable the Google Play Store

Chromebook Select Google Play Store

You probably already have the Google Play Store enabled, but if it’s not clearly visible on the Shelf or Launcher, here’s how to make sure it’s switched on.

Step 1: Click the Quick Settings Panel (system clock) followed by the Settings cog on the pop-up menu.

Step 2: Select Apps listed on the left.

Step 3: Select Google Play Store listed on the right.

If the Google Play Store is enabled, you’ll see a Remove button. If not, move on to the next step.

Step 4: Click the Turn On button displayed next to Install Apps and Games from Google Play on Your Chromebook.

Step 5: Select More in the pop-up window.

Step 6: Select I Agree after reading Google’s Terms of Service.

Step 7: The Google Play Store appears on the screen. Accept the additional terms and conditions.

Now you can proceed to the next section.

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 for a tablet-style screen. Other Android apps can 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 or visually remain in smartphone mode. For the latter, they can crash if you force a full-screen window.

Google Play Store Chromebook

Step 1: To install an app, locate it in the Play Store, click on its entry, and click the green Install button.

Note: Android apps that are not compatible with your Chromebook will not appear on the Play Store.

Step 2: The app will download and install.

Step 3: Click the green Open button or open the app from the Launcher.

Step 4: Authorize permissions as needed. For instance, Microsoft Word requests access to media, photos, and files. Click Allow or Deny.

Microsoft Word Android Chromebook

You can manage Android apps like other Chrome OS apps. The same window controls are located in the upper-right corner, while the “back” arrow key resides in the top-left corner, allowing you to easily navigate through the app.

Note: Some apps may be “instant apps,” which means you can open and try them out before downloading them. This is a great way to test out how an Android app functions before you choose to fully install it.

Change app permissions or uninstall

Chromebook Select Manage Your Apps

Step 1: Click the Quick Settings Panel (system clock) followed by the Settings cog on the pop-up menu.

Step 2: Select Apps listed on the left.

Step 3: Select Manage Your Apps listed on the right.

Step 4: Click on the app you want to modify or delete.

Step 5: To modify the permissions, click the Toggle next to each to switch them on or off. For example, Microsoft Word can access storage but not the camera, microphone, or contacts.

If you just want to uninstall the app, click the Uninstall button instead.

Android app extra tips

Chromebook type: The quality of your Android app experience will vary based on your Chromebook. 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. Remember, always update Chrome OS before trying to download Android apps!

Syncing: Your Android apps, like other apps, will try to automatically sync to the data in any other Chromebooks you are logged on to. However, they may not sync if you are using the app on a non-Chrome device.

Administrators: Administrator settings may block the ability to add the Chrome Store or Android Apps to your computer. If you’re at work or school, you may need to secure permissions or move to a different network.

For Chromebooks that don’t support Android

Chromebooks either support the Google Play Store, or they don’t. The underlying hardware must support Android, and jumping into the developer channel won’t magically make Android apps work. Google suggested the developer channel in the early days when Google Play Store support was first rolling out to devices, but that’s not the case today. Again, consult Google’s list to see if your device supports the platform. It’s either in the Stable Channel or marked as “planned.”

Use Linux to force Android app installs

One possible workaround is to sideload Android apps using Linux. This can be useful for those who prefer Linux commands and could make some Android apps more stable on a Chromebook. Also, sideloading apps means you don’t have to get your apps through the Play Store, which can make it easier to access some apps that you may want to use.

However, there’s a catch — the process isn’t easy. You need to be comfortable with Linux and Android APKs to make the whole thing work. Here are a few other things to consider:

  • Installing Android apps outside the Google Play Store is absolutely dangerous, as they could contain malware.
  • Android apps simply may not run normally on your Chromebook’s hardware.
  • Your Chromebook may not have adequate space to host the Android tools and apps.

If you want to take the risk, use the following steps. We divided the instructions into three sections.

Enable Linux

Step 1: Click the Quick Settings Panel (system clock) followed by the Settings cog on the pop-up menu.

Step 2: The Settings window opens. Select Linux (Beta) listed on the left.

Step 3: Select Turn On and follow the on-screen instructions.

Enable Android Debug Bridge

With Linux up and running, you now need the Android Debug Bridge.

Step 1: Click the Quick Settings Panel (system clock) followed by the Settings cog on the pop-up menu.

Step 2: The Settings window opens. Select Linux (Beta) listed on the left.

Step 3: Click Linux listed on the right.

Step 4: Select Develop Android Apps.

Step 5: Click the Toggle next to Enable ADB Debugging to switch this feature on.

Get the ADB tools and Android APK

You’ll need the tools and APK to sideload your Android apps.

Step 1: Open the Linux Terminal and type the following command to download the ADB tools:

sudo apt-get install android-tools-adb -y

Step 2: With the Linux Terminal still open, type the following command:

adb connect

Step 3: In the pop-up window to allow USB debugging, check the box next to Always Allow and then select OK.

Step 4: Install the Android APK.

Step 5: To sideload a downloaded Android APK, use the following command in the Linux Terminal:

adb install appname.apk

The whole process is certainly not for everyone, but those who are happy to use Linux will find it a great way to run Android apps without the Play Store.

A note about Android on Chromebooks

Android technically doesn’t natively run within Chrome OS. Instead, the Android framework and its dependencies are inside a “container” — a virtual environment, if you will — separate from the platform, although both have access to each other. Android on Chromebooks is also stuck in limbo — version 9, in fact — meaning you won’t see any of the improvements made to the platform since Android Pie.

Whether Chromebooks will receive Android 11 is up in the air, given that Android 12 is already in a developer preview. Evidence of an Android 12 “Snow Cone” virtual machine appeared in the Chromium Gerrit, indicating that Google may jump straight to the newer chilly treat instead of serving Chromebooks with a plate of Red Velvet Cake.

Android 11

If Chromebooks do receive Android 11, it will considerably change the way you interact with Android apps. It’ll perform similarly to Linux with more accessibility as an individual virtual entity from Chrome OS. It’s still in beta, so it’s too soon to tell what the Android 11’s impact will be. The Android apps have been upgraded so that they work seamlessly with Chrome without any glitches that might allow hackers to access your system.

The developer’s focus when making the beta download available was to guarantee smooth transitions by testing apps through Android Runtime Emulators and Pixel. After the beta testing was complete, the full system release occurred on September 8, 2020. Its logo includes a nod to pop culture with its tribute to the iconic Spinal Tap scene. The official release was delayed due to developer issues, but since it’s been available to everyone, the upgraded features have been working smoothly.

Some of the major security upgrades will make use easier on the average user because the permission settings now only need to be configured once, and there is additional storage available. The beta wowed us with features and APIs such as visual indicators for 5G, device and media controls, large dataset secured sharing, and more.