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. While Chrome OS could already run Chrome browser extensions, web apps, and Chrome apps, the addition of the millions of Android apps has dramatically increased the platform’s value.

Most modern Chromebooks come with the Google Play Store out of the box, which allows you to install most of your favorite Android apps quickly.

If your Chromebook was introduced in or after 2017, then it’s guaranteed to run most Android apps. If you’re not sure if your Chromebook qualifies, Google provides an extensive list that you can check. Google rolls out Android compatibility on a device-by-device basis, so it’s a good idea to find your specific model if possible.

If you’re not on that list, there’s still a way to do it, just skip down to our second section.

If your Chromebook already supports Android apps, start here

First, make sure that your Chromebook is running the latest Chrome OS version. You need version 53 or higher.

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 About Chrome OS listed in the bottom left corner under Advanced.

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Step 3: Under About Chrome OS, you’ll see the platform automatically update if a newer version is available. Restart as requested. If it doesn’t automatically update, click the Check for updates button and restart as requested.

Once your Chromebook updates, return to the Settings screen.

Step 1: Scroll down to the Apps section.

Step 2: Click the Turn On button displayed next to the Google Play Store setting.

Step 3: Click the blue Accept button.

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 the How to download… step below to install your chosen 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 preview software. You might experience bugs, things might break, and generally speaking, you’ll be mainly on your own in terms of support. And here’s a massive caveat: To return to the regular stable channel, you’ll have to Powerwash your Chromebook, which is how Chrome OS refers to a 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.

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

Step 2: The Settings window opens. Select About Chrome OS listed in the bottom left corner under Advanced.

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Step 3: Select Additional details to expand the page and dig down into the details of your Chrome OS installation.

Step 4: Click 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, select the blue 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 select the Restart button.

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Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Step 6: 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.

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Step 7: 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.

Step 8: If you’re okay with everything, select the Agree button.

Step 9: The Play Store will be set up. You will be asked to accept the Google Play terms of service. Select 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.

Option 2: Use Linux to Sideload apps

You also have the option of using Linux (Crostini on Chromebook) to sideload Android apps if you prefer. This can be useful for those who prefer Linux commands and could make some Android apps more stable on a Chromebook. Also, sideloading apps mean 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. If you want to begin, follow these steps:

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.

Step 4: With Linux is enabled, return to the Linux (Beta) section and select Develop Android Apps.

Step 5: Toggle on the Enable ADB debugging setting.

You can now run various commands through the Chrome Terminal to install ADB tools, connect Android to Linux, and make sure everything is compatible. After that, you will need to find and download Android APKs for the apps you want and use Terminal commands to sideload the apps, at which time it will be download as a Linux file.

Here’s a full guide you can use if you want to walk through the specific commands that you need to run the setup processes and download the apps. It’s certainly not for everyone, but those who are happy to use Linux will find it a great way to run all Android apps with high performance.

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.

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Step 1: To install an app, just locate it in the Play Store,  click on its entry, and select the Install button. If you don’t see the button, then the app is not compatible with your Chromebook’s hardware.

Step 2: The app will start installing and then pause to ask about any required authorizations. Accept them if requested. Once the app is installed, it will show up in your Chrome OS apps tray. Select its icon to run it.

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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.

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Android app extra tips

Chromebook age: 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 your Chromebook 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.

Permissions: Your Android apps have permissions settings, too, so you can adjust what data the app has access to on your Chromebook to protect your privacy better. In the Google Play Store, you can select Manage Android preferences and look for the Apps option to adjust permissions for specific apps and learn more.

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 want need to secure permissions or move to a different network.

Upcoming changes with Android 11

There’s quite a bit to look forward to with the Android 11 release after quite a few rounds in beta. Android 11 is going to change a lot about how you interact with apps on your computer. It’ll run as a separate virtual machine native to Chrome OS — similar to our Linux method above, but far more accessible. Since it’s still in beta mode, it’s hard to tell how much of an impact Android 11 will have— but the changes should make Android apps safer and easier to use.

The beta download has already rolled out. Developers will be particularly interested in the ability to test applications via the Pixel and Android Runtime Emulators, ensuring smooth integration from the start. Based on beta tests, the full system was released on September 8, 2020, to all Android users. The logo is based on the famed scene from Spinal Tap in a pop-culture nod. After quite a few delays due to current events and other outside circumstances, it’s now available for everyone with all the latest features.

There have also been notable upgrades to security, including permissions auto-resetting, one-time permissions, and improved storage enforcement. As for APIs and features, the beta currently offers media and device controls, 5G visual indicators, secure sharing of large datasets, and much more. We’ll continue to monitor Android 11’s evolutions, so be sure you check with us again to find out how the update is faring with general usage.

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