One of the most exciting changes Google made to its Chrome OS platform and Chromebook hardware 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 greatly increased the platform’s value.
Most new Chromebooks come with the Google Play Store out of the box, which allows you to quickly install your favorite Android apps. If your Chromebook was introduced in or after 2017, then it’s guaranteed to run Android apps. Either way, Google has put together an extensive list of Chromebooks that have access to Android apps 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
Step 1: First, make sure that your Chromebook is running the latest Chrome OS version. You’ll need Chrome OS version 53 or later.
Step 2: To check, select the status area or the Settings cog. Then select About Chrome OS at the top of the screen.
Step 3: In the About window, select the Check for and apply updates button. If there’s an available update, it will download and install. Once it’s finished, select the Restart to update button.
Step 4: Once your Chromebook is updated, then go to the status area and select 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 — select I 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 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 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.
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: Just select on the status area in the lower-right corner and select the Settings cog. This will open the Chrome OS settings page.
Step 2: Select About Chrome OS at the top of the page to check your version number and current channel.
Step 3: Select Additional details… 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, select 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 select the Restart button.
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.
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. The Play Store will be set up and 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 a new option of switching to the Developer channel and using Linux (Crostini on Chromebook) to sideload Android apps if you prefer. This can be useful for those who prefer Linux commands, and it may make some Android apps more stable on 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. If you want to begin, you need to again switch to the developer channel and then choose Turn on Linux (Beta) in your Chrome OS Settings.
Once Linux is enabled, you will need to head to the Linux section in Settings and choose Develop Android Apps to begin. ADB Debugging should be enabled, and you will be running various commands through the Chrome Terminal to install ADB tools, connect Android to Linux, and make sure everything is compatible. Then you will need to find and download Android APKs for the apps you want and use Terminal commands to sideload the app onto your OS, 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 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.
Step 1: To install an app, just locate it in the Play Store, select click on its entry, and select the Install button.
Step 2: The app will start installing and will 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.
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.
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 install it or not.
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 signed into. 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 better protect your privacy. 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
Android 11 will be here shortly, and when it comes you can expect a lot of changes to the process of using Android apps on Chromebook. Android is expected to run as a separate virtual machine that will be native to Chrome OS (similar to our Linux method above, but far easier). This will make Android apps much easier to use and much safer…in theory. We will be updating our guide based on what we learn from Android 11 in the coming months, but keep in mind things are going to start change.