The Chrome dev channel can be unstable, and it might not be your thing

ASUS Chromebook Flip
ASUS Chromebook Flip

I really like my Chromebook, and seeing Android apps come to the Chromebook Flip is really cool. There are still some gaps in the functionality of Chrome OS that might be fixed by adding a million or so Android apps into the mix. The jury is still out on that one and in the meantime, we'll continue to play around with everything and find ways to solve the issues and answer the questions that come up. But there is one thing we can't fix — you need to use the Dev channel to test Android apps on Chrome.

As of the time of this writing, only the ASUS Chromebook Flip on the latest Dev channel build can run the Play Store and Android apps. Google says that the Dev channel for the Acer R11 and 2015 Pixel will be updated to include Android support soon. That means more people will move to the experimental build shortly, and many of us aren't going to like it very much — including me, and maybe you.The Chrome Dev channel isn't meant for daily consumption. Google explains it really well.

If you want to see the latest Chrome OS features, use the Dev channel. The Dev channel gets updated once or twice weekly. While this build is tested, it might have bugs, as we want people to see what's new as soon as possible.

There are three Chrome channels — Stable, Beta, and Dev. Stable is what Google releases for the general public after they've finished testing things and taking user feedback. Beta is where they make sure the bugs that have been reported are fixed, and new features are working as intended. Once they are satisfied, Beta becomes Stable — usually after a few updates. But Dev is a whole different animal. Dev is where the geniuses who build Chrome throw new ideas into the mix (like Android app support) just to see if they work. If they work without too much of a crash-and-burn effect, they move to Beta. Google makes all three builds available to everyone so they can get feedback from people who use them. This is all a good thing, and the process works well.

The biggest issue is that Dev just isn't Stable.

The Dev channel can get slow. Really slow. Often times the only fix is a reboot. Apps and browser tabs can crash on the Dev channel — even ones you're currently working in. Your touchscreen or trackpad can become unresponsive for no reason. I've never seen a hard reboot, but I've heard it can happen. These are the rare, but critical issues that might hit you when you least expect, and at a really horrible time. But they are outliers that most of us probably won't see. My biggest issue (and most complaints) are that Dev just isn't Stable.

Android apps on Chrome

Outside of any obvious bugs (Android apps like to "forget" they are installed for some users from time to time, for example), on the Dev channel things aren't as smooth and fluid as we expect them to be. Web pages take longer to load. Apps take longer to open. When we click (or tap) something it doesn't happen instantly and be magical like it does on the Stable channel. The "experimental" feature of Android apps on Chrome runs fairly well and better than I expected for a first release, but that's not what I'm talking about here. I use my Chromebook for work and play.

Right now I'm using the Flip, but my Pixel has spots on the trackpad where I've worn the coating off of the metal because my fingers are on it so often. My wife bought me a top of the line Retina MacBook Pro last year as a gift (I'm lucky to have her) and I hardly ever touch the thing she paid more for than my Jeep cost. Unless I know I'll need to use Adobe Lightroom while working, when I'm computing and not at my desk my Chromebook is in my lap. I use it because it's simple, it's fast and it does everything I want my laptop to do.

The Stable branch of Chrome has us spoiled because it's so good.

The Dev channel takes some of that away. The novelty of using Android apps makes up for some of it, but my Chromebook doesn't act like my Chromebook anymore. I'm not saying it's bad. It's not terribly buggy, and for many companies, it would be a release candidate. We get used to glitches and bugs with our phones (whether or not we should is another article for another time) or our Windows laptops but Chrome is dead simple and absolutely solid. That's why it works great for kids and teens. That's why it works great for mom and dad. And that's why it works great for me — and probably many of you. We're spoiled by how well Chrome OS runs when compared to other laptops running other software when we're using the tested and approved Stable branch on our Chromebooks.

I'm not complaining. And I'm not telling you not to try it. Google is very clear about why the Dev channel exists, and because they release three builds the way they do, it makes Stable better. I'm looking forward to seeing the kinks worked out and Google Play moved to the Stable branch. I really think it will make the user experience better in many ways, and will definitely help fill the void in some of the areas where Chrome OS is lacking. But I'm also glad my Pixel is on the Stable channel and I can move back to it when I just want things to be nice and easy.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • Jerry, have you noticed on the Dev channel some keyboard keys stop inputting their respective character? My b, n, v, t, and r sometimes spontaneously quit working. It makes my Chromebook no longer usable :(
    Suddenly, they'll work again, but sometimes it takes up to 20 minutes. Although I love having Android apps on it, I guess I have to switch back to beta...I use it for work, too, so I can't have a laptop I can't actually use 50% of the time. I wonder, since I haven't heard others describe this issue, if it's a hardware issue with my Flip. I certainly hope not. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I bought a second Chromebook. I have the r11 on the dev channel waiting for the build with Android and I have an Acer 14 which runs stable. This works great for me and I found the r11 on eBay for only 180.00 for the 4gb model. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I have an Acer 14 that I am running on Dev. I have a c720 on Beta. When I travel and I need totally reliable I just switch to Stable. That's the cool thing about Chromebooks. I am not seeing the play store yet but it is fun to play with dev channel. I have a very powerful Windows 10 desk top so when I am home my Chromebooks are fun toys. But when I travel they are serious tools for work. I guess the article about the Chromebooks that will run play was wrong as it listed the Acer 14.
  • Are you on the Dev channel on both Flip and Pixel? I've switched the Pixel over to Dev and, other than broken touch responsiveness, I haven't found it less stable. I'm just assuming that the devs all use the Pixel so it's less buggy than a third party device like the Flip.
  • "But I'm also glad my Pixel is on the Stable channel and I can move back to it when I just want things to be nice and easy"