Chromebook Diaries: Chrome apps vs. Android apps

Every good operating system that's worthy of its users has an app story. After all, if you think about those mobile OSes that have nearly failed — webOS and Windows Phone are the first that come to my mind — you'll recall that their app stores were hardly worth delving into. They were, effectively, a boring story. That's certainly not the case with the Google Play Store, so then why does Chrome OS operate under a different narrative?

Since I'm new to this platform, I don't know what life was like with a Chromebook before Android apps were available on Chrome OS (this feature, by the way, is still in beta). And I'm sure I'm luckier for it because I didn't run into the same limitations as some of Chrome OS's forbearers. If there isn't a Chrome app or an extension that can function as I want, I can simply go to the Play Store and find an Android app that can. I have a choice.

  • Chromebook Diaries Part 1: How I learned to live with Chrome OS
  • Chromebook Diaries Part 2: Discovering the intricacies of Chrome OS

Android apps on a Chromebook.

I am still not entirely sure where to start looking when I'm hankering to download an app: the web, Chrome Store, or Google Play?

There are plenty of caveats to using Android apps on Chrome OS — it's still a very nascent feature. Most Chrome OS apps are optimized for a laptop, while Android apps are made with the touchscreen in mind and are often optimized for smaller, narrow phone screens. And in the instances that the Android app had a tablet mode, tracking was sometimes off on the Chromebook touchscreen display.

Then there's the issue of which version of an app to use. I had this issue with Spotify, for example; the web app through the browser is better than the Chrome app, while the Android version has all the bells and whistles, including offline capabilities and options to organize playlists. You could see why I chose to use the latter. Conversely, Google Docs is better online than the Chrome OS app and the Android app because of its more easily navigable menu hierarchy.

The Play Store on Chrome OS.

And lastly, there's the issue of actual app availability. I am still not entirely sure where to start looking when I'm hankering to download an app. Do I go to the Chrome web store, or should I try the Google Play Store first? My primary inclination is to check for Chrome OS app first, then search for an extension, and then relegate myself to whatever made-for-the-smartphone version might be available. At this point in the Chrome OS ecosystem, it seems like anything is better than nothing.

I really hope that the future of Chrome OS involves cross-platform interoperability and that developers of both platforms see Chrome OS as the natural extension for their Android app. I want perfect synchronization between Android devices and Chromebooks so I can be even more sucked into the Google world. Our ecosystem is almost there, folks. I can see it on the horizon.

Other thoughts:

  • The "games story" on Chrome OS is laughable. I know the platform wasn't initially primed for that — save for educational games — but I didn't think it'd be I'm not too interested in playing Android apps, either, save for the ones that are best played on a tablet yesterday. I've got my Pokemon TCGO and Rollercoaster Tycoon installed, so at least there's that.
  • Related: you know what would be cool? I'd like to see some sort of port available for older PC games. Wouldn't it be neat to be able to relive through some of the classics, like Heretic II or maybe even just an old PopCap game? If something like this exists, please direct me. Otherwise, I'll keep wishing to live the glory days of PC gaming on this weird little laptop that's not quite sure of its identity.
  • I received a couple of comments wondering why I'd bother using Chrome OS to do what my Mac and PC are already capable of. But I'm struggling to find the controversy. Mobile apps are almost as adequate as some desktop apps — I'm talking about relatively simple apps like photo editing and sketching, not ones that facilitate 3D rendering and intense video processing — so I should attempt to see if they can indeed replace the programs that I use daily. And with life becoming more mobile anyway, I might as well get into the groove of learning to use apps in that manner.
  • Besides this agonizing-to-use trackpad (Anyone aware of an app that can tweak mouse settings on Chrome OS?), the Chromebook Flip is the perfect computer for riding the San Francisco Bay Area's BART. I have it in laptop mode on the way to the city to finishing filing my work, and then flip it tablet mode on the way home to catch up on my Play Movies & TV library.
  • I filed this entire article using just my Chromebook Flip. :)
Florence Ion

Florence Ion was formerly an editor and columnist at Android Central. She writes about Android-powered devices of all types and explores their usefulness in her everyday life. You can follow her on Twitter or watch her Tuesday nights on All About Android.

  • I love my Chromebook but it's the original HP 11 so it's not Android app compatible :(
  • I feel like a heel for just sitting back and letting you struggle through some of this Flo. But it's bringing to light all the pain points that someone new to Chrome and has nobody to answer the questions will go through. The good news is that there are some solutions. The bad news is that they aren't obvious.
  • Loving these articles. Quick question, do you still need to put the Chromebook in developer mode to sideload Android apps?
  • Yep. Likely to stay that way because Google wants Chromebooks to be able to get apps from Google Play, not run any Android app. Look for Chrome store to merge into Google Play, and eventually a different file type for Chrome-droid in the long-term future. Fuchsia/Andromeda "stuff"
  • <edit> removed first paragraph once I realised I was talking about something different!... Btw there is no such thing as Andromeda, that pure rumour. Several years ago there was a project of that name, but it got shelved in favour of ARC++ which is the current Android on ChromeOS implementation. Don't hold your breath for any further fabled unicorn, you'll be disappointed! Android and ChromeOS are already merged, didn't you notice? Bugs and improvements to UI integration aside, what we have with ARC is merged. Android is really just the Android runtime platform and UI elements on top of a Linux kernel. ChromeOS is really just the ChromeOS runtime components and UI elements on top of a Linux kernel. So what we have is both sets of runtime components containerised on top of a single Linux kernel. That's as merged as they are going to get - doing anything else isn't going to bring any benefit, what's the point? The only real things they need to work on is eliminating bugs, further integration consistency of UI, increase the hardware/peripheral integration of Android into ChromeOS, expand ChromeOS' peripherals to match Android (esp sensors, GPS) to enhance parity, and finally flush the whole platform back into a mobile phone OS as the next generation for Android, and thus get a single completely consistent OS across all devices
  • 162,000 lines of code say differently :)
  • It is a team of 8 playing on something that MIGHT see the light of day in the 2020s. But it is highly unlikely unless Google changed everything that it ever see the light of day. Google has done what most dream of and have a common kernel across all their cloud and all their devices. I have a Google WiFi. Read the license disclosures. Guess what kernel? Same as iOT as mobile as tablet as desktop as millions and millions of their computers in their cloud.
  • lexter99, Retired, spend say too much time surfing. Read a ton of ChromeOS and Android stuff. You are that rare post I see where you have it 100% correct. Maybe me being a techie and it has become a pet peeve but drives me nuts the misinformation on ChromeOS and Android. It is EXACTLY as you indicated. Not sure if realize but it goes much further. The exact same Linux kernel that is on Android and ChromeOS that you so well illustrated is the exact same kernel in all of Google's cloud. Millions and millions of computers that run ALL of Google infrastructure run on the same kernel. Then it is the same in iOT (Android Things) and in AndroidTV. I recently purchased a Google Mesh Wifi. Was bored the other evening and saw help in the app and did what I oftentimes do is read the license disclosures. Guess what kernel is running the Google Mesh Wifi pucks? Yep same kernel as all the other things. My only two negatives. First, I wish you would add some white space to your post(s) as I find it hard to read. The second, is how on earth can you be downvoted? The last thing is I wish you would re-add the paragraph you deleted. Have zero idea what it included but the rest of your post was so refreshing to see someone just someone that had it accurate.
  • Please point to any past misinformation from me, re: Chrome, Android or Linux. Then go check out and compile the Fucshia project Google is actively working on. I'd love to hear thoughts about what it is from someone who thinks that it's not a Linux replacement for Android and Chrome.
  • And this is evolution that will see that will definitely eventually turn Android and Chrome into a OS that actually works,but you're right, it painstakingly slow to mature, but ya know Jerry, so was Windows and iOS at one point during their lifetime, and both are still not perfect. It's just the way they evolve and we have to be patient for the outcome of the future of Android/Chrome for it to be functioning OS we really want!
  • I just got the Samsung Chromebook Plus this week and am getting used to it. It's disappointing that I cannot use Google Play Newsstand on it in tablet mode. I was looking forward to reading magazines on a big vibrant screen and when I try to read one, I get a black box.
    I tried to play Angry Birds just to see how it would work and it was glitchy and unresponsive. To say some Android apps don't work well on a Chromebook is an understatement.
    The hardware is gorgeous. The screen is beautiful. The keyboard is solid but I'm still getting used to its smaller size.
    Like any new device, it just takes some time to adapt and get used to it.
  • This is the Chromebook that I am interested in getting. Besides what you have listed, how do you like it? Is it your first Chromebook? Were you able to get it on a deal or did you pay full price?
  • It is my first Chromebook although I work with them and my kids have them. I pre-ordered from Amazon so I paid full price.
    I like it but as I've said, I'm still getting used to it. I wish it had the home and back buttons when it's in tablet mode because that's what I'm used to with my Asus Android tablet.
    But with time, it'll get better.
  • Should get better by the time they move the play store out of beta.
  • Interesting to see that you have that issue. I use the Newsstand app on my Acer R13 and it works fine.
  • Have you tried the newsstand web app, that should work probably. (Ignore the other similar comment as it was supposed to be here)
  • Thanks, I'll look for it.
  • Have you tried the newsstand web app, that should work probably.
  • I went to the web version but it says my magazines are unavailable.
  • That's odd, Try on the Chromebook subreddit, people there will be able to help you better.
  • I work with Chromebooks and I have a Chromebook (getting an R11 in a couple of weeks so I can jump into Developer Mode and enjoy the Play Store experience), and I enjoy using them. I'm not as big a fan of Lenovo as I used to be, but I like the platform as a whole.
  • I'm still debating on whether to keep the Samsung Chromebook Plus. I initially bought it because of the Play Store but some web apps just seem to work better. For example Netflix. In the webapp I can hover over the title to get a synopsis of that show/movie. But in the app I have to actually click on the title and go into it. DirecTV app doesn't work. The Google Sheets seems to work better on the web than it does on the actual app which seems insane to me. My bank app shows stats (amount spent on coffee shops, groceries etc) and graphs on the web app while the Play app is just a list of transactions etc. It just seems like I am being forced to be a lab rat while they figure this stuff out and I am not all that excited about that. For the price I paid, $450, I have a list of decent options out there aside from this. Yes there may be some cons but there are also pros. I just want something versitile and that has long battery life. While the Samsung Chromebook Plus checks some of those off (battery, stylus, screen) it fails in others (trackpad response, app/webapp confusion, wonky network connection). I'm giving it another few days. If it doesn't work out I might have to go the route that many many others go and just get an iPad.
  • This was a nice series of articles. I wish you would give it more time though. Like, use it for a month or two and then write some follow ups.
  • I hope that Google at some points packages up and allows us to install on our Windows and Mac boxes. I want a secure OS and an OS that I can play around with stuff. Google has exactly what I want but I want to install on existing systems. I can finally have my cake and eat it too. So run ChromeOS and use for surfing, reading email, document writing, etc. But then have access to the containers so I can run full Linux like Crouton today in a container. But Google needs to add the ability to have additional drives separate from the ChromeOS system drive. So ChromeOS drive locked and checked for integrity. My other drive I can use as I want with the containers. This will give me persistence without having to use developer mode like today with Crouton. Google has all the pieces they just need to make it available. A key piece is having Android so I can run a X11 Server with the full LInux container. When I say full Linux I do mean with some limitations obviously. So no ability to load kernel modules or drivers obviously. BTW, the persistence aspect with these boxes is kind of funny that it is the EXACT same issue with persistence with containers in the cloud today. We do NOT have a canonical solution but using backend services with the container I believe makes the most sense for the cloud and would love the same here. Nothing you do in full Linux can ever hurt your ChromeOS. The only gotcha will be services in the Linux faking out the ChromeOS. So this would need to be managed. They are passing through Iptables which we know where it came from (firewalls) so really no issue for Google to use to manage. I would say Google manage and NOT us or anyone else. We do need some access for things like X11 but then others like some program you install on full Linux and not aware creates a fake login for something. Certs with HTTPS/SSL solves but not always available. So would prefer some smart filters between the containers. Containers can ONLY talk via TCP/IP. Obviously read can be common between containers by using same path so you pickup the iNode in kernel. But otherwise it is through TCP/IP. Then take a quick break and give me SteamOS as another container option. Then push like crazy to get Vulkan supported with the bigger games and finally allow me to take every Windows box that my kids need for gaming and load this and finally be done with chasing malware, weird things so re-install over and over again. People do not realize how incredible this track could be with Google. They see it being rolled out and a problem here and a problem there. But the foundation of this is incredible. We get multiple and native OSs on the SAME computer safely. Once again we get to see just how much of a genius Linus really is. All the cr*p that BSD is an OS and kernel and better we get to now see just like the microkernel fight in 92 between Linus and Andrew once again history shows Linus is the ONLY one that was correct. No other OS that I am aware of is architectured this way. None!
  • Florence, > I'd like to see some sort of port available for older PC games. Wouldn't it be neat to be able to relive through some of the classics, like Heretic II or maybe even just an old PopCap game? ... if your Cr machine has x86 CPU, for this I suggest you to use Crouton (containerized linux distro running in parallel to CrOS).
    Then you could run plain Windows/DOS versions of simpler games (using Wine and DosBox here). I see Heretic II and several PopCap games supported fine on Wine:
  • Great!!!
  • I like having access to Android apps, and it makes sense with the current popularity of the 2-in-1 form factor, but I think I'll mainly stick to Chrome apps. I don't want too much of an Android tablet experience on my Chromebook, personally.
  • I just bought the Samsung Chromebook Plus last night. Really loving it: great screen and so much faster than my Flip (which it should be since the flip is an older model). I've had several Chromebooks over the last few years starting with the very first Samsung ones that were sold. I have found I use both web apps and Android apps together depending on need and performance. For example, I use the Inbox by Google web app for standard replies and other quick email stuff; but when I want to clear a bunch of emails by swiping and marking done or snooze, I use the Inbox app (because you can't swipe on the web app). And if I'm going on a plane, I use the Microsoft Office Android apps. Finally, one reason I really love the Chromebook Plus is for the ability to use the pen with with Microsoft OneNote, which I use for work and class.
  • I too have the Samsung Chromebook plus. How did you get the Microsoft office Android apps to work?
    I tried to load them from the app store and it says that they are not compatible.
  • That's a good car when it come's to pump,when it's
    time for maintance and repairs.
    oncH that's when it hurts.
    sorry got to go.b.b.s...
  • You can adjust the trackpad speed in the settings. it's set at the halfway point by default, It should be set the highest setting. set it to that and you'll find the trackpad is quite nice
  • The promise of WebOS though was that you didn't NEED an app store! WebOS apps were basically just a JavaScript framework (Enyo) anyway. For instance, on my Touchpad, it had a Facebook app, but Facebook worked just fine in the WebOS browser (Webkit based like Chrome and Safari) and I prefered it that way anyway. There was very little I couldn't do through a web page. It is kind of the way Google is going now with the "instant apps" and apps becoming HTML5 based. WebOS was never given a chance to succeed.
  • Wonder if your trackpad isn't just a bit defective? I've got the cheaper cousin to your Chromebook (I have the 10" Flip C100) and I've been very pleased with the trackpad. Very responsive and accurate. In fact, I haven't had to adjust the settings at all...still on the default setting.
  • In the beginning the choice of which version to install was weighing me down, then I decided to make things simple for myself and haven't looked back since. Here's how I decide: it the Chrome app version is not available, then use the web version; if neither is available, then install the Android version. I try to avoid installing Android apps because they generally consume A LOT more space in my Chromebook.