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First impressions: Android apps on the Acer Chromebook R11

After watching Phil and Jerry have fun getting acquainted with Android apps on their ASUS Chromebook Flips, I finally had my opportunity to give the new and exciting setup a try on the Acer Chromebook R11. After previously relying on my demo experiences from Google I/O this year, I was excited to get started with it.

What I found was generally a mixed bag when it comes to usability, built on a base of great potential for the future. Here's how it all works in the real world.

Smooth, simple and integrated — the Chrome OS way

Android apps on the Acer Chromebook R11

I absolutely have to applaud Google for how simple it all is. When I flipped my Chromebook R11 over to the Dev Channel and rebooted I had the Play Store loaded up and ready to go in seconds. The Play Store is completely familiar to anyone who's used an Android phone before, but also feels at home here to an entirely new user. You can click around just fine, find apps and download the ones you like.

Google has built a fantastic base for Android apps.

Apps are perfectly integrated into the system as well, which is the next big part of the experience. Android apps are just regular icons in the Chrome OS app list. Notifications land in the notification area alongside Chrome OS notifications, and apps that need access to parts of your Google account can do so seamlessly. It's clear to me that Google has done this the right way. The framework and system are properly implemented. This is the perfect structure of a seamless integration of Android apps into Chrome OS as just general "apps" going forward.

Right now, the issues are entirely with the actual user experience surrounding the apps. Let's talk about the rough edges.

The experience isn't all there yet

Android apps on the Acer Chromebook R11

Android apps, as they currently exist in the Play Store, are in no way designed to be used on a laptop form factor with a keyboard and mouse. That's just plain and simple, and no fault of the developers — they haven't had a reason to make their apps for this style of device.

Android apps run and display just fine, but a vast majority can't be resized — they're stuck in a fixed-size landscape or portrait window, or in a full-screen mode. The apps often aren't ready for keyboard input, so arrow keys don't navigate text fields and you can't use the enter key to submit a form. Apps of course rely on the "hamburger" and "overflow" buttons, which aren't intuitive or easy to use on a non-touch device. That's for the apps that are actually "compatible" with Chromebooks, which at this point feels like more of a simple majority of the Play Store than anything else. Even fewer should be marked as "compatible" it seems — there are lots of crashes here, too.

Android apps are neat, but the web still works really well.

Beyond that, it's already clear that you don't need to install an Android app for every kind of task on a Chromebook. As it turns out, the web running in a full-blown browser like Chrome is still a really great way to get things done, even with fully functional apps available. Gmail, Facebook, Slack, Google Docs/Sheets/Slides, Hangouts, Google Maps, Twitter ... they all work pretty darn well on the web, and right now the apps don't offer a better experience. Sure there are apps like Skype, Microsoft Word and casual games that perform well as Android apps in ways that web apps can't; but others that you'd think would be great — like Google Calendar — are hamstrung by the Chromebook's security paradigm that only lets you use it with a single Google Account.

Flipping the Chromebook R11 around into a "tablet" mode makes things quite a bit better, of course, as now you're just dealing with the same kind of full-screen touch-only app experience as you'd expect on an Android tablet and the interface paradigm doesn't create any problems. But then, of course, you're wielding a 2-pound tablet that's not really that comfortable to hold or use for a long period of time. Of course this opens up tons of possibilities for future convertible 2-in-1 devices that resemble a traditional tablet and can be "docked" into a keyboard ... and indications are that those types of devices could be coming as soon as Android apps on Chrome OS roll out to the mainstream.

So for all of the potential I can see in Android apps on Chromebooks, and the proper groundwork that has been installed, I acknowledge we're still quite a ways away from Android apps being the new go-to standard for getting things done on this platform. There's so much left to do — and that's why we're here in Dev Channel watching it all be built before our eyes.

More thoughts to come

We're just hitting the tip of the iceberg when it comes to using Android apps on Chromebooks, as you can see. With things still in the Dev Channel and just a few Chromebooks being supported at this point, we have a long runway to figure this all out and see how it comes together.

If you're interested in learning more about the Chromebook R11 itself, sans Android apps and the Dev Channel, we'll be bringing you a proper review of it soon!

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

22 Comments
  • Is this still only available on a couple devices? I would like to try this out on my old Acer c720. Posted via the Android Central App
  • It's only available on the ASUS Chromebook Flip, Acer Chromebook R11 and Chromebook Pixel 2015. Of course, until it opens up to the rest of the modern Chromebooks later: http://www.androidcentral.com/these-are-chromebooks-can-run-android-apps But the C720 is very old at this point, as much as I like to use it. It's not on the list.
  • Is Flud available now on chromebooks for torrents via the app? Not sure how much longer my 2010 MacBook pro can last. Posted via the Android Central App
  • yes
  • "and indications are that those types of devices could be coming as soon as Android apps on Chrome OS roll out to the mainstream" They already existed for Android tablets and phones, but as the OEMs and Google <b>never promoted or supported them</b> they did not catch on. (Google even removed the main requirement for a dock, mini-HDMI or MHL ports, from Nexus devices and from the software because Chromecast.) Because of the decline of the tablet market in general - and Android tablets that are more than 8' in size and cost more than $200 specifically - and also because Windows 10 and macOS have more developer and operating system support for heavy productivity tasks, I do not know that adding Android apps is enough to make Chromebooks get traction outside of the education (and Android/Google enthusiast) sector. Especially since the Android apps will require such things as: A) more storage
    B) more RAM
    C) touchscreens
    D) convertible/2-in-1 form factors
    E) better SOCs
    F) better displays/graphics that will drive up the cost of the device. Before, a serviceable Chromebook could have a Celeron or cheap mobile processor, 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage and be fine as a secondary device for a good chunk of the population, and that sort of hardware could be had for less than $200, and as little as $150 if you catch the device on sale or get it refurbished. But now, I have difficulty imagining a good Chromebook costing less than the $300 for the 4 GB Chromebook Flip ... and this is a device with a 10.1' 1280x800 screen and Rockchip SOC. I say that in order for this platform to gain traction, Google needs to come out with devices modeled after the recent/upcoming HP Elite X3: http://www.windowscentral.com/hp-elite-x3-launching-over-40-countries A ChromeOS phone running on a Qualcomm or Exynos SOC that is compatible with a USB Type C dock for a monitor (or three!) and keyboard/mouse. You aren't going to get people to spend $400-$500 on a Chromedroid 2-in-1 when a decent Windows 10 laptop with 4 or 6 GB of RAM and much more internal storage costs about the same. But as people are already spending $500, $600, $700 or more for LG G, Nexus and Samsung Galaxy Note phones, a Chromedroid device with a laptop dock would be a much easier sell. In addition to performing a lot better thanks to the superior CPU, having 6 GB of RAM (as several smartphones do already and pretty much all flagships will have next year) and 32 GB to 256 GB of internal storage. Android apps make ChromeOS better, but still far from "good enough" to justify getting a ChromeOS laptop or convertible instead of a Windows 10 device for most people. (If only Microsoft had stuck with the unusable Windows 8.X a couple of years longer!) Even the main hook - a $150 Chromebook being a better deal than a $300 Windows laptop - no longer applies because people are going to want touchscreens, storage and good performance for their Android apps. Using phones to push this platform solves that problem. (And if it <i>just so happens</i> to solve some of the other problems with Android phones i.e. carrier bloatware and lack of updates then so be it.)
  • A mobile SOC and superior don/t go together...yes, things are much better in that department than they used to be, but a 5th gen Core i3 will beat any Qualcomm or Exynos processor out there. Heck, Extremetech compared the lower-powered Core M to the latest Apple SOC last year, and the Core M took it everywhere. Even throwing in the sub-standard integrated Intel HD graphics isn't enough to bury that processor when it comes to things like video editing. It's a matter of thermal throttling and ARM vs x86 architecture...when space and heat aren't MAJOR factors, then the x86 is just going to out-muscle the ARM.
  • I am not sure who you mean by "most people" when you write that they would be better off with a Windows laptop than a Chromebook. Most people only use their computers for web browsing and email. For those users, a Chromebook is a much better choice, especially at the sub-$400 price point. I assume you've used low-end Windows laptops as well as similarly priced Chromebooks. If you have, then you would have to concede that the user experience is far superior on a Chromebook when it comes to what most people do on their computers. Having used low-end Windows machines from Lenovo, Asus, and HP, I found them sluggish and unresponsive. However, even the cheapest Chromebook, such as the $150 Haier or some refurbished Acers that are available on eBay for a similar price feel much snappier to use to web browsing or email. They are also more secure than any Windows laptop. Assuming the user picks a strong password and uses second factor authentication (as everyone should on all services where it is available - and ceases to use services where it is not), no portable computer will be more secure than a Chromebook. Your points are valid for those of us who are more "geeky" and have different requirements, but I think your view of the needs of "most people" is incorrect. For them, a $150 to $200 Chromebook will be much more pleasant to use than nearly any sub-$400 Windows laptop. Even for me, if I am web browsing or dealing with the hundreds of email messages I received every day, I will often prefer to use my $250 Asus Chromebook Flip (4GB) over my 7 times more expensive Surface Book.
  • This is the same thing people have been saying for five years about Chromebooks as they've continued to gain traction. Some folks seem to think cost is the raison d'être of these devices, ignoring their superior security, simplicity, and reliability over more expensive windows machines, on top of their superior performance over inexpensive windows machines. Which is not to say I expect them to displace Windows devices for business or Mac devices for creativity, because that's not why they exist. Google's not trying to dominate the OS market. It's trying to saturate it. Google makes their money by getting more eyes online, regardless of the operating system involved. Chromebooks are designed to appeal to a specific group of people, those who either prefer the secure, straightforward Chrome OS environment or those who cannot afford a Windows or Mac device with comparable performance (or both, as is the case with the aforementioned education market).
  • Do we have a timeframe on when it's going to become available for more Chromebooks? Posted via the Android Central App
  • We don't. I'd guess the end of the year it'll start to get into Stable channel.
  • What does this quote mean, " but others that you'd think would be great — like Google Calendar — are hamstrung by the Chromebook's security paradigm that only lets you use it with a single Google Account." I ask because Chromebooks can be used with more than one Google Account user. Just use Ctrl-Alt - > and Ctrl-Alt - < to switch between user accounts.
  • Yes I know you can switch between accounts and have several accounts on a Chromebook at any given time, but the issue here is that you can't be logged into two accounts at once. So, as I note, when you have an app like Google Calendar in which I'd like to be able to see two calendars from two different Google Accounts at once (like on an Android phone), it's not possible on Chrome OS. That's a HUGE downside for me, and plenty of other people who have multiple Google Accounts.
  • Hi Andrew, I know how to sign into two Google Accounts at once on a Chromebook. First add both accounts to the Chromebook.
    Then, sign into your main account.
    click the bottom right hand corner
    Click the top row of the toast that comes up, (itl have your icon and account info)
    click the gray "sign in other user" and sign in the other user who is already on this Chromebook
    Use the Ctrl-Alt - > # to go between two accounts # There are also some good Share this Calendar options with Google Calendar. # Additional benefit of signing into two Google accounts at once, is that the file app, (ctrl-Alt-M) shares the same microSD card space.
  • Hey Andrew, you most definitely can. Just share the calendar of your account not logged into with the "main" logged in account. They'll even be in different colors so you can know the difference. Hope this helps!
  • I have a different issue with the same problem. I bought an R11 for my daughter. The problem is that all the paid apps have been bought through my account. On any other Android device, you can simply add the additional account under settings and you'll have the option to use either one in the Play Store. I hope there is a solution for this soon.
  • I've was trying out Android Apps on the Acer R-11, and they added less then the hype suggests. I agree with the article that they are smoothly integrated, but not yet optimized. Besides, I've already got an Android device in my phone, so the functionality would be more duplicative than additive. I'd also say that the Canary Channel for the Acer-R11 doesn't preform at the stability level one expects from a Chromebook. I experience Chromebook stalls on stable just over once per year, but with the Canary Channel I've already experienced two freezes when running Android apps, that went out to a web page. (edjing pro to soundcloud.)
  • I switched to dev channel on my flip, then went back to stable - hopefully it gets released soon. Google marketed it as its here and ready to go, not its still in dev beta.... Posted via the Android Central App
  • Can you try Cyberlink's Powerdirector (it's free)? I need a strong video editing option on my next device, so the ability for that app to run is crucial if I went with a Chromebook..
  • I already loved my Chromebook R11. It's the best laptop I've ever owned (and yes, that includes windows machines). The new integration of Android apps has just been icing on the cake. The reviewer is correct that app developers will have to step up to improve compatibility, but it must be remembered that a lot of apps exist to improve upon the mobile browser experience. Chrome OS's full browser already makes many of them worse than redundant. What pleases me is that the most compatible apps seem to be video games. Right now I've got GTA3, Star Wars Kotor and Uprising, Telltale's The Wolf Among Us, and XCOM: Enemy Within all installed and running perfectly, making my R11 a great replacement for my aging NVIDiA Portable. The biggest issue I see coming for many low end Chromebook devices is storage space. Right now you can't install apps on an SD card, so devices with less than 32gb onboard storage are suddenly going to feel very limited in a way that Chrome OS's seamless cloud storage has so far avoided. Especially if you have more than one user with different app needs. However, this is an issue that could be easily resolved before stable channel rollout by allowing apps to be moved to SD or flash storage. Overall this is a terrific experience so far, and like with everything else Chrome OS, it'll only get better with time.
  • I was thinking of getting a cheap R11 to try this out. Is yours a 2GB or 4GB model?
  • I've got the 4gb version, and that's the one you really want. Chrome OS doesn't really need that much RAM, but if you're running apps as well, it's going to make the experience much better.
  • sd card support? music players and movie players like mx cant see sd card? or is it just me. (asus flip)