Here's what it's like to use Android apps on a Chromebook

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asus chromebook flip Business Insider/Antonio Villas-Boas The Asus Chromebook Flip.

Chromebooks are having a moment.

In May it was revealed that Google's low-cost laptops had outsold Apple's Macs last quarter, a first for the platform. It was another sign of growth in a period where PCs as a whole aren't doing so hot .

Around that same time, Google announced that several Chromebooks would soon gain access to the Google Play Store , allowing those devices to tap into thousands of the Android apps within it.

Thus far, much of Chromebooks' sales success has been due to an increased acceptance in schools. The move to support the Play Store, however, has the potential to make them far more appealing to the everyday consumer.

Traditionally, the common complaint with Chromebooks has been that they're little more than the Chrome browser, stretched out to resemble a wider-scale OS like Windows. They're largely reliant on the web, and their functionality is limited without an internet connection. Any gaming is limited to what's in the browser.

In theory, being able to run the same apps you'd find on an Android device would greatly expand these abilities, without forcing any price hikes. Android is home to a wide array of games, browsers, messaging apps, photo editors, video players, and so on, many of which work offline and already run on low-power machines. It seems like a good match.

Late last week, Google made the Play Store available on a Chromebook for the first time, pushing it to the developer channel of the Asus Chromebook Flip . I spent the weekend taking it for a test drive, so here are some early impressions.

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First off, if you happen to own a Chromebook Flip, here’s a quick explainer on how to try this for yourself. You’ll need to go into Chrome OS’s settings, then click on “About Chrome OS.”

First off, if you happen to own a Chromebook Flip, here’s a quick explainer on how to try this for yourself. You’ll need to go into Chrome OS’s settings, then click on “About Chrome OS.”

Then click on “More info.”

Then click on “More info.”

Then “Change channel…”

Then “Change channel…”

Then, if you’re sure, switch to the “Developer” channel.

Then, if you’re sure, switch to the “Developer” channel.

Google will warn you about this, but it’s worth noting that the dev channel is for, well, devs. It’s more prone to bugginess, unresponsiveness, and crashes than the polished “stable” channel that’s built for consumers.

If you make the switch, it’s a good idea to back up whatever data you might have on your device.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, to hear that I ran into some jankiness while testing. There was a fair amount of this…

It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, to hear that I ran into some jankiness while testing. There was a fair amount of this…

This was annoying, but it’s not something I can really knock in these very early days. If those performance-related hiccups are still around when the Play Store hits the stable channel in September, it’ll be harder to forgive.

In any case, the Play Store itself looks nearly identical to how it does on an Android tablet. Navigating it is still altogether straightforward.

In any case, the Play Store itself looks nearly identical to how it does on an Android tablet. Navigating it is still altogether straightforward.

From there, it’s mostly exactly what it sounds like: Android apps, just on a laptop. Don’t want to be forced into video chatting through Google Hangouts? Now you can use Skype.

From there, it’s mostly exactly what it sounds like: Android apps, just on a laptop. Don’t want to be forced into video chatting through Google Hangouts? Now you can use Skype.

Same if you wanted to, say, use a dedicated Spotify app, instead of having to stream in the browser.

Want to check Snapchat on the desktop? Go for it.

Want to check Snapchat on the desktop? Go for it.

A mobile-centric app like Snapchat highlights a good chunk of the appeal here. If everything’s done well, it makes it easier to keep your endless stream of info confined to one Chromebook screen.

It’s like the convenience of having iMessage on a MacBook; functions that were once fragmented between devices now feel more unified.

This feels especially right with messaging clients, note taking apps, streaming services, or anything else you’d normally leave running off to the side, while you get the bulk of your work done in the browser. Laying that stuff out in app windows is cleaner than switching between tabs, too.

These apps won't replace Chrome as the anchor of everything you do on a Chromebook — YouTube, Facebook, Google Docs, Google Maps, and most other major apps still work better in the browser — but they undoubtedly make the OS more versatile.

Going back to Snapchat: It's not as natural here as it is on a phone, clearly, but it translates decently enough. Where you’d normally swipe and tap, now you drag and click. (This is a common sentiment.) I had a problem where the Snaps themselves didn’t format correctly to the app’s window, but again, that’s something I’d expect to see sorted out as we get closer to a genuine release.

The influx of games might be the most readily apparent benefit.

The influx of games might be the most readily apparent benefit.

It’s a far cry from running Steam, but there’s still lots of good in Android’s game catalog. Again, having the Play Store breaks down barriers — when I’m bored, I don’t have to dig out my tablet to play some Lara Croft Go.

Because most of these games are designed with simple touch controls in mind, they aren’t hard to translate to a mousepad, either. You can pick up something like Angry Birds without any need for a tutorial.

All of this makes having a touchscreen more essential, though.

All of this makes having a touchscreen more essential, though.

This is especially evident with games that require more precision — I’m bad at Alto’s Adventure, as you can see — but in general, these are still Android apps. That means they’re still made for Android devices, which have touchscreens.

It’s not a coincidence Google’s enabling the Play Store on three touch-enabled laptops first. Without it, getting around is always going to feel just a little bit unnatural, unless developers specifically built things with multiple inputs in mind.

But you can do much more offline.

But you can do much more offline.

Writing Word docs, playing games, editing photos, reading articles saved to Pocket — you can actually do things now when your Chromebook isn't connected to the web.

You’ll still be online most of the time anyways, and Windows and macOS still look and feel less patched together, but having more options is a plus.

Naturally, there are issues. For one, not every app is supported.

Naturally, there are issues. For one, not every app is supported.

Major players like Uber, Instagram, WhatsApp, and MLB At Bat here aren’t ready for the transition just yet. Others, like Slack, had technical issues even when I could download them. (In that case, Chrome OS's struggles with external links kept me from using the app completely.)

Going fullscreen with any app didn’t cut them off at the shelf, either.

Going fullscreen with any app didn’t cut them off at the shelf, either.

The result is this marvel of UI design.

Each app is presented in its own window, which, for now, isn't adjustable.

Each app is presented in its own window, which, for now, isn't adjustable.

Google isn’t virtualizing each app, but everything's presented in windows that are meant to resemble a phone or tablet form factor. It's all running on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, which means the apps themselves can’t scale to varying sizes.

Thankfully, Android N is coming, and its “freeform window” and split-screen modes should be able to help with this.

With a (very) small selection of apps, though, you can change the app’s size from “Portrait”...

With a (very) small selection of apps, though, you can change the app’s size from “Portrait”...

...to “Landscape.”

...to “Landscape.”

In other words, from phone view to tablet view. It’s still not ideal, but it makes fitting more apps onscreen a little bit easier. Most of the time, landscape view is the default.

Then there’s the fact that apps I’ve bought on other Android devices weren’t automatically available here.

Then there’s the fact that apps I’ve bought on other Android devices weren’t automatically available here.

Other reports have said this wasn't a problem, though, so it could just be me. Google wasn’t immediately available for comment on the protocol here.

The Play Store isn’t as neatly integrated into Chrome OS as it could be, too.

The Play Store isn’t as neatly integrated into Chrome OS as it could be, too.

If Google is going to let the Play Store and the existing Chrome Web Store live side-by-side, it should make it easier to separate which apps you got from where. They're different experiences.

As it stands now, when you download something from the Play Store, it goes into the “All Apps” folder — which itself should take less clicks to reach — just like a web app, with no clear demarcation. If you have both versions of an app, though, you’re stuck with duplicate icons. This looks sloppy.

All told, though, this feels like a step forward. When the apps work, they work surprisingly well — provided I didn’t do a ton at once — and they add dimensions to Chrome OS that it didn’t previously have.

All told, though, this feels like a step forward. When the apps work, they work surprisingly well — provided I didn’t do a ton at once — and they add dimensions to Chrome OS that it didn’t previously have.

There are other issues here — the fact that files saved in Android apps don't appear in Chrome's file manager, the way notifications don't pop up unless you have an app open, how Chrome OS plans to get around Android’s persistent security risks, etc. — but gaming, working offline, and streamlining how many devices you have to use at once are all Good Things.

With a little time to mature, all of this should give more people more choices among inexpensive laptops. Considering how flimsy and sluggish cheap Windows laptops continue to be, that’d be welcome.

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