Android Apps on Chrome OS – Early Impressions and Takeaways

The Chrome OS and Android Convergence

The announcement that Android applications were coming to Chrome OS in 2016 has generated a significant amount of excitement, both in the tech press and with existing Chromebook owners. People have been speculating for years that there would be a so-called convergence between Android – Google’s mobile phone and tablet OS – and Chrome OS, Google’s desktop and laptop OS.

By leveraging the massive library of applications in the Google Play store, merging Android and Chrome OS together would significantly change the Chromebook landscape, adding a wealth of productivity and entertainment options into the Chrome OS world. This would especially benefit Chromebooks that were operating offline, where Chrome OS has much more limited functionality due to its reliance on web apps. It might also solve some of the challenges Google has in the consumer space, such as difficulty with certain types of files (like PDFs), with printing, and an absence of entertainment options, particularly while offline and with regard to games.

At least, that’s been the general line of thinking, and one that I’ve mostly shared. If I were able to install games like Minecraft and apps like MS Word and Amazon’s Kindle app, that would make my Chromebook much closer to a full-fledged laptop, truly eliminating my need for a Windows laptop or Android tablet. This is even more true if Limelight game streaming, PDF apps, audiobook apps, retro game emulation, and easier Printing functionality all come into play.

Obviously, there are many varied reasons why one might be excited to have Android apps on their Chrome OS device. Owners of the Chromebook Pixel 2015, Acer R11, and Asus C100P “Flip” get the first crack at Android apps on a Chromebook.

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Budget Desktop Battle: Kangaroo PC vs Chromebit vs Remix Mini

Today’s smartphones and tablets are powered by processors that may be small, but are powerful enough to run full desktop operating systems. This isn’t just a marketing claim, as manufacturers are making desktop computers using mobile processors and components. These devices combine the low cost and tiny footprint of these mobile processors with traditional desktop operating systems and capabilities, allowing for miniature computers that are exceptionally portable.

In this article I will compare three PCs that are all available for below $100, featuring three different operating systems: Windows 10, Android, and Chrome OS. Each has a unique form factor, resulting in varying strengths, weaknesses, and features. These small PCs are a great way to turn a TV with an extra HDMI port into a full-fledged computer, and offer both productivity and entertainment options.

Read on to find out more about these three new micro PCs:

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Remix Mini Review: A $69 Android Desktop Micro PC

Several manufacturers have introduced Android-based computers over the past few years, including attempts by HP such as the Slatebook and Slate All-in-One. Unfortunately, these devices did not account for the fact that Android was built for smartphones and tablets to be controlled via touchscreen input, not traditional desktop interfaces like a mouse and keyboard. Furthermore, core Android applications aren’t always designed for desktop screen resolution and orientation, and Android itself isn’t friendly to multi-tasking.

The result has been that these devices have felt half-baked, and haven’t been successful in the marketplace.

Enter Jide, a Chinese company comprised of former Google engineers. Jide successfully launched a Kickstarter campaign for their Remix Tablet, which featured a heavily custom version of Android – Remix OS – that turned the tablet experience into something akin to a Microsoft Surface Pro. Following that, they then launched a Kickstarter for the Remix Mini, a small form factor Android desktop PC based again on their Remix OS, now a customer skin for Android 5.0.2 Lollipop.

With Kickstarter shipping completed and a few OS updates released based on backer feedback, the Remi Mini is now available from retail for $69.99, offering the promise of a desktop-like experience melded with the rich application library of Android.

Does the Remix Mini deliver on that promise?

Screenshot_2015-11-29-02-08-06

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The Moto 360 Turns One: 1st Birthday Follow-up Review

The true second generation of Android Wear devices are now upon us, with the release of the 2nd Gen Moto 360, and the upcoming release of the Huawei Watch, among other releases already on the market like the LG G Watch Urbane.

If you’re considering buying a smartwatch, you may be wondering how those first generation Moto 360s have held up, both physically and in terms of functionality. It is also worth noting that you can pick up the outgoing generation for half the price of the new one ($149.99 or less) and thus a review of the original may still be helpful. This is especially true given that many OS updates have happened since the launch period reviews, making much of their information out of date.

So: here are my impressions of the original Moto 360 after a full year of use, taking a look at how the device has held up physically, how it has performed, and the best features and apps of Android Wear.

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Razer Forge TV “Review” – $149 Android Micro-Console

Announced at CES in January 2015, the Razer Forge TV is an Android TV-based streaming device as well as an Android gaming platform. It is available with just the console for $99 or with the Serval Bluetooth controller in a bundle for $149. In addition to offering streaming video content and native Android apps and games, the Forge TV will offer Razer’s proprietary PC game streaming service via an update in the future, apparently Q4 2015, but launches without that functionality.

Today, I’ll give you my thoughts on this device and whether it is worth purchasing over competitors like the Nexus Player and Roku 3, and how it compares to spending a little extra for a low-end PC like the HP Stream Mini.

This was intended to be a full review, but due to certain events related to this device that I will detail below, there’s no real need for a full review.

forge tv and controller

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Moto 360 Review Update – 6 Month Check-Up

I jumped into Android Wear with the release of the Moto 360 back in September 2014. My initial impressions of the 360 were generally positive, though my feelings about Android Wear as a platform were somewhat mixed.

I’ve been living with his device every day for six months now, and with the impending release of the Apple Watch and conclusion of the Pebble Time Kickstarter campaign, this seems like an ideal time to check in on Android Wear and see how the 360 is holding up.

Silver Metal 360

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Android 5.0 Lollipop: 120 Day Checkup

Google recently released a major upgrade to its Android OS platform, moving from 4.4.4 KitKat to 5.0 Lollipop. This process has been uneven, to say the least.

Early reviews from all over the internet were exceedingly positive, even from sites with a general bend toward Apple and iOS, like The Verve. The new “Material Design” theme rolled out at Google I/O in 2014 was likewise popular with almost everyone from the first previews. Lollipop appeared ready to usher in a new era for Android devices… and yet, months after the Nexus 9 launched as the first Lollipop device, adoption is moving at a snail’s pace:

  • After 90 days, Android 5.0 Lollipop (and its subsequent upgrades) can claim less than 2% of Android’s total users.
  • After 150 days, iOS 8 (and its subsequent upgrades) claim over 70% adoption on iOS devices.

What is driving this?  Below, I give my thoughts about Lollipop thus far including my personal experiences with it on three tablets and one phone.

Moto X 2014 with Lollipop and Google Now Launcher:

Google Now Launcher

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Chrome Extensions: The 10 You Should Be Using

Google Chrome has overtaken Internet Explorer as the most popular desktop web browser, and not just for its speed, stability, or security: Chrome Extensions are easy ways to add robust and versatile features to Chrome, turning it into something far more powerful than what you can experience with Internet Explorer.

Below is a list of 10 Chrome Extensions I strongly recommend, in particular for Chrome OS users. However, most of these will be applicable on any desktop OS where you can run Chrome, including Windows and OS X.

I’ve tried to avoid some of the very obvious and popular extensions like those from Amazon, Ebay, Gmail, Pocket, and so on, but for the record, I do also recommend the following in addition to the list below: Gmail checker, Send to Kindle, Add to Wishlist (Amazon), Ebay, Keep, and Pocket.

With that out of the way, let’s kick off the list with…

OneTab

OneTab

This is one of my absolute favorite Chrome extensions, for both work and play. At the press of a button, it collapses all of your open Chrome tabs into one single list of links:

OneTab Example

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Android Wear: Tantalizingly Close

How Smart is Your Smartphone?

The truth is that, most of the time, our smartphones, well… they aren’t that smart. They’re not intelligent devices.  They’re only smart in the extent that they’re internet-connected, so the term exists to differentiate such a device from the previously existing phones that were designed for calling (and, subsequently, texting).

Phones just for talking to people. I know – quaint, right?

To be fair, smartphones are about as smart, generally speaking, as our computers, our tablets, or our cable boxes, but I’ve never referred to my post-internet computers as “smart computers”. Online capability is just a function that, at this point, all modern computers have, just as in the near future, all phones will likely be what we refer to today as smartphones.

Our tech devices have become excellent instruction takers, yes, and we’ve found more and more ways to interact them them – for instance, I can interact with my TV and cable via a remote control, voice control, website, or mobile application – as well as found ways for these devices to interact with each other.

In some cases, specific websites and applications have become very good at suggesting things that we might like. I’ve been extremely impressed with Amazon’s ability to successfully link products based on search and purchase history, and music services like Pandora, Spotify, and Google All Access do a great job assembling music stations and suggestions that appear curated but are actually created via algorithm.

But smart? Truly smart, as in exhibiting intelligence?  Nope.

Well, actually… maybe.

 

michael-moto-x-6

 

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Moto 360: A Beautiful Beta

When Motorola revealed the Moto 360, the initial reaction was overwhelmingly positive: finally, a smartwatch that actually looked, well, like a watch.

It wasn’t so much that Samsung and LG’s smartwatches were unattractive, per se, it was just that they didn’t look like a traditional watch design. There was no chance that someone would look at them and think, “That’s a good looking watch!” Their large size, square design, and mediocre to poor watchbands set them apart from what we think of as a quality watch design. That makes them fine as a gadget for people really into technology, but not really functional as an all-purpose watch.

The 360 changed that:

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There’s really no question that the Moto 360 is hands-down the most attractive smartwatch currently on the market. How did Motorola do with the internals of the device, and is Google Wear worth your money at this point?

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