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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Acer Chromebook 14 Review: Close to Perfection

When I first started writing about Chromebooks two years ago, any new hardware release was noteworthy, but today that’s no longer the case. There are dozens of Chromebooks now available, running the spectrum from $149 budget ARM-based machines to high-end showpieces like the Google Pixel that cost $999 and up. There’s much less excitement about a new Chromebook release as a general rule, so OEMs need something new and different if they want to create buzz in the consumer market.

Last year, Asus and Dell were successful at this. Both released Chromebooks featuring high quality industrial design and IPS displays: the C100P “Flip” and Chromebook 13, respectively. The Flip featured a hybrid design with an IPS touchscreen display and aluminum body at a very competitive price, while the Dell features high-grade materials like a magnesium alloy case, an etched glass trackpad, a 1080p IPS display, and a backlit keyboard.

Both of these Chromebooks carried substantial excitement to their release into the market, and they’re both excellent and successful products. That said, neither is what I would consider an ideal consumer Chromebook. The Flip is powered by a budget ARM processor, the Rockchip 3288, and while it has decent performance, it isn’t even as fast as older budget Chromebooks like the Acer C720; furthermore, at only 10″ it has a cramped keyboard that isn’t ideal for long-term use. Alternatively, the Dell 13 is a fantastic traditional Chromebook that gives consumers basically everything they want from a performance and build quality perspective, that comes at a cost: $399 and up. That price point is going to be above and beyond what many consumers want to pay for a Chromebook, which many people still consider a secondary or back-up laptop.

The default “best” Chromebook at the $300 price point right now is, in my opinion, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 2015 edition. That Chromebook has a gorgeous 1080p IPS display paired with excellent performance from a 5th generation Intel processor, 4 GB of RAM, a backlit keyboard, and powerful speakers. Unfortunately, it also has mediocre battery life, and is a plastic device that suffers from build quality and longevity concerns. Other options at this price point from HP, Lenovo, Acer, and others present a mix of disappointments: larger units that offer less portability, ARM or Intel Bay Trail processors, TN display panels, budget build materials, or some combination of these.

It is this softness at the $300 price point that makes the Acer Chromebook 14 such an exciting product, as it checks off a critical list of five items that have never been seen in a $300 Chromebook before.

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Dell Chromebook 13: Upgrading the M.2 SSD

The Dell Chromebook 13 has finally started to receive discounts, and has periodically been available as a refurbished model through Dell’s online outlet store. This is great news, as the Dell 13 is arguably the best Chromebook release of 2015: click here to read my full review.

I was fortunate enough to grab one of the refurbished $279 Dell Chromebook 13’s with the Intel Core i3 5005U and 4 GB of RAM, which are also on sale new for $429.00 as of this writing. This version has even better performance than the already impressive 3205U Celeron version, while retaining the 1080p IPS display and fantastic build quality.

The Intel Core i3 processor is arguably overkill for a Chromebook, but is an excellent performer in various Linux distributions. Utilizing Crouton – which you can read about here – you can expand the capability of your Chromebook, provided you have sufficient local storage. While this version of the Dell Chromebook 13 only has 16 GB of local storage, the included M.2 42mm SSD can be easily upgraded in a few easy steps!

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Review: Acer Chromebook R11 including Crouton

The Acer R11 Chromebook is a product with something of an identity crisis. It doesn’t have premium build quality, like the Asus C100P Chromebook Flip. It also isn’t packing impressive performance and hardware at the expense of its build quality, like the Toshiba Chromebook 2 2015.

Made up mostly of white plastic, with a thick, flat design, and packing Intel’s new, but relatively low-end N3150 Celeron processor, the Acer R11 isn’t going to win any awards for design or performance.

I’m really selling you on this Chromebook so far, I know.

While it is true that the Acer R11 is not be the fastest or best-looking Chromebook, there’s also no other Chromebook on the market with the R11’s combination of characteristics. With its 360 degree display featuring an IPS touchscreen, 32 GB of local storage standard, and a quad-core Intel Bramwell processor, the R11 gets many things right despite a first impression that is mediocre at best.

In fact, after using it for a few weeks as my primary laptop, I think this is one of the best Chromebooks available for a wide percentage of the consumer market… or, it will be, once the price drops a bit.

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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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The Best Chromebooks You Can Buy: Fall & Holiday 2015

Chromebooks have come into their own during 2015, growing in popularity and seeing incredible diversification. Where 2014 saw a Chrome OS lineup that featured mostly similar budget devices with low-resolution screens, in 2015 the Chromebook line-up varies from $149 ARM-powered budget devices, to $899 and up Intel Broadwell-powered touchscreen workhorses.

This guide is designed to help you navigate this lineup and find the Chromebook that is right for you, or whoever it is that you may be shopping for. Similar to the Spring/Summer version, I’ve listed the Chromebooks in ascending order by screen size, and then at the end summarize the best Chromebook for a variety of specific categories.

As information, “Crouton” is mentioned multiple times in this article, and is a reference to a set of scripts you can download which allows your Chromebook to simultaneously run Chrome OS and Ubuntu Linux. This allows you to run programs on your Chromebook which you otherwise could not, such as Minecraft, Steam, and more. For more info, see here for background on using Linux on your Chromebook, and here for an install guide.

At the bottom of the article, you’ll find links to reviews of almost all of the Chromebooks referenced here, as well.

11.6″ Chromebooks

Best Budget Choice – Asus C201

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The Asus C201 is still, in my opinion, the best budget Chromebook you can buy. It has an MSRP of $169.99 but has been on sale from multiple retailers for $159.99 or less, and is currently $154.99 on Amazon.com; there is also a 4 GB version that has an MSRP of $189.99.

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Dell Chromebook 13 Review – A True Mid-Tier Chromebook

If Toshiba’s 2015 update to their Chromebook 2 represents the upper boundary of the budget Chromebook category, then the Dell Chromebook 13 ably represents the first true mid-level Chromebook.

Available with a wide range of processor, RAM, and screen combinations, the Dell Chromebook 13 is a well-made, professional class machine that does an unexpectedly good job justifying its own existence, carving out a unique place in the increasing catalog of available Chromebooks.

In this article, I’ll give you a breakdown on the Dell Chromebook 13’s specs, explain which version I recommend, and review its build quality and performance.

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Toshiba Chromebook 2 2015 Edition – Full Review

The Toshiba Chromebook 2 was released in late September 2014, and immediately received positive reviews that centered on its defining attribute: a bright, beautiful, glossy 1080p IPS display with fantastic viewing angles. With an MSRP of $329.99, Toshiba offered a quality of display that was previously unheard of at that price point. It also packed in surprisingly good Skullcandy speakers. Combined with 4 GB of RAM, and the quick boot speeds of an SSD, the Toshiba Chromebook 2 became very popular in the consumer Chromebook market.

Despite some very positive attributes, there were some significant trade-offs with this Chromebook. While it packed 4 GB of RAM and an SSD, it was powered by a low-end Intel N2840 Celeron processor that gave it mediocre performance. There were also some complaints of build quality related to the display, which anecdotally seems to have had an unusually high failure rate; when compared to some other devices in the same price class, it was also clear that it had budget build quality in terms of the screen hinge, trackpad, and keyboard, which were not as well-constructed as similar devices produced by Asus and Acer.

But still, that display, that beautiful display……

For 2015, Toshiba has upgraded its Chromebook line with more powerful Intel Broadwell-generation processors, along with some other new features not typically found in the budget consumer laptop class, like a backlit keyboard.

Has Toshiba found the recipe for the ultimate affordable Chromebook?

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New Chromebooks: Dell 13 vs. Toshiba 2

Arguably the most popular consumer Chromebook of 2014 into 2015 has been the Toshiba Chromebook 2. Launched at $329.99 MSRP, but often discounted to $50 or more below that price, it features 4 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage, and a gorgeous 1080p IPS display… but, it is powered by the underwhelming N2840 Celeron processor. Some users have also had issues with build quality, in particular with problems with the screen mounting.

Many fans of Chrome OS hoped that this popular Toshiba Chromebook would usher in an era of more full HD, 1080p Chromebooks, and while there have been other FHD Chromebooks released, almost all of them have had lower quality TN displays instead of the much nicer IPS display of the Toshiba. The main exceptions have been a larger Chromebook – the Acer Chromebook 15 / Acer C910, and a very expensive Chromebook, the Google Chromebook Pixel.

Finally, a full year later, we have two upcoming Chromebooks that are similar in many respects to the Toshiba Chromebook 2, while offering notable improvements. The first comes from Toshiba themselves, while the second comes from Dell.

If you’re in the market for a full HD, 13.3″ Chromebook, one of these two devices is likely the right choice for you.

Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between these two key upcoming Chromebooks.

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