Which operating system offers the best Android app support? And
does either achieve its goal of enhancing the touchscreen
Windows 11 and Chrome OS both support Android apps but make them
available in very different ways. Windows 11 leans on the Amazon
Appstore, while Google supports its own Google Play store.
Google's Play store is essentially the default Android app
store. You'll find it installed on a large majority of Android
devices sold today. The Amazon Appstore is an alternative from
Amazon for its own devices, such as Kindle tablets.
It's unlikely you
won't find what you're looking for among the millions of apps in
the Google Play store. Image: IDG
The gap in app selection is significant. You'll find almost
500,000 apps on the Amazon Appstore, which is a lot, but far less
than the nearly 3.5 million apps on the Google Play store. Apps
from large companies usually make it to the Amazon Appstore, but
smaller developers are less likely to bother.
This already skews selection in favor of Chrome OS, but Windows
11 has another problem: It currently supports a tiny sliver of all
apps on the Amazon Appstore. You'll find a list of just 50 apps
and, frankly, it's dire. TikTok, for example, was shown at the
Windows 11 reveal but is not yet supported. Instead, you'll find
five different versions of My Talking Tom.
The Amazon Appstore
can be hit or miss. Image: IDG
It's reasonable to assume that Microsoft will expand Android app
support in the future, but how much and how quickly remains to be
seen. Android app support for Windows 11 is still in
beta, so it could be months before additional apps gain
This hands Chrome OS an easy and significant win over Windows
11. Android app support isn't useful if the apps you want aren't
available. Odds are you'll encounter that exact problem while
trying to use Android apps on Windows 11.
Winner: Chrome OS
Ease of use
Microsoft pulled a bait-and-switch with its announcement of
Android support for Windows 11. The company made it a key point in
its Windows 11 announcement, yet it was nowhere to be seen when
Windows 11 was released.
It remains unavailable to most users. You must enroll in the
Windows Insider program, install a Windows 11 preview build, update
the Microsoft Store app, then search for and install the Amazon
Appstore from the Microsoft Store. Microsoft hasn't said when
Android app support will reach full release.
Chrome OS, by contrast, has offered Android app support for
years. The Google Play store is integrated into Chrome OS and has a
shortcut on the operating system's taskbar.
Opening the Google Play store automatically logs you in (if
you're logged in to Chrome OS) and you can immediately download
apps. It will prompt you to re-download apps you've previously
downloaded to another Chromebook, which is helpful when you switch
managing apps in Chrome OS is very straightforward.
Chrome OS has another subtle but significant advantage: The
Google Play store is the only store on the device and the only
method for installing new apps (aside from side-loading).
Installing and managing Android apps is simple because the OS
doesn't provide an alternative. The Amazon Appstore on Windows 11
is only accessible by first using the Microsoft Store and manages
It's another easy win for Chrome OS. Users don't have the option
to choose between using a desktop or mobile app and don't have to
juggle different stores. Windows users will struggle with the fact
that Android apps are a subset of a subset of apps available for
the operating system.
Winner: Chrome OS
An Android app as seen
in Windows 11. Image: IDG
Launching an Android app on Windows 11 will open the app in a
standard app window. Android apps function like Windows UWP apps
from the Windows Store. They work in Windows 11's various interface
features, including tab previews and Windows Snaps.
Apps can be resized and most scale well, though 3D games stick
to a smartphone orientation. This can lead to weird results when
using Windows 11 features designed for resizable apps, such as
Windows Snap, as the Android app won't resize to fit the available
space and instead be surrounded by transparent borders.
Chrome OS also opens Android apps in a standard app window, and
apps can be used like any other Chrome OS app. Unlike Windows 11,
Chrome OS locks applications to smartphone orientation by default
and the window can't be resized. Some apps will let you switch to a
tablet-sized window, something Windows 11 does not offer, or resize
the app as you desire.
Drag-and-drop does not work with Android apps on either
operating system. None of the apps I tested on Windows 11 had
access to the Windows file system, though this could be a
limitation of the apps I tested. Chrome OS allows the use of the
file system, with Android apps saving files into a folder called
Play Files. However, some Android apps aren't designed to use a
file system, which can make moving and sharing files between apps a
Files can be
downloaded and accessed from Android apps in Chrome OS, via the
Play Files folder. Image: IDG
Touch support is a disappointment on both operating systems. A
touchscreen is arguably the preferred way to use Android apps on
Windows 11 and Chrome OS, but it's still not a great experience. A
laptop or 2-in-1 has a larger, less pixel dense display, so apps
look unimpressive and interface elements seem too large. Scrolling
through a timeline or selecting multiple photos will never feel as
responsive as on a mid-range Android smartphone.
Chrome OS takes another win here, but it's nothing to brag
about. The peculiarities of running apps designed for Android
smartphones make for a mediocre experience. It's also worth
remembering that while Windows 11's Android app functionality is
limited, it has a huge library of Microsoft Store and legacy
Windows apps not available to Chrome OS. Running the Android
version of Photoshop Express on a Chromebook is no substitute for
Photoshop on a Windows 11 PC.
Winner: Chrome OS
Android apps do not run natively on either Chrome OS or Windows
11. Both operating systems apply some (surprisingly different)
behind-the-scenes techniques to enable support. A performance
penalty applies to both, but is it enough to make a difference?
That depends on your use.
Most modern Android smartphones are far more capable than
required by most apps you might use. The Windows 11 and
Chrome OS devices I used for my testing had at least an
8th-generation Intel Core i3 processor with more than adequate
performance for most situations. I found that all apps launch
quickly and respond to either mouse or touch input with no
Ask more of an app, however, and you may run into problems.
Scrolling through filters in Adobe Photoshop Express on Chrome OS,
for example, was less responsive and smooth than on a modern
Android smartphone. The app was usable, but felt a step behind my
input. Filters and other image adjustments could take a second or
two to apply.
3D can be an issue. Popular Android games like Genshin
Impact and Pokemon Unite will launch on Chrome OS,
but on the Chromebooks I've tried, they freeze before I can get
into gameplay. Even Hearthstone froze and crashed at the
Android games can be
surprisingly taxing on Windows 11.
Android app performance in Windows 11 is more difficult to judge
due to the slim selection of apps. The apps currently available are
not demanding. With that said, I noticed that My Talking
Tom placed a surprisingly heavy load on the processor,
providing reason to be pessimistic about more demanding 3D
apps are better on Chrome OS than Windows 11, but that doesn't make
it a winner
Android app support in Chrome OS easily beats the state of
Android apps on Windows 11. Microsoft's efforts are little more
than an interesting novelty. It's possible that Microsoft will
close the gap, of course, but the company has a lot of
work to do.
But this doesn't mean Android apps are enjoyable in Chrome OS.
Though in much better shape than Windows 11, Android apps in Chrome
OS have interface, stability, and performance issues. Not all
Android apps will work, some don't work well, and few are truly
enjoyable to use.
Indeed, I'd argue that web apps are generally superior to
Android apps on Chrome OS. Those looking to edit a photo are likely
better off using Fotor or PicMonkey than Photoshop Express for
Android. Want to play a game? Try GeForce Now or Stadia instead of
the Google Play store.
Android app support feels like a cynical attempt to expand the
apps ChromeOS and Windows 11 can claim to support, not a genuine
effort to enhance the user experience. Google wins this battle, yesâ€”
but laptop shoppers lose.