Google’s melding of Chromebooks and Android is still a mess

Here’s a a laugh sport to play on any Chromebook that runs Android apps: Pick a carrier like Slack or Spotify, then attempt to bet whether or not you’d be at an advantage putting in its app from the Google Play Store or visiting its desktop web page.

The appropriate resolution isn’t all the time easy. Slack’s Android app will provide you with a complete window as an alternative of a browser tab and allows you to reply to colleagues instantly from the notification tray, nevertheless it gained’t permit you to replica snippets of textual content or drag information into chat rooms. Gmail’s Android app is higher for contact displays as a result of you’ll swipe to delete or archive emails, nevertheless it lacks the desktop model’s complete supplement of options, together with extensions and cursor-friendly shortcuts. Spotify allows you to obtain playlists with the Android app, however the web page is higher formatted for enormous displays and has useful right-click menus for navigations.

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[Photo: courtesy of Google]

Android apps changed into to be had on new Chromebooks closing yr, and are a point of interest of the brand new Pixel Slate, a 12-inch pill that becomes a laptop computer with an attachable keyboard case. In a weblog submit, Google talks up the Slate’s “touch-first” person interface and its talent to run thousands and thousands of Google Play Store apps. But in making Chrome OS extra hospitable for drugs, Google has additionally difficult the enjoy on laptops.

Click, contact, or draw

To be transparent, I haven’t used the Pixel Slate but, however I’ve been spending a lot of time with HP’s Chromebook X2, any other removable laptop-tablet that introduced over the summer time. The device isn’t precisely the similar–the Pixel Slate has a new house display screen that places extra emphasis on apps and seek–nevertheless it runs the similar Android apps, and its Intel Core-m3 processor is very similar to that of the Pixel Slate’s $799 type.

I will have to additionally word that I used to be enthusiastic when the primary Chromebooks with Android apps began transport early closing yr. The advantages appeared obtrusive on the time: Suddenly, you should accomplish a lot extra on a Chromebook, from syncing information in cloud garage products and services, to writing on your selection of textual content editors, to enjoying a huge catalog of cellular video games. Sure, many Android apps weren’t optimized for laptop computer use then, however Google mentioned it used to be running carefully with builders to switch that.

In hindsight, I used to be too positive. More than a yr later, the issues I’d be expecting to only paintings on a laptop computer, like right-clicking for contextual menus and clicking and dragging to spotlight textual content, seldom paintings within the Android apps I’ve attempted. And even if apps do enhance those options, the execution can also be awkward. In iA Writer, as an example, you’ll spotlight textual content with a trackpad or mouse, however provided that you wait a second between clicking and dragging. Drag too temporarily, and you’ll finally end up scrolling down the web page as an alternative.

Meanwhile, the handwriting enjoy you get from Android apps is a crapshoot on Chromebooks. Google’s personal Keep app doesn’t enhance pressure-sensitive styluses, and handwriting feels uneven and laggy in Evernote and Microsoft’s OneNote. I had a higher enjoy in Squid–it seems that the corporate partnered with Google on low-latency drawing–nevertheless it’s unavailable on iOS or Windows, so you’ll’t pick out up the notetaking on different platforms. (I additionally skilled critical calibration problems with the Chromebook X2, which, hopefully, will not be a downside with the Pixel Slate and its $99 stylus.)

Some apps, like Microsoft Word, do supply a glimpse of what’s imaginable with correct optimization. The Android app is finger-friendly, but additionally handles trackpad enter flawlessly, and not like with Microsoft’s Office internet apps, you lose none of the display screen to an cope with bar or different browser litter. But in my enjoy, Word is the exception to the rule of thumb. (It’s almost certainly no twist of fate that the learning marketplace the place Chromebooks thrive additionally represents crucial section of Microsoft’s Office trade.) Even Google’s personal Docs app doesn’t maintain textual content variety correctly with a trackpad, so that you’re at an advantage the usage of the internet model as an alternative.

Systemic disasters

The apps themselves aren’t the one factor that wishes paintings. The identical id disaster that applies to Android apps additionally extends to Chrome OS as a entire.

On the Chromebook X2, as an example, detaching the pill mode robotically hides the highest bar for ultimate and minimizing home windows, which is sensible. But on the identical time, the ground bar for apps and notifications turns into everlasting, even while you’re the usage of an app in full-screen mode. And each and every time you open a new app, any other icon will get added to that bar adore it would on a desktop. It’s now not lengthy prior to you’re crushed by way of open apps to regulate.

The underlying factor is that individuals use laptops and drugs in numerous tactics. With laptops, it’s utterly customary to have a part dozen systems open immediately, and we’re used to actively managing each and every window to transparent up reminiscence and taskbar area. On drugs, we’re much more likely to be the usage of simply one or two apps at a time, and we think the working machine to regulate all of the apps we’re now not the usage of on our behalf. I’m now not certain if the Pixel Slate’s redesigned launcher provides any answers, however the usage of the Chromebook X2 looks like being trapped between two worlds.

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[Photo: courtesy of HP]

That feeling is solidified by way of the truth that Chromebooks be offering each the Google Play Store for Android apps and the Chrome Web Store for internet apps. That approach it’s imaginable to fill the ground app bar with two variations of Gmail, Slack, or Twitter–each and every with their very own reports, options, and notifications–regardless of whether or not you’re the usage of a Chromebook in laptop computer or pill mode. You’re liable for deciding which apps to make use of at any given time, and after a whilst it turns into laborious.

Despite most of these problems, I haven’t utterly given up on the idea that of Android apps on Chromebooks. With sufficient time, effort, and developer outreach, Google may just to find a higher technique to straddle the road between laptops and drugs.

But for now, for those who’re dead-set on the usage of a Pixel Slate or some other Chromebook, I recommend choosing between pill and internet apps on the outset in accordance with which mode you propose to make use of maximum, and most effective hopping the fence in emergencies. Mixing them in combination is extra bother than it’s value.