Google is working on improved scaling for Android apps on Chromebooks, but it needs work

Since adding Android apps to Chromebooks a few years back, Google has come a long way with making things more cohesive across both platforms. When it all first launched, Android apps on Chromebooks were a huge mess with broken apps, small-screen interfaces, and a bunch of busted UI issues. While there are still problems here and there with app layouts and functionality, the Android experience on Chrome OS is far better than it used to be.

One of the bigger sticking points that still lingers, however, is the odd way Android apps tend to scale across larger Chromebooks screens. With many 13 to 14-inch Chromebooks these days opting for 1080p displays, users are generally looking at scaled interfaces. Native 1080p on 13 or 14-inch screens makes most text and UI elements too small to really work with, so Chrome OS fixes this by scaling up the user-facing elements to be a bit larger on screen without losing sharpness. For Chrome OS native things, this all works very well at this point.

For Android apps, however, its a bit of a different story. Many apps still look just a bit off when being used on larger screens and the issue tends to come down to the lack of proper scaling. Objects on screen like buttons, text and menus tend to look a tad bit smaller than they should, leaving the whole experience feeling not quite fully-realized. At one point in all this, users could dig into the Android settings and bump up display size like you can on your phone, but this was removed quite some time ago (around Chrome OS 80) and was supposed to be replaced with a scaling alternative that helped match up Chrome OS scaling with Android’s scaling. It hasn’t worked that well.

While apps function fine, the size difference in actionable items for Android apps when compared to their web app alternative is noticeable and off-putting. Open up YouTube Music in Android and then on the web and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about. Google Photos is another solid example. Things in both apps look just a bit off and there’s no real way to fix it at this point.

A change is in the works

As Android Police recently reported, Google is in the process of adjusting the way Chrome OS handles Android app scaling. The work circles around a new feature called ‘uniform scaling’ and sounds promising. I think the end result will be a great addition to the Chrome OS experience, but as it stands right now, the implementation in even the Beta Channel was quite broken.

I’d noticed something not quite right the other day in Squid on the Lenovo Flex 5 that I have in the Canary Channel when I was testing out a new USI pen we have in the office. As I drew lines, they would appear an inch or so to the right of where I was actually drawing once I lifted up the pen. I chalked it up to Canary Channel brokenness and moved on, but it seems there was something far more nefarious lurking behind this.

As it turns out, the issue was a symptom of this new ‘uniform scaling’ and after some grumbling, Google has decided to revert the change that put this whole thing into practice to begin with. In fact, it has been removed from Chrome OS 86 and 87 for now, so there are no instances of the new, busted feature out there at all for the time being.

While we can’t know if they will look at a more-stable way to implement this in the near term, it is clear Google is working on a way to make Android apps feel even more native on Chromebooks than they already do. While I hate that this implementation was so broken it had to be removed, I am happy that Google isn’t continuing to turn a blind eye to a problem that needs to be fixed. While I wish they would just turn the option for Android app scaling back on for the time being, I’m at least hopeful they will continue working on a long-term fix for this shortcoming on Chrome OS.

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