Exclusive first look: Here’s Chrome OS running on an Android phone

TL;DR

  • We got Google’s Chrome OS up and running alongside Android on a Pixel phone.
  • This is possible thanks to a special build of Chromium OS – the open-source version of Chrome OS – created to run on a virtual machine.
  • It’s unclear if Google plans to make this available to the public.

Earlier today, we reported that Google had launched Chrome OS on the Pixel phone. The company has created a special build of Chromium OS—an open-source version of Chrome OS—that’s designed to run on a virtual machine. A demo of the project, known internally as “ferrochrome,” was privately shown to other companies at a recent Google event. With a bit of effort, we managed to compile and run our own “ferrochrome” build on an Android phone. In the video embedded above, you can get your first look at Chrome OS running in a virtual machine on a Pixel phone.

You may notice in the video that the phone I chose for this demo is my Pixel 7 Pro, Google’s flagship for 2022. It could have worked on any other Tensor-powered Pixel device, and it’s actually my first choice for this demo was my Pixel 8 Pro. Unfortunately, even though the Chromium OS build we compiled ran successfully on my Pixel 8 Pro, there was an error preventing it from getting into the setup wizard. The reason I wanted to demonstrate this on my Pixel 8 Pro is because it’s the only phone I have in the Pixel line that supports display output. Unfortunately, since we couldn’t get it working right away on my Pixel 8 Pro, we decided to demo “ferrochrome” on my Pixel 7 Pro instead.

Another thing you’ll notice from the video is that my Pixel 7 Pro isn’t running the latest official stable or beta version from Google. Instead, it uses a custom Android build compiled from AOSP. The reason is that I needed to use Google’s virtual machine launcher. VM launcher is an Android app from Google that calls APIs in the Android Virtualization Framework (AVF) to create and launch a virtual machine using the configuration specified in a JSON file. It then creates a SurfaceView to display the virtual machine when the application is displayed.

As you can see in the video, Chromium OS boots pretty quickly on my Pixel 7 Pro. Since Chromium OS builds lack Google sign-in support by default, I had to sign in with a guest profile. The network didn’t work out of the box, but this was a known issue that was fixed after I ran a script and adjusted some settings in the Chromium OS settings. Fortunately, USB peripherals like mouse and keyboard were recognized immediately. The sound didn’t work, but I know Google is actively working on it. I didn’t have much time to play with it before I had to catch a flight, but the performance seemed pretty snappy for the short time I had with it.

Samsung Dex or Chrome OS on Android, which would you prefer?

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In case you’re wondering, the only reason we had to compile our own AOSP build is because the VM launcher isn’t included in any of the Android builds Google offers for its Pixel devices yet. Fortunately, the VM launcher app is now part of the Virtualization APEX module thanks to a patch that was incorporated on April 9th, so upcoming Android builds should have this app by default. Unfortunately, you’ll still need to root Android to try it out right now. This is because the VM launcher is disabled by default, which you can work around by recompiling and changing the package name. This could work as the necessary permissions can theoretically be granted through ADB, but unfortunately the script to set up network access currently requires root access. Fortunately, Google’s documentation states that the script won’t be necessary in the future, which hopefully means we’ll be able to run Chromium OS on any Android phone that supports AVF without needing root!

If you’re wondering if it will be possible to run other operating systems, in theory it should be. However, Google’s official, public documentation states that Chromium OS is “the only officially supported guest payload” as of April 2024. However, it also states that Google will add support for running other graphics-enabled operating systems in the future.

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