Here's an Android phone running Chrome OS


TL;DR

  • We've got Google's Chrome OS along with Android on Pixel phones.
  • This is possible thanks to a special build of Chromium OS – the open-source version of Chrome OS – that is built to run in a virtual machine.
  • It's unclear whether Google plans to release it to the public.

Earlier today, we reported that Google has got Chrome OS on Pixel phones. The company created a special build of Chromium OS – the open-source version of Chrome OS – that is designed to run in a virtual machine. A demo of this project, known internally as “Ferrochrome,” was shown privately to other companies at a recent Google event. With a little effort, we managed to compile and run our own build of “Ferrochrome” on an Android phone. In the video embedded above, you can take a first look at Chrome OS running in a VM on a Pixel phone.

You'll notice in the video that the phone I chose for this demo is my Pixel 7 Pro, which is Google's flagship phone for 2022. It could also work on any other Tensor-powered Pixel device, and in fact, my first choice for this demo was my Pixel 8 Pro. Unfortunately, even though the Chromium OS build we compiled successfully booted on my Pixel 8 Pro, there was a bug that was preventing it from getting into the setup wizard. I specifically wanted to demo it on my Pixel 8 Pro, as it's the only phone I have in the Pixel lineup that supports display output. Sadly, since we couldn't get it working on our Pixel 8 Pro right away, we decided to demo “Ferrochrome” on our Pixel 7 Pro instead.

Another thing you'll notice in the video is that my Pixel 7 Pro is not running the latest official stable or beta build from Google. Instead, it's running a custom build of Android compiled from AOSP. This is because I needed to use Google's VM Launcher app. VM Launcher is an Android app created by Google that calls APIs in Android's Virtualization Framework (AVF) to create and launch a virtual machine using a configuration specified in a JSON file. This creates a SurfaceView to display the VM when the app is visible.

As you can see in the video, Chromium OS boots up very quickly on my Pixel 7 Pro. Since Chromium OS builds lack Google sign-in support by default, I had to sign in to a guest profile. Networking 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 Chromium OS's settings. Fortunately, USB peripherals like mouse and keyboard were recognized immediately. Audio isn't working, but I know Google is actively working on a fix. I didn't get much time to play with it before catching the flight, but from the brief time I spent with it the performance generally looked great.

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In case you're wondering, the only reason we have to compile our own build of AOSP is because the VM Launcher app is not yet included in any Android builds offered by Google for its Pixel devices. Luckily, the VM Launcher app is now included in the Virtualization Apex module thanks to a patch merged on April 9, so upcoming Android builds should have this app by default. Unfortunately, you'll still need to root your Android to try it out right now. This is because the VM Launcher app is disabled by default, which you can get around by recompiling and changing the package name. This may work because the permissions required for this can theoretically be granted via ADB, but unfortunately, the script currently requires root access to set up network access. Fortunately, Google's documentation states that the script will not be needed in the future, which hopefully means we will be able to run Chromium OS on any Android phone that supports AVF without the need for root!

If you're wondering whether it would be possible to run other operating systems, theoretically, it should be. However, Google's official, public documentation states that Chromium OS is “the only officially supported guest payload” until April 2024. But it also says Google will add support for running more operating systems with graphics support in the future.

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