Did you know you can run your favorite Android e-reader, or other Android apps, via the Google Chrome web browser? Sort of? It’s currently an experimental Chrome app, part of the effort to merge ChromeOS and Android so Chromebooks can run Android apps. It doesn’t work properly with all applications, but the amazing thing is that it actually does work on any of them at all. With that in mind, you can use it to run—or at least try to run—any Android application via your Chrome desktop web browser.
The application in question is called ARC Welder, available for download via the Chrome web store. When you install it, it needs to install the Android ARC runtime, which is a couple hundred megabytes of download, so be sure you have the space. It will also ask you to select a local directory where it can write files; I choose an “ARC Welder” folder under the Windows Documents directory. Ostensibly for Android developers to use to package Chrome versions of their app for submission to the Chrome web store, ARC Welder will nonetheless work for any Android app you can get the APK for. This Chrome developer page has instructions for getting started with the app.
The next thing you need is the APK of the app in question. Since Google Play doesn’t let you download that directly, you need to use a workaround to download it. Evozi’s APK Downloader is probably the simplest, though it only works on free apps, not paid. Simply browse to the app from the Google Play Store, copy the URL, and paste it into the APK Downloader and click the button. Then download the APK to your computer.
You can also download APKs from the Amazon app store, the Humble Bundle, or anywhere else you can snag APKs from outside the Google Play ecosystem. I’d be cautious about downloading APKs from stores you don’t know, though; you never know what might have been done to them. Another option is to extract the APK file from an Android device you already have; here are some tips for doing that.
Once you’ve got ARC Welder and the APK, open your Chrome app launcher by clicking the “Apps” bookmark at the left end of your Chrome bookmark toolbar, then launch the ARC Welder app. (Depending on how many apps you have, it may be on the second screen. Click the second bar down at the bottom to switch to it.)
Click on the ARC Welder app to launch it, then click the plus icon next to “Add your APK”. Navigate to wherever you downloaded the APK file, then choose it. Next it will bring up a “Test your app” screen in which you choose the options under which to run the app. The “getting started” page suggests using “Tablet” or “Maximized” for the form factor, and “Landscape” for the orientation. Once you’ve set the options you want, click on the “Test” button to add the Android app to your Chrome app launcher tab. If the app doesn’t work so well this way, go back to ARC Welder again and change the options, then “Test” again.
I tried a few Android e-readers and had mixed luck. The Kindle app worked fairly well in “Maximized” form factor—it let me log into my Amazon account, downloaded books, opened them, and even showed up as “Chris’s Android Device” in my list of authorized devices. However, I couldn’t open the font control panel, it was clearly set for a lower resolution than my desktop, and everything showed up as one wide column, rather than the usual two. In “Tablet” form factor it crashed when I tried to open The Steerswoman and didn’t work properly after that the first time. The next time I tried it it opened Alliance of Equals with no problems but crashed again on The Steerswoman.
The free version of UB Reader looked like it worked all right, but when I opened the included book, I got screen garbage if I did it in tablet form, and a blank screen if I did it in maximized. I couldn’t even get Moon+ to open a book, as it seemed to have interface problems. Plus, even if I could have opened them, I don’t know how to get files into the ARC Welder’s virtual implementation of Android , so I couldn’t have loaded my own books into them.
So, clearly, this isn’t going to be the perfect solution for running Android e-reader apps on your desktop. It still has some distance to go for full compatibility—which is why it’s currently mainly aimed at developers. As it stands, there are perfectly decent native e-reader apps for Windows anyway. However, it might still be fun for you to play with.
You can only “test” one app at a time—the next one you run will displace the previous one. However, if you find an app works pretty well in Chrome and want to keep it on a permanent basis, launch ARC Welder again and choose “Download ZIP.” That will download a zipped Chrome extension, ostensibly intended for publishing to the Chrome web store, that you can install into your copy of Chrome as a normal Chrome extension, make available to friends, etc.