Android on Raspberry Pi: How to run Google's popular OS

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The $35 Raspberry Pi runs a plethora of operating systems, but one popular OS that is particularly tricky to get working is Google’s Android.

The principal software engineer at the Raspberry Pi Trading has, quite reasonably, pointed out that the overhead of supporting Android as an official OS would outweigh its value. Therefore your only option is to rely on third parties to get the OS up and running.

Unfortunately this lack of official support means running Android on the Pi is typically hard work, generally requiring command-line tinkering to set up versions of the OS that are often stripped back and unstable.

However, if you still fancy running Android on the Pi here are some of the better options.

emteria.OS

One of the easiest ways of getting a working Android-based system on the Pi is using emteria.OS.

emteria.OS is described as a regularly updated “industrial” version of Android, which by default offers a variety of apps, including a browser, email client, hardware-accelerated video player, and file manager.

SEE: Hardware spotlight: The Raspberry Pi

The downside is that the OS’ free version comes with restrictions, rebooting every eight hours and throwing up activation reminders. To remove these you’ll need to pay 18 euros per device for a personal licence. The cost rises to 19 euros per device for a business licence, which covers various extras, including a bespoke app market and more comprehensive support.

The OS is aimed at businesses, with Emteria suggesting the system could run apps used in everything from vending machines and digital signage to point of sale and industrial control devices.

There’s also no Google Play Store by default, with apps instead loaded onto the system via the F-Droid store.

Available for the Raspberry Pi 3 B and B+, you can check out this detailed walkthrough on getting started with the OS on the Pi, which also covers how to sideload apps.

This review of emertia.OS reports good performance and stability when used on a Pi 3-based DIY tablet, and if you’re interested in a similar setup, Emteria lists compatible touchscreens to use with the Pi 3.

LineageOS

A community-supported, vendor-neutral Android-fork designed to be used on a wide range of smartphones, tablets, and set-top boxes.

Similar to its predecessor CyanogenMod, the OS strips away unnecessary bloatware while also bundling apps such as a browser, email, calendar, music player, and file manager.

While the LineageOS team doesn’t officially support the Raspberry Pi, enterprising individuals have ported it to the Pi 3 B and Pi 3 B+, most recently LineageOS v15.1, which is based on Android Oreo 8.1.

The developer behind the port says the OS is “for advanced users only”, as it requires technical knowledge to set it up and to install apps — since again the Google Play Store isn’t installed by default. However, you can find a full list of instructions on getting started here, and if you’re difficulty running v15.1, then v14.1 is available to download here.

Custom Android 7.1 build

If you’re even more technically proficient you may want to try out these Android TV and Android tablet versions of Android Nougat 7.1 on the Raspberry Pi 3, although these builds only come with a smattering of apps and you should expect to encounter stability issues.

Android Things

This isn’t a good choice for most users, as Android Things shouldn’t be confused with the version of Android found on tablets and phones.

Android Things only allows the user to run a single Android app in the foreground at a time and is primarily aimed at developers building internet-connected appliances and other IoT devices.

That said, the OS is stable and available to download for the Raspberry Pi 3 here.

Try a Pi rival instead

If getting Android working on the Pi sounds too much like hard work, there are various rival single-board computers that support the OS.

A decent choice might be the Asus Tinker Board S, which is available with a working version of Android ‘Marshmallow’ 6.0 and a community-created build of Android ‘Nougat’ 7.1, which includes the Google Play Store by default. Unfortunately, the Tinker Board S costs $79.99, considerably more than the Pi, but does include a faster processor and double the memory of the Pi 3 B, resulting in notably improved performance.

Tests of Android 6.0 running on the base Asus Tinker Board reported decent stability and reasonable performance for the price, and the Tinker Board S may improve on these benchmarks due to its 16GB of built-in eMMC storage.

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