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Although there are so many operating systems available for the Raspberry Pi, you might prefer to stick with one based on Linux. But what about the lack of touchscreen support?
Perhaps the best solution is to install Android on Raspberry Pi. But how well does it work, and is there a significant difference from its mobile version? Let’s find out.
Why Install Android Instead of Linux on Raspberry Pi?
Linux is widely available for the Raspberry Pi. From the Raspbian Stretch distribution released by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, to Arch Linux, versions of Ubuntu, and more, it’s the mainstream choice. The lightweight Raspberry Pi operating systems (typically used when you need a barebones approach) are all based on Linux, too.
So why choose Android for your Raspberry Pi? Well, there’s the touchscreen factor, for starters. None of the other Raspberry Pi operating systems have these, save those running other software on top, such as Kodi.
Then there’s the choice of apps. While Android for Raspberry Pi isn’t 100 percent stable, it is nevertheless capable of offering a vast selection of apps and games for you to use and play with. Online RPGs, handy utilities, office tools (Microsoft Office, for instance), and much more are available.
You can even build your own Android tablet from scratch.
What You’ll Need
To install Android on Raspberry Pi, you will need:
- Raspberry Pi 3 or 3B+ model—Android won’t run reliably on lower-spec models
- A reliable, suitable power supply
- A high-quality microSD card that’s at least 16GB
- Display (the official 7-inch Raspberry Pi Touchscreen Display is a good option)
- Mouse and/or keyboard if you’re not using a touchscreen display
You also must download the Android image for the Raspberry Pi 3. Finally, you’ll need the Etcher software, used for writing disk images to flash storage. This is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux in 32-bit and 64-bit versions.
Let’s get started.
Step 1: Flash Android to microSD Card
With all your files downloaded, start by installing Etcher on your computer. Next, insert the microSD card into your card reader. Also, ensure you’ve unzipped the Android image file and have it ready to use.
Launch Etcher. If you haven’t used this tool before, you’ll see it is far simpler than any alternatives. Etcher features a three-step process:
- Click Select image
- Browse your device to select the ISO file
- Click OK
It’s as simple as that. Etcher will reformat your SD card, too, so there’s no need to worry about doing this first. The app should detect your microSD card automatically. If not, click Select Drive (or Change if the wrong device is selected) and browse to it.
Finally, click Flash to begin writing to your microSD card. Wait while the process completes, then close Etcher and safely remove the microSD card. You can then insert the card in your powered-off Raspberry Pi 3. Connect a display and input device (keyboard, mouse, touchpad, or touchscreen), then boot it up.
Step 2: Install Android on the Raspberry Pi
When you switch on your Raspberry Pi, Android will boot. The experience may be a little sluggish at first; you can expect an initially slow boot while the system configures. After a few minutes (ours took 90 seconds), however, you should notice normal performance.
From here, you can access the usual default Android apps and get online as normal via the pull-down menu. If your Raspberry Pi 3 is connected to your network via Ethernet, this is already done; otherwise, use Wi-Fi.
At this point, the operating system is up, running, and usable. In many scenarios this might be enough. But what if you want to install apps? The only option is to sideload, importing Android APK files from external storage or a cloud drive.
To do this, however, you’ll first need to enable Unknown Sources in the Settings > Security menu. Find Settings by moving your mouse to the top-right corner of the desktop.
If you want to install an APK file from your cloud storage, open the storage in the browser and download the APK file. Once downloaded, drag down the notification bar from the top of the screen, and select the APK file to install it.
Check the permissions, then install. It’s not as simple as having access to Google Play, but it’s good enough. If you want access to a store environment, use a Google Play alternative.
Other Android Projects for Raspberry Pi
While we’ve looked at a project that utilizes a specific Android 7.1 build, others are available. These include:
- emteria.OS: Perhaps the most well-known implementation of Android on Raspberry Pi, emteria.OS is available free or as a premium product (around $21). The free option stops working every eight hours and displays a watermark.
- LineageOS 15.1 (based on Android 8.1): If you don’t like the restrictions of emteria.OS, this version of Android is a strong alternative.
- Android Things: This version is a useful Internet of Things platform that runs on the Raspberry Pi 3 and later. While it’s ideal for IoT projects, it’s less suited for running games and apps.
Selecting the right version of Android for your purposes will give you the best results. Take the time to try out all available versions to help make an informed decision.
Consider a Different Board
If the Raspberry Pi isn’t working out for you as an Android device, remember that it’s not the only single-board computer available. Since the Pi launched in 2012, many competitor devices have come along, all offering compact computing with enough power to run a basic desktop or play HD movies.
On the downside, these solutions aren’t as affordable as the Raspberry Pi. Its inherent cheapness makes it the go-to solution for so many projects. After all, the Raspberry Pi Zero costs just a few dollars!
If you’re considering a replacement for your Raspberry Pi, check these Raspberry Pi alternatives. Many of them can run Android.
Does the Raspberry Pi Make a Good Android Device?
Android works well, overall, but it could do with better support for the Raspberry Pi. Happily, there seems to be enthusiasm in providing a workable version of Android for the Pi.
What Android apps might you use on the Raspberry Pi? Well, with a big-screen TV connected, media-related apps are particularly promising. With video apps like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and even Kodi, you could turn the Raspberry Pi into an Android TV box. Alternatively, you may prefer to run games on your Raspberry Pi-powered Android device.
Unfortunately, support for the Raspberry Pi from Android app developers is non-existent. As such, running apps and games is often a gamble, despite the improved hardware stats of the Raspberry Pi 3. All in all, though, Android runs reasonably well on the Raspberry Pi—better than on some cheap tablets!
Android is a great operating system, but perhaps it’s not the right one for your Raspberry Pi. Looking for an alternative to Raspbian and Linux in general? Plenty of Raspberry Pi-compatible operating systems don’t use Linux and you might also consider using Chrome OS on your Raspberry Pi.