How to Install Android on Raspberry Pi

Oh, the things you can do with a Raspberry Pi running Android OS

The Raspberry Pi is a low power single board computer with an ARM processor. If that description sounds familiar, that’s because it’s essentially what nearly all cell phones are. So, Android on a Raspberry Pi would be only natural, right? Well, that’s unfortunately not the case. The Pi was never designed to work with Android. Linux is the operating system of choice for the Pi, and that doesn’t seem likely to change.

If you'd like to try out Android on the Pi, you can still do that, thanks to an active developer community. Don't expect a polished Android install or a device like you'd find on the shelf of your local electronics retailer. What you will get, however, is an interesting opportunity to try out Android on a new platform and see what it can do. You'll be able to use Android on your TV and sideload apps from your computer to test them out. It has even been possible, depending on app versions, to get Netflix working.

What Can You Do With a Raspberry Pi Running Android?

The interesting thing here is that there really isn't a limit to what you can do with a Pi running Android, except for your own technical skill. When you first install Android on the Pi, it doesn't come with much. You'll only have the most basic Android apps from the Android Open Source Project, not Google. That means you won't have the Play Store or any of the related Google tools and utilities.

You can get the Play Store running on the Pi, but the process is fairly involved, and the result usually isn't worth the effort. On the Pi, the Play Store tends to be slow and buggy at best.

That means you need to get creative. Certainly, if you're an app developer, the sky's the limit. If you aren't, but you are willing to experiment, you can get a ton of apps working on the Pi and even customize the interface for larger screens, meaning it has real potential as a media center.

Sideloading the apps from your computer to the Pi is a fairly simple process, and you can use the ADB to control just about anything from your computer over your local network.

Why Isn't Everyone Running Android on the Pi?

Android on the Raspberry Pi can be unstable. Expect the occasional bug when getting set up. Android also isn't optimized for the Raspberry Pi hardware, meaning the performance you see won't be nearly as good as other operating systems on the Pi.

As mentioned before, the Play Store doesn't work well on the Raspberry Pi, if at all. Installing apps requires some technical knowledge and experience working in the command line. The Play Store and Google Play Services are at the core of some apps and are needed for them to function properly. These apps will not function normally, if at all, on the Pi.

The versions of Android for the Raspberry Pi are not official and they aren't actively maintained. Most are hobby projects from developers looking to experiment with the Android operating system on the Pi. This software isn't polished, and it's not meant to be reliably used on a regular basis. It's purely there for other developers and tech enthusiasts to experiment with and build on.

Download the Tools

You'll need a couple of different files to start the process of putting Android on your Raspberry Pi. Here's how to get started.

  1. Begin by downloading Etcher. It’s a free disk writing tool that works on Windows, Mac, and Linux, and it’s very easy to work with.

    Etcher download page
  2. Next, download the latest Android build for the Raspberry Pi. Head over to the developer’s release page, and follow the link to the latest build. Download the Zip file.

    Android for Raspberry Pi download page
  3. Unpack the ZIP file, so you get the Android .img file.

    Unpack Android Raspberry Pi image

Flash Android onto the SD Card

Once you've downloaded the version of Android you intend to use on your Raspberry Pie, you'll need to put it on an SD card to load it onto the Pi. Here's how to get that ready:

  1. Insert your MicroSD card into your computer.

  2. Open Etcher. There’s no need to install it, you can run it in place form the folder where you downloaded it.

    Etcher running on Ubuntu
  3. In the first Etcher column, locate your Android image file and select it.

    Etcher with Android image loaded
  4. If your MicroSD isn’t already listed in the middle column, go ahead and locate it.

  5. Verify everything that you’ve set up in Etcher. The program will overwrite everything on the drive you selected, so be careful. When you’re absolutely certain, press Flash in the final column.

  6. Allow Etcher to finish writing the Android image to your MicroSD card. When it’s done, you can remove the card from your computer.

Set Up and Boot the Raspberry Pi

  1. Assemble your Raspberry Pi and insert the MicroSD card.

  2. Then, connect the keyboard and monitor to the appropriate ports on the device. When everything else is in place, plug in the Pi to give it power.

  3. When everything else is in place, plug in the Pi to give it power.

  4. The Raspberry Pi will start booting up. It will walk through some initial Android setup in the background before rebooting into the graphical new device configuration.

  5. Walk through the LineageOS(Android) set up procedure. If you’ve ever set up a new Android phone, the process is nearly identical. You’ll just need to answer a couple of questions about your device and connect to your WiFi. After you’re done, you’ll arrive on your Android home screen. You can control everything normally with a mouse and keyboard.

  6. Once you're connected to your network, you can enable the developer tools on your new Android Raspberry Pi and sideload some apps over to try out.

  7. In order to sideload apps, you'll need to install the Android SDK or just the ADB. From there, you can enable the developer options on the Pi, and enable debugging both over USB and WiFi. Then, you can download Android APK app files on your computer and send them over to the Pi.