Please excuse the bit of self-promotion here. Oh, and disclaimer: Shrout Research and PC Perspective share management and ownership.
Based on testing done by Shrout Research and published in a paper this week, the introduction of Android applications on Chromebooks directly though the Play Store has added a new wrinkle into the platform selection decision. Android applications, unlike Chromebook native apps, have a heavy weight towards the Android phone and tablet ecosystem, with "defacto" optimization for the ARM-based processors and platforms that represent 98%+ of that market. As a result, there are some noticeable and noteworthy differences when running Android apps on Chromebooks powered by an ARM SoC and an Intel x86 SoC.
With that market dominance as common knowledge, all Android applications are developed targeting ARM hardware, for ARM processors. Compilers and performance profiling software has been built and perfected to improve the experience and efficiency of apps to run on ARMv7 (32-bit) and ARMv8 (64-bit) architectures. This brings to the consumer an improved overall experience, including better application compatibility and better performance.
Using a pair of Acer Chromebooks, the R11 based on the Intel Celeron N3060 and the R13 based on the MediaTek MT8173C, testing was done to compare the performance, loading times, and overall stability of various Android Play Store applications. A range of application categories were addressed including games, social, and productivity.
Through 19 tested Android apps we found that the ARM-powered R13 Chromebook performed better than the Intel-powered R11 Chromebook in 9 of them. In 8 of the apps tested, both platforms performed equally well. In 2 of the test applications, the Intel-powered system performed better (Snapchat and Google Maps).
The paper also touches on power consumption, and between these two systems, the ARM-based MediaTek SoC was using 11.5% less power to accomplish the same tasks.
Our testing indicates the Acer R13, using the ARM-powered processor, uses 11.5% less power on average in our 150 minutes of use through our education simulation. This is a significant margin and would indicate that with two systems equally configured, one with the MediaTek ARM processor and another with the Intel Celeron processor, the ARM-powered platform would get 11.5% additional usage time before requiring a charge. Based on typical Chromebook battery life (11 hours), the ARM system would see an additional 75 minutes of usability.
There is a lot more detail in the white paper on ShroutResearch.com, including a discussion about the impact that the addition of Android applications on Chromebooks might have for the market as whole:
…bringing a vast library of applications from the smart phone market to the Chromebook would create a combination of capabilities that would turn the computing spectrum sideways. This move alleviates the sustained notion that Chromebooks are connected-only devices and gives an instant collection of usable offline applications and tools to the market.