If you’re curious about Android (after having enough of iOS or Windows Phone), there’s no need to buy a smartphone just for a trial run. You can experiment or explore Google’s operating system and its apps directly on your Windows (or Mac) computer. Here’s how.
Why you should run Android on your Windows computer
But before that, here are some more reasons why emulating or running Android on Windows is convenient:
- You want to play your games on a larger screen.
- You find the constant switching between smartphone and computer a hassle just to use your applications.
- You’re an app developer, and you want to test your code directly on the computer.
- You don’t want to own an Android device (because of your loyalty to another platform), but you want to try apps that are exclusive to Android.
- You’re a blogger/writer (like me!), and you find that taking screenshots for your Android-related articles is easier when you do it on a computer.
- You want to multi-task—using multiple apps simultaneously without having to switch between apps. (Almost all Android devices can only display one app at a time.)
- Your mobile device has very limited storage capacity, whereas you can install a virtually unlimited number of apps on your computer with its terabytes of hard disk storage.
Run Android on Windows using BlueStacks
If it’s just for the apps (i.e., you don’t care much for Android itself), then BlueStacks is your best choice. Just download the Bluestacks App Player from the official website, make a few clicks here and there during installation, and you’ll soon be running apps on your computer.
In most cases, BlueStacks is fast, stable and easy to use. I’ve seen friends using it on their computers. Note that the actual performance of the app player depends on the computer’s hardware. If you want everything to be smooth, prep your computer with lots of RAM, a decent discrete graphics card and updated drivers.
Once installed, you’ll need to search for games in Google Play and install them. You’ll need to enter your Google account. Apps that require SMS registration won’t work, unless your computer utilizes a SIM card (but I’m guessing it doesn’t). If you want to sync app data between your Android device and the app player, BlueStacks has a solution for that.
The downside to using BlueStacks is that it’s only free with a catch. If you want to use it, you’ll have to either pay $2 a month or install sponsored apps each day. For the latter option, you just have to install and not necessarily open them. You can even just uninstall them shortly afterwards.
User complaints about the BlueStacks App Player revolve around their computer hanging or freezing, unusually large bandwidth consumption, app downloads in the background, and incompatibility with antivirus software. I tried the app player myself, and my computer did start to freeze for no reason. Your experience may vary.
Run Android on Windows using the Andy emulator
Whereas the BlueStacks App player only run apps, the Andy emulator is a full-fledged emulator that lets you experience all of Android. Features of Andy include seamless sync between the emulator and mobile devices (using the 1ClickSync app), use of the most recent version of Android, desktop push notifications and more. There’s also an Andy mobile app that turns mobile devices into remote controls for the Andy desktop application. One useful application is making the mobile phone act like a joystick for playing games.
Getting Andy to run on your desktop is fairly straightforward. Just download, install and approve its firewall request. Running Andy for the first time is just like turning on an Android device for the first time, which is going through to the setup process of associating Andy go with your Google account. With the setup complete, you can pretty much do anything on Andy as you would on an actual Android device.
Run Android on Windows using Google’s official emulator
The official software development kit that Google distributes to developers comes with an Android emulator. It’s very flexible; it can be configured to behave as if it were running a certain version of Android on a virtual device. Developers can further modify the emulator by choosing different resolutions and hardware configurations.
Setting up this Android emulator requires a bit of effort, though. For instance, you’ll need to install other stuff in addition to the emulator itself. While being the purest of the Android experience means what you’ll see in the emulator is what you’ll exactly get in actual devices, it also means that there’s no Google Play available. In other words, installing apps on the emulator is different and requires some file management. I recommend only using this method if you’re a developer, because the previous methods have minimal setup and lets you easily run Android.
Install Android on your computer through the Android-x86 project
Instead of using emulators, you can actually install Android on your Intel- or AMD-based computer as its operating system. The community project known as Android-x86 is attempting to convert the Android source code so that it would run on x86 platforms. Even Intel itself is working on making Android compatible with Intel-based PCs.
However, both projects are not stable and have very limited hardware support. So instead of using Android as your main operating system for your computer system, consider making it as a backup OS in a dual-boot setting. As for Android-x86, you can also use it as a virtual OS, which leads us to the next method…
Run Android on Windows using Virtual Box
Instead of installing Android-x86 (or similar projects) on physical hardware, you can test drive them on a virtual environment. To do so, download and install VirtualBox, and then download an ISO version of Android-x86. Through VirtualBox, you can create a virtual machine with Linux (the architecture that Android is based on) as the operating system. The setup may take a while, but it’s not very difficult. It just involves booting the ISO file inside the virtual machine, creating a partition for the Android system, and adding a bootloader to such partition. If everything is done correctly, you’ll end up in the setup/welcome screen of Android. HowToGeek has a comprehensive guide for running Android on a virtual machine.