How to run Android apps on your PC
You’re about to enter a world of pain
1. Android apps are touch optimized and may use motion sensors. Your PC probably doesn’t have either of these input methods and if it does have a touchscreen, it won’t work as well in the emulator – if at all – as it does on a smartphone.
Emulators can map such inputs to your keyboard or ideally to a gamepad and thus simulate them. However, the user experience and the associated gaming fun or at least the ease of use are usually much worse.
2. Also, the performance is significantly worse than on a smartphone; unless of course, your smartphone is a starter model from 2015 and your computer is newer, has an Intel i5 or better and a dedicated graphics card. After all, new emulators rely on Android 7.1.1 Nougat and are therefore able to handle faster OpenGL versions. In the test, however, there was still a lack of Vulkan support, which would be promised improvement.
3. The software in emulators is unfinished. A lot of things are broken in emulators. Not only the above-mentioned mappings for translating touch and motion inputs often seem to be unreliable. Also the software interface itself is often overloaded with advertisements, is updated little or not at all and simply stops sometime in some examples of the story, because the developers simply give up the product.
MEmu Play promotes itself
The new kid on the block is MEmu Play. It inherits the orphaned NOX App Player that stopped with version Android 4.4. MEmu uses the same interface, so it has several settings on the right side, emulates and maps touch and motion inputs to keyboard, mouse or gamepad.
It pre-installs the Play Store right away. APKs can also be sideloaded, i.e. games can be installed from outside the Play Store. Notifications are looped through to the Windows 10 notification system.
During the first installation after the download, be careful not to accept the optional installation of the browser and anti-malware software by clicking Decline so as to install MEmu without bloatware.
OpenGL ES is only supported up to version ES 3.0. More modern titles based on ES 3.1 or even Vulkan are not included.
BlueStacks brings Android games to the PC
The latter also applies to BlueStacks: OpenGL Es 3.0 is the end. However, BlueStacks is the most durable of all independent Android emulators. The App Player integrates into your Windows system in such a way that games can be started directly via a desktop shortcut. The detour via the fiddly Android surface is therefore a thing of the past.
BlueStacks exists since the end of 2011 and the developers could gain a lot of experience in the field of Android on the PC during this time. You can make mobile games like Star Trek Fleet Command executable on your PC.
Remix OS is dead, long live Phoenix OS
The independently executable operating system Remix OS was inherited by Phoenix. Unfortunately, the successor still inherits the same sufferings: Not all machines boot into the system, and if they do, they are plagued by a lack of hardware support. The experiment is interesting, but as a PC operating system Android (7.1 in this case) will not work in 2019 either.
Like Remix, Phoenix is based on the open source Android x86 project. This has made the image based on Android 8.1 Oreo available for download in January 2019. This even promises real, albeit experimental, Vulkan support – at least for AMD graphics chips.
The emulator cemetery is filling up
AMIDuOS was a well-known Android emulator. After a few months of inactivity, the overdue decision was made to pull the plug. The project was not brought up to date for a long time and could not keep up with BlueStacks or AnDy in terms of performance.
AnDy made it to Android Nougat. The free Android emulator offered nearly the same features as BlueStacks. Since 2016, however, at least product marketing has been at a standstill, even though the software still receives occasional updates. So the project seems orphaned.
Professionals emulate Android differently anyway …
There are also other niche solutions such as AnBox, Shashlik or ARChon. However, they are complex to install and serve a completely different purpose than the consumer-friendly Android emulator BlueStacks.
And professionals prefer the Android Studio Emulator anyway. Although it is the only one that offers the current Android version, it has zero ease of use or performance optimization.
Android on the PC: the conclusion
Especially on Windows computers, BlueStacks is rightly still considered by many as a synonym for Android emulators. The app player delivers the ideal compromise of ease of use, performance and reliability.
Have you tried emulating Android apps on the PC? What are they, which emulator do you use and what are your experiences? Share your experience with us in the comments.