Android has developed into the most popular computing platform on the planet, a ton of fascinating Android apps have been created, some of which aren’t available on iOS or other platforms. Even in the era of enormous smartphones, there may be times when you wish to utilize those apps on a larger screen, such as the one attached to your Windows PC. Fortunately, you can run Android apps on a PC with a little effort. There are a few alternative approaches, each with advantages and disadvantages.
Utilizing the Android emulator provided by Google as part of the official Android Studio is one common method for getting Android apps to run on a PC. Using the emulator, you may build virtual devices with any hardware setup and running whatever version of Android you like. Given that this is a developer-oriented approach, setup is a little challenging.
To download the platforms you want, you’ll need to download the installer from Google’s website and go through the setup procedure. This will probably be the most recent Android version available at the time (7.1 at the time of publishing). For Nexus/Pixel devices, Google offers some pre-configured emulation options in the menu, but you can also manually adjust the settings. Once your virtual device has booted, you’ll need to install apps, but the emulator is the barebones open source version of Android with no Google apps included.
You have to manage files since there is no Play Store. Drop the desired APK file (whether it’s the Google app package or something else) into the tools folder of your SDK directory. Then, while your AVD is running, type (in that directory) adb install filename.apk at the command prompt. The app needs to be added to your virtual device’s app list.
The main benefit in this situation is that the emulator uses stock, unaltered Android. Nearly everything should run, and apps will display in the emulator exactly as they do on devices. Before installing new app builds on test devices, it’s fantastic for testing them. The emulator’s slowness is the main issue because you won’t want to use it frequently to run apps. The same applies to playing games.
BlueStacks presents itself as merely a means of running apps, but in reality, it is actually running a full (heavily modified) version of Android. Additionally, it has the Play Store integrated, giving you immediate access to all of your purchased content. It poses as an Android phone but actually adds a new entry to your Google Play device list.
A desktop window containing the BlueStacks client will open up with a variety of app categories, including social, games, and more. Unexpectedly, when you click on an app or conduct a search, the full Play Store client for tablets appears. The fact that you can move around in this interface in the same way you would on a genuine Android device proves that BlueStacks is much more than just a “App Player” front end. BlueStacks’ main screen, which features the app categories, is just a custom home screen; by replacing it, BlueStacks becomes more reminiscent of a typical Android device.
Having full Play Store access means you won’t be messing around with side-loading apps, and BlueStacks manages to run apps pretty well (and better if you have a CPU that supports hardware virtualization). Most games are playable, but keep in mind you’ll have trouble operating many of them with a mouse. If your PC has a touch screen, you can still use apps and games that rely on more than one touch input. BlueStacks can essentially make a Windows tablet PC into a part-time Android tablet.
Windows Subsystem for Android
You should be using Windows 11 if you want to install and run multiple apps and games on your computer with the least amount of hassle. The Windows Subsystem for Android, developed by Microsoft and Amazon, enables the use of Android apps on any powerful enough PC. Simply launch the (beta) Amazon App store client on Windows and log in to get going.
Even on a phone, the Amazon App store for Android is lacking in appealing apps, and the Windows 11 beta has even fewer options. It does, however, come with Windows and performs admirably. Performance is rarely excellent, but it generally remains consistent whether you’re using the Kindle app or engaging in 3D gaming.
Because the Windows Subsystem for Android is integrated with the system, you can use it to sideload and run apps from outside of Amazon’s store. Keep in mind that some apps require Google’s mobile services framework, which is not present in Windows. Plenty of apps still work, though.
The first step in side-loading an app is to find the APK installer. I prefer to use APK Mirror, a reputable site with a huge database of free apps. Find the Android subsystem settings in Windows, and enable Developer Mode. This page should also show an IP address that you’ll need later. Next, you will have to download Google’s SDK Platform Tools, which will allow you to connect to the virtual Android machine in Windows.
Next, you have to open a command prompt in the platform tools folder and connect to Android with adb connect IP_address, using the IP address from above. Then you can simply use adb install file_path, using the path to the APK file you downloaded. Some systems will require you to specify the IP address again as seen below.
Link to Windows
Some Android phones (mostly Samsung devices) have enhanced support for Microsoft’s Your Phone Windows client, offering access to your messages, notifications, photos, and yes, apps. The apps are actually being mirrored from your phone rather than actually running on the computer. But this system is well developed and has official support. Everything else we’ve discussed so far is either inaccessible to regular users or has limitations, but Link to Windows can get you up and running quickly.
You will need a phone that works with the latest Your Phone features. That includes the Samsung Galaxy S9 and newer, as well as the Microsoft Surface Duo. The feature will expand to more phones in the future, though.
First, make sure you’ve got the Your Phone app on your Windows PC. Next, launch the Link to Windows client on your Samsung phone — it should be accessible under Advanced Features and from the quick settings. You’ll have to scan a QR code on your computer with the phone and sign into your Microsoft account. And that’s it.
What’s the Best Way, then?
The emulator is still the best option if you need to test something with the goal of installing it on other Android devices. Due to the complexity of app configuration and management, this is best suited for developers. Although it moves slowly, you can get a sense of how things will operate in the real world. The Windows Subsystem for Android is typically the best option for users who want to run more than a few apps on their PC so they can use and enjoy them.
If you happen to have a phone compatible with Microsoft’s latest Your Phone features, that’s by far the easiest way to get Android apps on your PC. Many of these phones are expensive, so it’s not worth buying one just for this single use case. However, if you’re due for an upgrade and running Android apps on a PC is on your list of priorities, this might influence your decision. I still don’t think you should buy the Surface Duo, though.