How to run Android apps in Windows

When it comes to app selection, few platforms rival Android. Unfortunately, getting apps from your phone or tablet to your Windows PC isn’t as straightforward as simply installing a suite desktop software. To help make the process easier, however, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on what software and utilities you need in order to install Android apps on almost any Windows machine. This way, you can enjoy the best Android apps and best Android games on the big screen.

If you’re running a Chromebook, we’ve also put together a dedicated guide on how to install Android apps on Chrome OS.

Bluestacks emulator

The Bluestacks App Player is one of the most popular and robust Android emulators around, allowing you to run 32-bit and 64-bit games and apps for Android 7.1.2 (Nougat) on your Windows desktop.

It’s free to use, and you can easily toggle emulation settings and launch apps using the custom-designed interface. “Layercake” technology uses hardware accelerators to improve the performance of Android games running on Windows-based machines.

If you have a Facebook or Twitch account and a PC with more than 8GB of RAM, you can even broadcast apps and games directly from the Bluestacks window. However, users may want to enable AMD-V or Intel VT-x within the BIOS for optimal performance, if available.

Bluestacks offers an optional subscription ($4 per month or $40 per year) that enables premium support, disables advertisements, includes wallpapers, and more. It’s also now compatible with the Galaxy Store, allowing you to use and play apps purchased through Samsung’s app store.

Here’s how to install Bluestacks to your computer:

Step 1: Download the installer from the official Bluestacks website.

Step 2: Launch the install application and choose the storage location for the app and data files. Unfortunately, you can’t change the Bluestacks directory — it will install on your boot drive by default.

Step 3: Once Bluestacks installs, launch it and enter your Google and/or Samsung account credentials. You’ll need this info to log in to the Google Play Store and Galaxy Store and access your Android app library.

Dual booting

There’s an alternative to Android emulators that gives you newer versions of Android, but the setup is a bit more involved. It’s called “dual booting,” and it effectively transforms your Windows computer into an Android device. You’ll gain the option to boot into Android when you switch on your computer, and Android will work just like it does on your smartphone or tablet.

However, getting started is not as simple as installing native Android. Because computer hardware — processors, graphics cards, and hard drives — must be added to Android by a third-party developer, you’ll need to find a custom distribution that supports your machine.

Android-x86

Android-x86 brings Android to x86-based PCs with AMD and Intel processors. What’s interesting about this project is that users can install any flavor of Android, whether it’s the now-stale Donut (v1.6) or the more recent Pie (v9). The project even offers builds of LineageOS (cm-x86) that can run on x86-based processors.

For those seeking a more recent Android build, Android-x86 9.0-r2 was the latest release at the time of this publication. Based on Android-9.0.0_r54, it fixed an audio issue on the Surface 3 and another one regarding booting into UEFI mode. Contributors are currently working on a version based on Android 10.

Though customizations to the Android operating system are minimal, the Android-x86 team did add some meaningful tweaks to give your Android install a desktop-like interface. It comes with features like a new Taskbar launcher and the ability to launch apps in resizable windows rather than just full-screen.

Android-x86 also lets you customize Android to your liking. You can install third-party themes, home screens, and more without having to worry about whether or not they will play nicely together — unlike Remix OS.

To use Android-x86, your PC must have:

  • An AMD or Intel processor.
  • 2GB or more RAM.
  • 4GB or more disk space.
  • An available USB port.

If your PC meets the requirements, you will need these three tools:

Now let’s get started:

UNetbootin
Kevin Parrish/Digital Trends

Step 1: Find and open UNetbootin and click the Three Dots button to the far right of Diskimage.

Step 2: Locate and select the downloaded ISO file.

Step 3: At the bottom next to Type, select USB Drive from the list, and then click OK.

Wait for UNetbootin to copy and install Android-x86 to your flash drive.

Step 4: Reboot your computer. This may require you to hit a specific key to prevent Windows 10 from loading, like ESC or F12. A screen should appear allowing you to select Boot to the Boot Device Selection.

Step 5: Select your flash drive.

Step 6: From the UNetbootin menu, select Install Android-x86 to Hard Disk.

Step 7: Select the partition — or location — to which you want to install Android-x86. The program will ask if you plan to format the disk. If you’re unsure, don’t.

Step 8: Select Yes to install GRUB and then select Yes again.

Step 9: A prompt asks if you want to “make system r/w,” which enables Android-x86 to read and write data to your hard drive. Select Yes.

Step 10: Reboot your computer for the second time. Once installed, use the Google Play Store to install Android apps as you wish.

Samsung’s Link to Windows

Microsoft’s Your Phone app allows Android phone owners to send and receive texts from their Windows PC without using their mobile devices. Users can also access their phone’s photos from Windows 10 and see phone-related notifications in the Action Center.

Samsung takes this cool relationship one step further with Link to Windows. This technology now provides two services: Phone Screen and Apps. With the former, you’re essentially streaming a Samsung phone’s screen to an interactive window on your PC. With Apps, you’re streaming individual apps rather than mirroring the phone’s entire screen.

However, all Android apps remain on the Samsung phone. Moreover, this method requires the Windows 10 PC and Samsung Android phone to be on the same local network. Microsoft provides a list of compatible Samsung phones here — not all Samsung phones support Link to Windows.

Finally, this method requires the Windows 10 November 2019 Update (at the very least) to work properly. All Samsung phones must have Android 9 or newer.

Step 1: Open the Your Phone app or download it from the Microsoft Store if it’s not installed.

Step 2: Sign in to your Microsoft Account.

Step 3: Move to the Samsung phone. Swipe down on the Quick Panel and tap Link to Windows. If it doesn’t appear in the Quick Panel, download it from the Google Play Store — it’s typically integrated into newer Samsung phones.

Step 4: If other Microsoft apps are already signed in, you won’t need to do it again on your phone. If not, sign in manually.

Step 5: Allow permissions when prompted.

Step 6: The Samsung phone and Windows 10 should begin synchronizing. When complete, tap the blue Allow button on the Samsung phone’s screen to allow the pairing.

If successful, the Samsung phone will display a switch that’s toggled on — tap it to disconnect at any time. The screen also lists the connected PC’s name and the Microsoft Account login name.

Step 6: With the Your Phone app open in Windows 10, click the Gear (settings) icon in the bottom-left corner.

Step 7: Verify that the Display My Phone Screen option is on.

Step 8: Select the Phone Screen or Apps option on the left to begin.

Surface Duo and Microsoft’s Emulator

The Surface Duo launched on September 10, 2020. It’s a dual-screen folding Android smartphone running on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC.

To prepare for the upcoming Surface Duo, Microsoft made the Duo SDK Preview available to download for both developers and interested fans. This preview installs an Android emulator on your computer designed to mimic the dual-screen Duo layout, integrated with Android Studio.

If you don’t mind dipping your toes in the developer tool world, this is an option to quickly run and test Android apps on your Windows computer (and see how they’ll run on Duo for future reference). You can download this emulator for free right here and try it out.

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