How to run Android apps in Windows

Like Apple’s Mac App Store, Microsoft struggles to deliver a strong app portfolio for Windows 10. The Microsoft Store’s library is certainly more populated with the apps we use most, like Facebook, Netflix, and Hulu, for instance. However, you’ll find an even bigger selection on Android. We show you how to run Android apps on Windows.

Further reading

With the help of third-party software, you can probably run your favorite Android apps on your Windows computer. Unfortunately, getting apps from your phone or tablet to your Windows PC isn’t straightforward like installing desktop software. And while Microsoft is beta testing Android app mirroring in Windows 10, this still isn’t running the physical app on your machine.

There are several ways to run Android apps in Windows 10, ranging from emulators to dual-booting. To help simplify things, we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide on what software and utilities you need to install Android apps on almost any Windows computer.

If you’re running a Chromebook, you may want to check out our dedicated guide to installing 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 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 and exclusive offers from app developers.

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 account credentials. You’ll need this info to log in to the Google Play 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’s 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.

Phoenix OS

Like the now-defunct Remix OS, Phoenix OS is a full Android 7.1 or 5.1 operating system that runs on your Windows machine. That gives it the functionality of a desktop OS, along with all of the compatibility with Android applications.

Here’s how to get started:

Step 1: Go to the Phoenix OS download page and download the latest installer for your PC. Choose the EXE or ISO file for the version of Android you prefer. Currently, you choose the installer for Android 7.1 or Android 5.1.

Step 2: Create a new partition for Phoenix OS. For more information on how to do that, see our Windows guide.

Step 3: Run the Phoenix OS installer and install it on the new partition. Alternatively, create a bootable USB drive with Phoenix OS and install it on boot.

Step 4: Choose a volume letter and the size of the volume you want to create.

Step 5: Wait for the installation process to complete and then reboot. When your PC restarts, choose Phoenix OS from your boot menu.

The latest versions of Phoenix OS come preloaded with the Google Play Store, so download your apps from there, and away you go!

Android-x86

Android-x86 is an open-source project that seeks to port the newest version Android to Windows hardware.

The latest version of Android-x86 adds much-welcome support for Google’s notification features, smarter management of background apps, smart text selection, and OpenGL ES 3.x hardware acceleration for Intel, AMD, and Nvidia graphics.

Though customizations to the Android OS are minimal, the Android-x86 team did add some meaningful tweaks to give your Android install a desktop-like interface. This version 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 whether or not they will play nicely together — unlike Remix OS. See this list for supported devices.

Here’s how to install Android-x86 to your PC:

Step 1: First, make sure your computer’s hard drive has at least 2GB of free space and download the latest Android-x86 ISO. If your device isn’t listed, download the generic file.

Step 2: Download UNetbootin. Once open, select the Android-x86 ISO file you downloaded in Step 1.

Step 3: Select USB drive from the list of options and click OK. Wait for UNetbootin to copy and install Android-x86 to your flash drive.

Step 4: Reboot your computer and 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, as with Phoenix OS, use the Google Play Store to install Android apps as you wish.

Surface Duo and Microsoft’s Emulator

In 2020 Microsoft unveiled details about the Surface Duo and the Surface Neo slated for the 2020 holidays. The Surface Duo, in particular, is worth noting for Android fans because it’s designed to run Android as its native OS. This will give buyers a Microsoft-managed Android device with extra Windows compatibility, which can be attractive to a lot of people. If you want a dedicated Microsoft Android device, just wait!

However, there’s another Android consideration to note. 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 design, 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 would run on Duo for future reference). You can download this emulator for free right here and try it out.

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