How to run Android apps in Windows

Like Apple’s App Store for Mac, 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 10.

With the help of the right software, you can probably run your favorite Android apps on your Windows 10 computer. Unfortunately, getting apps from your phone or tablet to your Windows PC isn’t as straightforward as installing desktop software. 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 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 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 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 is an open-source project that seeks to port the newest version of Android to Windows-based PCs.

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.

To install Android-x86 to your PC, you’ll need to:

  • Have 2GB of free space on the PC’s local drive.
  • Make sure your PC can boot to a USB drive.
  • Have a blank USB drive on hand.
  • Download Android-x86.
  • Download UNetbootin (it doesn’t install).

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. It essentially adds screen mirroring to the Your Phone app stack, allowing users to, for example, play their favorite Android games using a keyboard and mouse without using the dual-boot or Bluestacks methods listed above.

However, the apps still 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 this feature.

Finally, this method requires the Windows 10 November 2019 Update (at the very least) to work properly.

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: Now, 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 option on the left to begin.

Surface Duo and Microsoft’s Emulator

In 2020, Microsoft unveiled details about the Surface Duo and the Surface Neo slated to release for the end of 2020.

The Surface Duo will be the first to arrive, with Microsoft now taking preorders ahead of the September 10 launch. The dual-screen folding smartphone is based on Android running on Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC. This will give buyers a Microsoft-managed Android device with extra Windows compatibility, which is attractive to a lot of people.

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’ll run on Duo for future reference). You can download this emulator for free right here and try it out.

Editors' Recommendations