Apps on Windows have gotten better. But every once in a while, you’ll stumble upon a really useful mobile app that hasn’t made its way to PC yet. If it runs on Android, though, there’s good news. With the help of third-party software, you can probably run it on your Windows computer. On the other hand, if you’re running a Chromebook, you may want to check out our dedicated guide to installing Android apps on Chrome OS.
Unfortunately, getting apps from your phone or tablet to your PC isn’t as easy as installing a Windows program. Although Microsoft is beta testing Android app mirroring in Windows 10, this still isn’t running the physical app on your machine. There are a number of ways to do it, however, 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.
The Bluestacks App Player is one of the most robust Android emulators around, allowing you to run games and apps on Android 7.1.2 (Nougat) on your Windows desktop. It boasts a custom-designed interface that makes it easy to toggle emulation settings and launch apps and “Layercake” technology that uses hardware accelerators to improve the performance of Android games in Windows. 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.
It’s important to note that while Bluestacks is free, an optional subscription ($4 per month or 40$ per year) enables premium support and exclusive offers from app developers. Here’s how to install Bluestacks to your computer’s hard drive:
Step 1: Download the installer from the official Bluestacks website.
Step 2: Launch the install application and choose the storage location for 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 finishes installing, launch it. Enter your Google account credentials — you’ll log into the Google Play Store, where you’ll find all of your installed and purchased apps.
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.
It’s not as simple as installing native Android, though. Because computer hardware like Intel processors, graphics cards, and physical hard drives have to be added by a third-party developer to Android, you’ll need to find a custom distribution that supports your machine.
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 yourself set up to use it.
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 to install onto. 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 it, and install 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. Then reboot and 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 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 apps can also launch 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’s hard drive;
Step 1: First, make sure your computer’s hard drive has at least 2GB of free space. Download the latest Android-x86 ISO. If your device isn’t listed, download the generic file.
Step 2: Download UNetbootin. Open UNetbootin and select the Android-x86 ISO file you downloaded earlier. 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 3: Reboot your computer and select Boot to the Boot Device Selection screen. Then select your flash drive. From the UNetbootin menu, select Install Android-x86 to hard disk.
Step 4: Select the partition — or location — to which you want to install Android-x86. The program will ask if you want to format the disk; if you’re unsure, don’t.
Step 5: You’ll be asked if you want to install GRUB. Select Yes, and Yes again. You’ll then be asked if you want to “make system r/w,” which enables Android-x86 to read and write data to your hard drive. Select Yes.
Step 6: 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 its upcoming devices, the Surface Duo and the Surface Neo, slated to be released 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. Basically, this will give buyers a Microsoft-managed Android device with extra Windows compatibility, which could be exactly what a lot of people are looking for. 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 has made the Duo SDK Preview available for download for both developers and interested fans. This essentially installs an Android emulator on your computer that’s 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.