Android is the most popular mobile operating system in the world, but just because it’s meant for mobile doesn’t mean it can’t be installed on the desktop. There are many ways to get Android running on a PC, including virtual device emulators, bootable USB versions, and even full standalone applications like BlueStacks. Each has its advantages and disadvantages depending on your needs.
If you’re looking to install Android on PC, we have your back! Here is the full breakdown of each of the best options available.
Using Android Studio and the virtual device
For the most part, Android development requires a tool called Android Studio. This is the software developers use to enter their code, test their apps, and manage their projects. It also happens to include a powerful “Android virtual device manager” (AVD Manager) for setting up and installing emulators that can run full-fat Android extremely well.
Using this Android virtual device has many advantages. If you select x86_64 as the architecture, there is the option to run the Android virtual device in using Intel’s Hardware Accelerated Execution Manager (HAXM) to speed up the performance. In many cases this will offer a seamless experience; especially on more powerful hardware.
Another big advantage of the AVD is that it comes with the latest version of Android. In fact, this is how most developers will first try out new updates to Android, to see how they affect their apps. That means you can even try beta versions of Android before they’re released! Another way that the virtual device has evolved since the early days is by including the Google Play Store on some devices. This means you can access all the apps you’ve already purchased!
See also: Android SDK tutorial for beginners
The AVD does require a little more set-up than some options on this list. You’ll need to download Android Studio first (alongside the SDK) and then you’ll need to create your new virtual device. This process does give you the option to choose the display size, memory, and even Android version. Unfortunately, the combination of Android Studio, the Android SDK (which houses the Android Virtual Device), and the Android platform all take up a lot of harddrive space.
This method will work on OS X, Windows and Linux without issue. Android Studio, including the AVD Manager, can be found here.
Pure Android emulation with Genymotion
Genymotion is a legacy Android on PC project, offering pure Android emulation with thousands of configuration options available to tailor your experience. The software runs an Android Virtual Device from within VirtualBox, which you’ll also need to install.
One of Genymotion’s biggest draws is the simulation of GPS, camera, SMS & calls, multi-touch, and basically all the other familiar Android hardware features. Other features include ADB access, support for a variety of app testing frameworks, even cloud access through services like Amazon and Alibaba.
Remember though, Genymotion is primarily targeted at developers looking for an environment in which to test their applications. As such, it’s a professional environment with a selection of price plans to match. However, you can download and use the Personal Edition for free.
Open source Android x86.org Android on PC
Next on our list is a free open-source option – Android x86.org.
Based on the Android Open Source Project, Android-x86.org set out to make Android available to anyone with a PC. This makes Android x86 one of the best options if you’re looking to install the latest version of Android on PC and use it as your primary operating system or run it in a VM. The software offers near complete stock Android with no additions whatsoever, which is a mixed bag. The good news is that Google Play Services is installed by default. The bad news is that using something made for touch on a desktop is not that intuitive.
Unfortunately, installation is also a little more involved than some of the applications listed below. The standard method is to burn an Android-x86 version to a bootable CD or USB stick and install the Android OS directly to your hard drive. Alternatively, you can install Android-x86 to a Virtual Machine, such as VirtualBox. This gives you access from within your regular operating system.
From inside your Virtual Machine, you can install the ISO file and then boot into the operating system. Find an official guide to the installation options for Android-x86 here.
Old but gold – BlueStacks
BlueStacks is one of the longest-enduring methods to install Android on PC, founded in 2011 and still going strong. BlueStacks has impressive performance, though it’s not a patch on the Android Virtual Device. Additional features include: a simplified UI, optimizations dedicated to gaming, key-mapping, and multi-instance support to run multiple apps and even Google Accounts at once.
The user interface on Windows is more akin to what you would see in a web browser. It offers quick app switching in a tab format on the top of the window. However, those hoping to install their own launchers will be disappointed. The option was removed with the release of BlueStacks 4. On the plus side, BlueStacks also integrates with Windows to transfer files like APKs and there is even universal copy and paste.
BlueStacks remains a virtual machine at its core. So you don’t quite get native system performance, but this keeps the application simple to install and run. BlueStacks 4 runs on a 32-bit version of Android 7.1.2 Nougat, so it’s not the most up-to-date out of all the options out there. It is also heavily monetized, which some find distasteful. It will repeatedly request that you download apps from its partners, and suggest sponsored apps and games on the main menu.
Even so, BlueStacks remains one of the best methods of running Android on PC out there. Check out what BlueStacks has to offer by clicking on the link below. You can download the platform at the bottom of the page.
One for the gamers – MEmu
If you’re after a simple way to run Android games on a Windows PC, MEmu might be the way to go. The Chinese software is ad-supported, which might be a put-off compared to alternatives. However, MEmu’s gaming-focused features might be worth it for some.
MEmu supports multiple-instances, allowing you to run several apps at once to level up multiple accounts. There’s also support for keyboard and mouse input as well as gamepads so you can play your way. Other functionalities include the ability to sideload apps and window resizing with a minimum sizing that prevents apps from becoming unusable.
In terms of performance, MEmu gained popularity as a faster emulator compared to BlueStacks 3. However, the race is much closer these days given BlueStack 4’s performance improvements. The latest MEmu version supports up to Android 7.1, with Android 5.1 and 4.4 compatibility included too.
There are a number of other game-focused clients that let you install Android on PC, including Gameloop (formerly Tencent Gaming Buddy), NoX, and others. Check out our list of the best Android emulators for more niche options.
Comparing the best options to install Android on PC
Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, but it really depends on what you want out of having Android on your desktop.
Bluestacks and other emulators like it have some baggage. Genymotion uses VirtualBox’s virtualization. Android-x86 works great as a proof of concept, but it isn’t that practical to use when comparing it to the other options discussed in this article.
On balance, this author finds installing the AVD Manager to be the optimal solution. While it comes packaged with Android Studio, the performance and flexibility are unmatched. Plus it is genuinely free, officially supported by Google, and constantly up-to-date. Hey Google! Why not release the virtual device separately?
Up next: How to play Android games on your PC