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How to play Android games on your PC
Smartphone games may be ways away from being at the level of the gaming console and PC. Things are getting better, though, with a slew of excellent games being released every year. In fact, it’s rather uncomfortable to play some of these newer titles on a touchscreen, and I’d much rather use a keyboard and mouse or a controller instead. Luckily, there are ways to play Android games on a PC!
The best way to do so is to use an emulator. While the choices are somewhat limited, there are a few options available. Windows 11 is set to bring in native Android emulation to PCs, but in the meantime, emulators are your best bet. Let’s jump in and take a quick look at three such emulators that will let you play Android games on your PC.
Note: The system I use comes with a 10th Gen. Intel Core i7 processor, Intel Iris Plus graphics, 16GB of RAM, a 13.3-inch 4K display, and running Windows 10. Performance may vary based on your configuration.
Bluestacks 5 / MSI App Player
Bluestacks was one of the first Android emulators I’d used a few years ago to play Android games on my PC. It remains one of the best options even today, with the latest version released recently in 2021 — Bluestacks 5 — getting even better.
All you need to do is to download and install Bluestacks from the website to get started. Bluestacks 5 runs on Android 7.0 Nougat, and also has a beta option with Android Pie for apps that need newer versions of Android. Before you reel back in horror at how old that default Android version is, keep in mind that it’s quite current as far as these kinds of emulators go. The good news is that you shouldn’t have any trouble running most apps and games either way. If you do, switching to the Pie beta should do the trick.
You’ll need to sign up with your Google account, as you would on any Android device. You can download apps from the Google Play Store by going to the “My Library” section. However, after launching Bluestacks on your PC, you’ll see that it puts games front and center. The “Game Center” is packed with excellent recommendations, and you can also scroll through various collections and genres to find the best games. With Bluestacks 5, the company now boasts a game library with over 2 million apps.
Bluestacks also made the MSI App Player, which is another excellent emulator, but it is essentially the same thing with a different look. The interface is a lot cleaner, and you’ll likely need to know what to download beforehand. There are few game recommendations, but for the most part, MSI products are showcased instead.
Unsurprisingly, you get identical features with both emulators. The gaming controls and keyboard mapping are highly customizable, so you shouldn’t have any trouble replicating a PC gaming experience. The good news is that the keyboard mapping is pretty solid, even without tinkering too much. Built-in modes for shooting and MOBA are a huge help in this regard as well.
A Multi-instance feature adds a new aspect to strategy and Gacha games by letting you play the same game with multiple accounts. You can also play different games from different “instances” to avoid any confusion. The emulator also comes with a recording feature and screenshot buttons built-in and is easily accessible.
As far as settings go, Bluetacks and MSI App Player let you adjust the display resolution from qHD to Quad HD and set the DPI between 160 and 320. If your device supports it, you can also change the graphics mode and set it to use dedicated computer graphics.
I played Asphalt 9, Madden NFL Mobile, and FIFA Mobile on both emulators, and had a great time. There were a few instances of lag, but not enough to cause any real problems with gameplay. The emulators loaded quite quickly, but launching a game took a while. However, once it started, it ran almost as quickly as it does on my phone.
In comparison to Bluestacks 4, the MSI App Player felt like it was the smoother of the two. Games tended to stutter noticeably more when playing them on Bluestacks 4. However, with the latest Bluestacks 5 version, the emulator is as good as MSI App Player, and faster in some cases, especially with load times. Both Bluestacks 5 and the MSI App Player are fantastic options if you want to play Android games on your PC.
Looking for games? Here are the best Android games available right now
Nox Player is widely considered to be a really good alternative to Bluestacks and comes with similar capabilities. Like the competition, Nox Player also runs Android 7.0 Nougat and lets you download games and apps from the Google Play Store.
Simply download the emulator from the Nox Player website and install it to start playing games on your PC. The Nox Player interface is similar to what you’d see on an Android tablet, albeit an extremely old one. The screen opens with some “pre-installed” apps, and it comes complete with navigation keys (back, home, and recent apps) tucked away in the bottom right corner. You’ll find the Google Play Store in the “Tools” folder and can download anything else after signing in with your Google account.
The Nox Player isn’t as packed with features as Bluestacks, at least at first glance. It comes with its own version of multi-instance, though, or Multi-drive in this case. Keyboard mapping is highly customizable as well. However, while Bluestacks has some pre-loaded profiles set up, you’ll have to start completely from scratch with Nox. That’s fine since most people will set everything to their liking anyway, but there’s definitely a learning curve for a newbie.
Another aspect where Nox falls behind is with the display resolution that can be set to a maximum of Full HD. You can also choose a performance mode to decide how graphic-intensive it’ll be.
I played Asphalt 9 and Sniper Strike using Nox Player. There were a few instances of lag and stutter. The emulator launches quickly enough, but a game takes a pretty long time to load. While playing a game, it basically appears to take a bit to get into gear.
For example, when a race started on Asphalt 9, the lag was very noticeable. However, it got better quickly, and everything ran as smoothly as expected after that initial stumble. Things were much better with games that weren’t particularly graphic-intensive, even though these took a while to load as well.
See more: The best new games worth checking out
Gameloop, previously known as Tencent Gaming Buddy, started off as the official emulator for PUBG Mobile. This might seem confusing since PUBG Mobile is a mobile version of the original PC game. But the former is also free, and with this emulator, some users can enjoy the best of both worlds. That said, there’s a lot more you can do with Gameloop as well.
Again, all you have to do is download and install the emulator. Like Bluestacks, you’re greeted with a Game Center that houses a slew of excellent titles. Of course, given the company behind it, PUBG Mobile is showcased. However, you’ll find a lot of FPS, MOBA, and strategy games available too.
The app section includes some popular options like Whatsapp, Instagram, Youtube, and more. However, the Google Play Store isn’t easily accessible. You’ll have to switch over to the “My Games” tab and install it from the Google Installer option. Any games and apps you download from the Play Store have a “non-Gameloop” tag.
Gameloop comes with the least features of the lot. There’s no multi-sync feature, and in fact, a non-cheating mode is automatically enabled when you load a game. However, usual features like taking a screenshot, recording your gameplay, and keyboard mapping are available.
The keyboard mapping setup is one of the easier ones to use. Something to remember is that the preset map is almost unusable, at least with the games I tried first, so you’ll have to customize it yourself. I prefer doing that anyway, so it wasn’t too much of a big deal for me. Everything is perfectly in place for PUBG, though.
Included options when it comes to display resolution go up to just 1,280 x 720. However, I was able to manually set it to Full HD, so that is an option. You can also switch the DPI between 160 and 480.
I played PUBG Mobile, of course, but I also tried Asphalt 9 and Call of Duty Mobile. Let’s start with the emulator, though. Of the four options, Gameloop was the fastest to start, and everything is really smooth when scrolling through the UI. You can see the minimum system requirements when you install a game, so you have a good idea of whether your PC can run it or not.
Gaming performance is all over the place. Asphalt 9, a “non-Gameloop” game, was practically unplayable. The game took a really long time to load, was extremely laggy, and there were a lot of frame drops. The opposite end of the spectrum was when I played Call of Duty Mobile and PUBG.
Both were fast to load, and the gameplay was smooth, with barely any lag or stutter. It was so good, in fact, that I went back and installed Call of Duty on Bluestacks to see if the performance was the same. It wasn’t even close.
Windows 11 and native Android emulation on PCs
Windows 11 was released to the public on October 5, but it’s missing one of its best features — native Android emulation. This feature will let you run Android apps without needing to install an emulator. This feature is just now being tested for the beta channel in the Windows Insider Preview program and will take some time before it arrives in the release channel of Windows 11, with the release expected in February 2022.
This works by having the Windows Subsystem for Android, which is a virtualization instance of Android inside Windows. By having Android running inside Windows, it is possible to directly have Android apps, including games, running on Windows without having to install an emulator. The Subsystem gets the apps from the Amazon Appstore, embedded inside the Microsoft Store. For now, the officially supported app list is rather limited.
However, people have already found ways to install the Subsystem unofficially, sideload APKs, and even get Google Play Store to work. We have a couple of tutorials if you want to use this method to get going with native Android emulation on Windows 11 before the official release.
See also: How to install Windows 11 right now
Which emulator is the best?
All four emulators — Bluestacks 5, MSI App Player, Nox Player, and Gameloop — are excellent options if you want to play Android games on your PC. None of them are perfect, but I would recommend Bluestacks or MSI App Player for most apps and games. Its “smart control” presets are the best of the lot and made jumping into a game right away very easy.
However, if you’re looking to play Tencent games like PUBG Mobile or Call of Duty Mobile, Gameloop is by and far the best option in that case. Of course, keep in mind that your experience may be different depending on what kind of PC you have.