Interested in Android? You don’t have to buy a device or go to a physical electronics store (do those still exist?) to try it out. You can run individual Android apps and play with the latest versions of the Android operating system on Windows. These are Android emulators for PCs.
Whether you want to try Android before you buy, experiment with the latest version of Android or sync apps between your Android device and your PC, these Windows programs have you covered.
BlueStacks doesn’t replicate the full Android experience, it’s just an “app player” that runs individual apps on your PC. BlueStacks starts in full-screen mode, but can also be used in windowed mode.
Install BlueStacks, search for an Android app, and you’ll be able to install it on your PC.
You’ll have to set up a Google account to download apps via Google Play, but you can always make a new Google account just for this purpose. BlueStacks also supports other app stores, including the Amazon Appstore for Android. Its built-in search feature searches for apps across all the app stores it supports.
If you have a Windows 8 touch PC, you can interact with Android apps like Modern apps and use BlueStacks to play Android games on Windows 8. Many apps use a swipe action — to perform a swipe, click and hold the mouse button down, move the mouse cursor, and then release.
BlueStacks also works with your Android phone or tablet if you already have one. You can install the BlueStacks Cloud Connect app, available in the Google Play, to synchronize apps between your device and your PC.
YouWave or VirtualBox
YouWave provides a free ten-day trial, which is more than enough time to get a feel for Android apps. Unlike BlueStacks, YouWave offers a full Android system with a home screen, app menu, and everything else.
This program depends on its own instance of VirtualBox, so you can’t use it if you have VirtualBox installed — you’ll have to uninstall VirtualBox first.
If you’d rather install Android in VirtualBox on your own, you can find instructions for doing so on the Android x86 page. It’s a bit more work, but it’s completely free with no time limits.
YouWave doesn’t include many apps, but you can install Google Play inside it to get more apps. Click the View menu, select Online Content, and click the Google Play icon to download it. Click the View menu again, select Apps, and click the Google Play app — Google Play will be installed.
You can launch Google Play within the Android emulator to browse and install Android apps. You’ll need a Google account, but you can always create a new one specifically for YouWave.
Official Android Emulator
Google’s Android software development kit provides a free Android emulator, although it’s targeted at developers. You can run the latest version of Android with this method, so it’s a great way to try out the latest version of Android if you have a device that’s stuck on an older version.
First, you’ll need Java installed. You can then download the SDK Tools from Google. Click the Use an Existing IDE option on the page and download the SDK Tools package. After installing it, launch the SDK Manager and install the recommended files for the latest version of Android. Click the Install button and the SDK manager will automatically download and install the required software.
Click the Tools menu once the download has finished, select Manage AVDs and click the New button to create a new virtual device. Select a device — an older device like the Nexus S should be easier to emulate – and your installed version of Android. Name the virtual device and click OK to create it.
You’ll see your new virtual device in the virtual device manager window. Select it, click the Start button and click Launch to launch the Android emulator. It may take a while to start — perhaps over a minute, depending on your hardware.
Google’s Android emulator for PC definitely doesn’t perform as well as BlueStacks or YouWave. It also doesn’t have Google Play or any other app store integrated, but you can download app files in APK form and install them.
Android’s openness allows developers to create applications like these, which is awesome — no similar solutions are available if you want to try out iPhone or iPod apps on Windows. Still, there are some limitations — performance isn’t as good as it is on real hardware, for one.
Remember that Android wasn’t designed for the mouse. Android devices support mice and keyboards, but they’re really designed for touch. It’s like using Modern Windows 8 apps with a mouse — Microsoft has said they’re “touch first” and they certainly feel like it.
However, you may even be able to install Android on an old netbook you have lying around — it’s worth a try if you aren’t getting much use out of that netbook anyway.
Have you tried running Android emulators for your PC? Which app worked best for you? Leave a comment and let us know!